Blade Runner Review

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by Casimir Harlow Feb 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

    Blade Runner Review
    Well I suspect most fans of this movie have been waiting a long time for this particular title to hit the shops. I myself remember hearing rumours about a special edition DVD release a long time ago - perhaps around its twentieth anniversary - where we would finally get to see something other than the Director's Cut, the 1992 version that has been floating around ever since that date. Some were hoping to at least see the original theatrical version, and those who dreamt of bigger things hoped that we may even see another, extended cut. I have to say that it feels like we have had to wait too long, but the end result is still superb. This new Blade Runner sets carries not just the original 1982 theatrical cut, but also the 1982 international cut, the 1992 director's cut, as well as the new 'Final Cut', which has been further polished up for audiences, and even an alternate workprint of the movie featuring scenes, dialogue and scoring not found in the other versions. It is easily the most comprehensive package that I have ever come across for a single movie, and I'm not sure I can even think of another movie that has quite so many different cuts (Oliver Stone's Alexander has three, but not all available in one package... yet) so it is a fitting tribute to the loyalty of the fans that this has been released in such a perfect form. But was it really worth the wait? I suspect so, but let's take a closer look to find out for sure...

    I should point out at this stage that if, by some misfortune, you have never managed to see any version of this absolute classic then you should skip the chance of any potential spoilers (any worthy discussion of the movie will have some, however small) and just trust the critics and fans alike - it's a great movie and well worth a blind buy, particularly in this comprehensive (and relatively inexpensive) five-disc set.

    It's 2019 and androids - 'replicants' - have evolved to the stage of being stronger, faster and more intelligent than their human counterpart. With inevitable rebellions occurring, the authorities have established special police units to 'retire' these rogue creations - Blade Runners. After an off-world attack leaves humans dead and dangerous next generation Nexus 6 replicants on the run on Earth, retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard is pulled back in to handle the mess. Disillusioned by his failed marriage, his status as a glorified assassin-with-a-badge and the fact that all the dead bodies are starting to look much the same, the cynical, laconic Deckard reluctantly starts to put the pieces together, and as the puzzle comes together and he closes in on his prey, he even begins to question his own beliefs about the true value of life, human or otherwise.

    Blade Runner was years ahead of its time (although arguably extremely optimistic in portraying us flying around in hover-cars little over a decade from now), portraying a grim, dystopic future dominated by Tokyo-esque neon lights and rainy, dirty shantytowns set up around huge, oppressive monolithic skyscrapers. The class structure was cleverly insightful - only the 'unworthy' tended to find themselves left behind on Earth, everyone else having left for greener pastures off-world. Earth has become truly multicultural, with some unique individuals roaming the streets, the once fringe elements now dominating mainstream society. Director Ridley Scott, the man who had previously brought such a distinctive mood and atmosphere to the seminal first Alien movie, created a world of smoke-filled rooms and mesmerizing ceiling fans (a fondness of many skilled, stylish Directors, like Alan Parker - see Angel Heart with Mickey Rourke), where it was difficult to differentiate between the oddball humans that now comprise the population, and their dangerous creations, the Replicants. The motto is 'more human than human' and in Scott's future humanity is ambiguous, at best, in any creations.

    Scott cast Harrison Ford in the lead role as Rick Deckard, and at the time Ford was arguably hitting his heyday, in the midst of completing his main franchise roles (Indiana Jones and Star Wars). His performance here is apparently a huge bone of contention amongst fans, his apparent nonchalance and disinterest now infamous in the history of this cult classic movie. Personally - and this is going to be the first of many 'controversial' things that I will have to say about this production - I think Ford played it just right, totally laid-back, almost disinterested because he's supposed to be a world-weary (literally weary of still being on earth), seen-it-all-before ex-killer who has lost a whole lot of humanity along the way and only stays alive thanks to his wits and experience. I can see that this is a very different Ford than the charismatic loveable rogue fans found in his Indy and Hans Solo performances, but I still think that - whether or not it was intentional and whether or not it was caused by disagreements on set - this still suits the role. The end result was just the way I wanted it and I could not think of a better interpretation that Ford's downbeat, sarcastic, and positively tired 'hero'. But then again I prefer William Petersen and Brian Cox in Michael Mann's Manhunter to the new Hopkins-starring Red Dragon remake, I prefer Moore's wry, sarcastic Bond to most of the other interpretations (whoa, that was pretty controversial, but I'm sorry, I don't honestly believe a super-spy could survive the constant stress of high-pressure situations without the kind of ludicrous, almost eccentric wit that Moore - however limited as an actor in general - captured perfectly), I think Michael Keaton makes the best Bruce Wayne (even if Batman Begins is easily the best movie) and I thought the recent Die Hard movie was great. So if you want the mainstream opinion, you've come to the wrong place. I like Harrison Ford in Blade Runner and I even approve of his interpretation of the character (and belief that he is human, but more of that later).

    The rest of the cast are generally, undeniably, on top form - whether it be Rutger 'The Hitcher' Hauer as the menacing, poetry-quoting super-intelligent leader of the renegade replicants or the thuggish, unstoppable Brion 'Tango and Cash' James as his heavy-weapons-expert-replicant lead henchman. Daryl 'Splash' Hannah is suitably convincing as the whimsical, balletic Pris, the pleasure model replicant and - despite the fact that I have a very love/hate feeling towards her performances in general - even Sean 'No Way Out' Young seems perfectly cast as the emotionally underdeveloped love interest, Rachael. Battlestar Gallactica's very own Admiral Adama - Edward James Olmos - has quite an unusual role as one of Deckard's dubious fellow Blade Runners and Deadwood's William Sanderson is suitably pathetic as one of the replicant designers. There's also Blood Simple's M. Emmet Walsh as Deckard's even more world-weary police Captain and Joanna 'The Fourth Protocol' Cassidy looking suitably sexy as the fourth renegade replicant, now working in a strip club. It's an all-star cast, with some terrific, memorable performances and simply nobody seeming out of place. Every single one of them contributes towards making the movie a much richer, more engaging experience.

    Before we move on to the different versions of the movie on offer here it is worth noting that, for a even more in-depth look at the production, and also the amazing scoring by Vangelis, you should check out Chris McEneany's superb reviews of both the Final Cut and the soundtrack.

    Now, in terms of cuts, we have no less than five variations of the movie on offer here. The first was the original 1982 theatrical version, although the distinction between it and the 1982 international version appears to only involve action and violence that could potentially disturb the rating. These cuts are markedly different from the later ones because they largely told the story of Deckard with a Raymond Chandler/Phillip Marlowe/Humphrey Bogart-esque narration that made him more like a classic noir detective. They also omitted many nods towards the truth about Replicant's own humanity and capped the movie with a scene showing the happy couple riding off into the sunset (using helicopter-shot outtakes from Kubrick's opening to The Shining). Fans weren't too happy about this - and arguably it was not really true to either the book or even the Director's own interpretation of the character. Is Deckard a replicant? Well, if you prefer not to believe that (and to this day Harrison Ford states that his character was intended to be human) then stick with these cuts of the movie, they're good futuristic film noir and will always have a fond place in my memory.

    1992 saw the Director revisit the movie to provide audiences with a version that was purportedly closer to what he envisioned. 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' - the source novel (however much it was disregarded - and possibly not even read - by Director Ridley Scott) - written by Phillip K Dick made it (fairly) clear what Deckard was and Scott appeared to be clear in his intentions as well (even if the first three drafts of the script clearly posited Deckard as being human) so with the new cut we had no narration whatsoever (and it should be noted that this was removed not only because the voiceover supposedly made Deckard seem more human but also because apparently Harrison Ford's dubbing was disliked across the board), more overt nods towards him being a replicant (the unicorn) and no closing 'driving off into the country' happy ending. (Also none of the extra gore and violence from the International Cut) Fans lapped this one up, and it is generally regarded as being vastly superior.

    Fifteen years later and we get a Final Cut, but if you're expecting the kinds of differences you get between the 1982 and 92 variants, you will be disappointed. The Final Cut is just a tinkered version of the 1992 Director's vision, with glitches removed, goofs and continuity errors corrected, some dialogue dubbed in better, some visual tweaks and some more brutality (in line with that seen in the 1982 International Cut). Sounds like a lot, but you'd be hard pushed to pinpoint many of the changes, suffice to say that the overall result is a sleeker, more perfected animal that is less open to nitpicking from critics and avid fans alike.

    If you want specifics then you're looking at rectified dialogue to correct the number of replicants on the loose, to include a police description of Leon's renegade replicant, the correct 'I want life, FATHER' line alteration, some painted nude dancers, some - literal - nose pulling by Daryl Hannah's angry replicant, more eye-gouging violence, and a cleaned-up, more authentic (i.e. less stunt-double, more Joanna Cassidy) death scene for Zhora, as well as a dozen other minor effects and dialogue modifications basically polishing up the whole affair and making it even more watchable. Still, when it comes down to it, there are only really two distinct release editions of Blade Runner - the 1982 International and this Final Cut (essentially a 1992 variant). The other two (the original 1982 Theatrical and the 1992 Director's Cut) are almost worthless at this stage other than for absolute die-hard completists.

    It doesn't end there however, for we also get a rare workprint version of the movie. This is also vaguely different from the two distinct versions I've listed above, incorporating an alternate title sequence, alternate scoring (including some suitably distinctive 30s music earlier on but terrible musical pieces for the final fight), some narration but only to close out the movie's climactic death scene, some alternate dialogue and a slightly different final act, no hints at Deckard's replicant status but no 'happy ending'. It is perhaps not as vastly different as fans would have hoped for and I can't see it being loved or revisted as much as the other two main cuts, but it makes for an interesting alternative for fans of the material to finally check out.

    I must say that I am amongst the few in preferring the original cut of Blade Runner to its successors. I'm probably going to get lynched for even suggesting it, but I just enjoy that version more, even if it is perhaps less cerebral. The reason why? Well, I always loved the idea of Deckard - the human - narrating throughout the movie, it gave the feel of classic film noir, Raymond Chandler's words in the mouth of Humprey Bogart as the character of Phillip Marlowe (we're talking The Big Sleep). I also liked the notion of Deckard's human falling in love with a replicant and not knowing how long he will have to be with her, which I thought was actually even more interesting than having them both be replicants and run off to live (or die) together. Sure, the twist that he is a replicant makes the story more complex and, arguably, fluid, (although it doesn't explain why he isn't as strong as the other replicants) but it was a fairly typical twist in sci-fi classics of this ilk (check out many of Asimov's tales - including the ones that were source for the recent I, Robot blockbuster - and you can see a pattern of the hero turning out to have more in common with his supposed enemy than you originally expect) and I just didn't enjoy the Director's 'replicant' cuts of the movie as much as the original interpretations.

    I do agree, however, that the 1992 - and final - cuts are more cerebral in their portrayal of the characters, throwing into doubt not only Deckard's own humanity, but also his status amongst his colleagues - Do they know? Is he a detective android specifically created to be a blade runner? Will they come after him if he goes 'rogue'? It also questions the very concept of judging the value of another person's life, raising issues about capital punishment/assassination and the definition of humanity. Again, it's nothing new to fans of the likes of Asimov, but in movie terms (particularly in 1982, or perhaps more clearly in 1992) it was pretty ground-breaking. Still, if you want a good future-set detective story, a classic film noir at core, you have to go with the original cut - and, as I've already stated, it will probably always hold a special spot in my heart. Let me make it clear to fans: I'm not saying it is better, just that I - personally - enjoyed it slightly more.

    Overall this is more Blade Runner than most people would ever need and easily enough to sate most avid fans (I would have absolutely loved to have seen a version incorporating even more of the narration but thankfully footage of this is at least evidenced by the extensive Deleted Footage included on the supplemental disc and reviewed in the extras) and, even if what you're really getting is only three out of five cuts that are actually worth watching, you're still never going to be disappointed with this package. It comes highly recommended.

    The Rundown

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