Blade Runner - The Final Cut Review

by Chris McEneany
Movies & TV Review

78

Blade Runner - The Final Cut Review
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate. All those ... moments will be lost ... in time. Like ... tears ... in rain. Time ... to die.

Such is the bizarre conflict of opinions and perceived double-standards of film-loving that it may seem strange to heap scorn on George Lucas for constantly tinkering with his movies and re-releasing them whilst lavishing praise on Sir Ridley Scott for doing, what many would consider, exactly the same thing. But, that's the name of the game. Lucas irritates, Scott ingratiates. Thus, this presentation of his seminal science fiction classic Blade Runner in its Final Cut, no less, is actually a momentous occasion and one that feels as welcome as it does overdue. Given the chance to see this influential trendsetter-cum-mind-bender on the big screen is a reminder of how haunting and sensorial the film is. Based, as we all know, on Philip K. Dick's story “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”, the concept behind the film was one that lent itself to the broad visual flair, determined and dogmatic vision and intellectual crusading that only someone of Scott's calibre could ever contemplate bringing to the celluloid canvas. The intense wrangling and evolution that the screenplay underwent is legendary, which, of course, only adds to Blade Runner's ongoing mythos. The fact that the tale - whichever version you look at - is multi-textural and enormously thought-provoking immediately sets it apart from the vast number of entries in an overcrowded and all-too easily accessible genre. Sci-fi, by its very nature, leaves itself open to a multitude of juvenile dross to every bonafide classic. Blade Runner, like Brazil and 2001: A Space Odyssey can only split the audience despite the enormous mountain of critical praise it attains over the years. And, again, this is one of the core ingredients to creating a cult classic that will stand the test of time.

“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long - and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.”

A notoriously difficult shoot - Scott, who by his own admission, is primarily a camera operator and directs with his eye behind the lens, had enormous problems and stress at the American system that wouldn't allow him to get hands-on with the camera; his constant striving for more from every element of the production led to tantrums and near-mutinies from the crew; the continual alterations to the screenplay saw the film go through several permutations even whilst being shot; the studio and budgetary pressure kept Scott looking over his shoulder; and the oft-reputed (and oft-denied) claims of director/star sparring that didn't exactly help - Blade Runner was not considered a happy experience by many of those involved. The script, which several people worked on, although David Peoples and Hampton Fancher take the credit, is deep and intelligent and undeniably heavy. Virtually every line is imbued with ambiguity and the film seems to knot up with as many mysteries as those that it unravels, its beauty bathed in the neo-gothic trappings of a future-shock Los Angeles of 2019, its narrative playing out along a noirish path of murky motivations, shrouded desires, persecution and paranoia. Replicants - “skin-jobs” - have been created by the genetic mastermind Eldon Tyrell, played by The Shining's Joe Turkel, to work Off-World as slave labour, either as combat, menial or pleasure models. One of the more advanced models, a Nexus-6 specialist in combat, called Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer in the role that has forever defined him), has become obsessed by beating the in-built mortality that his line have, and seeks to extend his, and his loyal companions' lives by meeting his maker back on Earth. When just setting foot on Terra Firma is tantamount to signing their own death warrant, the killing of innocent people on a shuttle just adds a deadly imperative to the LAPD's ensuing hunt. Bounty hunters, known as Blade Runners, have the job of exterminating these errant machines and grouchy, miserable, trenchcoat-wearing Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is assigned the job of “retiring” this particular bunch. Sounds very slight when broken down into its component parts and if this were a simple action movie then Blade Runner would be dynamite in the adrenaline stakes, what with super-strong, highly cunning uber-specimens such as Brion James' hair-trigger thug Leon, Darryl Hannah's athletically vicious vixen Pris and Joanna Cassidy's windpipe-slugging exotic dancer Zhora pounding on Deckard's weary detective backside every other scene. But when Scott wants to explore the duality of humanity versus machine, emotion versus cold technology and the whole soul-snuffling grasp that any living thing - real or artificial - has for prolonged existence or, at least, the option of it, the stunts and action are merely flavours in a cake that is already brimming with intoxicants and senses-stirring additives.

“Wake up! Time to die!”

Paving the way for a style in visual storytelling, from advertisements to music videos, billboard imagery to a slew of other movies, Scott's innate sense of capturing pictures and making them live and breathe - already evidenced in The Duellists and, to a much greater degree, Alien - is absolutely peerless in Blade Runner. Here, in this crowded, oriental mish-mash neon embraces shadow, throbbing lights signify flying cars - or Spinners - traversing the canyons of high-rise super-scrapers, high-tech palaces sit amid burning, polluted clouds like pyramids in hell and the futuristic melds with the retro in an exotic cauldron of wild art-deco and shantytown bric-a-brac. Only Ridley Scott would have come up with such a landscape of urban squalor-cum-beauty in which to fashion his odyssey. And, folks, up on the big screen, his vision is even more spellbinding than ever. Just that opening shot of the burnished roof of New Age LA, Dante-like plumes of fire spilling into the melted ether and that slow exorable ride through it all into the window of a spectacular man-made monolith, is enough of a money-shot to make you instantly glad that you left your DVDs of the film at home and made the trip to the cinema. But Scott's gift is perfectly attuned to dragging you deeply into the smoky sprawl of offices, rain-lashed streets, apartments that seem utterly dislocated in time and, of course, the labyrinthine corridors and halls of the Bradbury Building, home to J. F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) and his clumsy family of living dolls. Blade Runner, for all the style that its detractors maintain presides over its substance (and wrongly, I might add), is a working canvas of the dark and the satanic, the industrial and the rundown. With detail and refinement etched painstakingly into every corner, every nook and cranny, Deckard's world is a character in its own right and one that tells a million stories alongside his own.

Being a huge fan of the film, though, it is easy to be transfixed by all this visual excess. But Scott's work, here, is no mere flash in the pan. I have been a keen fan of his movies from the very beginning - Gladiator is STILL my number one film of all time, but the likes of Alien, Black Hawk Down and Kingdom Of Heaven are right up there in my hall of adulation as well - and I can safely say that he has been the most consistently satisfying filmmaker of his generation as far as I am concerned. Yet, even with that fabulous pedigree to fall back on, the triumph that is Blade Runner sits upon its own pinnacle. Quite simply it defies genre convention and rewrites the rule book. It may utilise the aesthetic and modus operandi of a Sam Spade or a Philip Marlowe escapade, but it then heightens every emotion via haunting imagery, ambiguity and those quintessentially “grey” areas that populate the hinterland between the good guys and the bad guys. In Blade Runner, there actually aren't any bad guys at all. Everybody wants the same thing - answers, a reason to carry on ... understanding, a sense of belonging and of destiny. And, as such, everybody in it is, in some way or other, irredeemably lost. This moral quagmire is the lynchpin to a tale that seeks to explore what it is to be human when only those who aren't seem fully capable of actually embodying it.

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.”

Don't make the mistake of trying to spot all the differences and modifications in this version because you will inevitably ruin your enjoyment of the film. They are legion but, to be fair, the majority of them are slight. The main thing is that it now runs a lot more smoothly, a lot of those little dialogue glitches - M. Emmett Walsh's Captain Bryant's erroneous statement regarding six replicants being on the run now corrected, along with other sundry quotes that had originally been left in due to plot alterations that had outrun filming deadlines - and visual bugbears such as the cables supporting the flying cars, the camera crew spotted during the Batty/Deckard finale and the wrong sky that Batty's dove flies into at the end all dutifully and seamlessly taken care of. A major piece of visual correction is to the incredibly naff and unbelievably obvious use of a stunt-person to take over the more painful aspect of Joanna Cassidy's plastic-mac/plate-glass-window interaction during the famed Zhora-retirement sequence. To be honest, though, I didn't think to look whether Zhora's originally high-heeled boots had been re-instated to the shot - something that had been replaced with flat-heels during the actual filming of the scene. But, again, this is something that the film's arrival on HD, BD or SD will allow plentiful opportunity to study - should you be so inclined. There are certainly, ahem, other aspects of Cassidy's performance that will more demanding of my attention in high definition, though! Gore-fans can also take heart that the infamous eye-gouging is now the complete blood-spurting event that it was always meant to be, and there are slight extensions to the violence elsewhere, as well, making the Final Cut a far more brutal exercise. I always found the solidly meaty knuckle-slaps that Leon dishes out to Deckard to be particularly wince-inducing. “Nothing is worse than an itch you can't scratch ...” But the rather nasty fingers up the nostrils sequence has a squirming charm, too.

“You know the score. If you're not cop ... you're little people.”

The ingeniously named Gaffe (Edward James Olmos) is the thorn in Deckard's side. Is he really just a rival? Or, given the new - and now, with this Cut, enforced - notion that Deckard is a replicant, is he actually a watchdog - making sure that the law enforcing model doesn't blow a gasket and go renegade as well? Olmos added heaps of impromptu background to his snidey, City-Speaking toad, and even if his screentime is limited, the power of his presence, forever lurking in the shadows, is keenly felt throughout as, ironically enough, both a source of distrust and of reassurance. His origami clues signposting certain facets of the complex morality play a fantastic element that becomes a major plot enhancer much more than a simple character trait.

“You've done a man's job, sir.”

Ford still seems to sleepwalk his way through it all, mumbling his lines and betraying an air (authentically, as it turns out) of boredom and reluctance. The only time he seems to come alive and have some fun is when he puts on a phoney voice when trying to pull the wool over Zhora's eyes. “You'd be surprised what a man would go through to get a glimpse of buh-yoo-tiful bardy!” he whines in pure nerd-speak. Sean Young's unwitting replicant Rachael is marvellous. I don't like the actress all that much, but it would be hard to think of anybody else in the role. She projects a fragility and a tenderness that is immensely touching especially when we see her looking pathetically at the photograph that had believed was of herself and her mother. The love scene is clumsy though - partly by intention, of course, but there is a coldness there between the two that comes a little farther out from the scripted grudge to be comfortable. There is also a curious vacant touch to her when she sits at the piano and looks at Deckard's collection of photographs (actually another clue as to the Blade Runner's possible status as a replicant, himself) that John Carpenter and Tommy Lee Wallace seem to have taken to heart when they cast Stacy Nelkin in Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. Nelkin, who looks a lot like Young does in Blade Runner would also essay an android replacement in that film, affecting much the same cute yet empty look. But the film belongs to Rutger Hauer and poor William Sanderson, who both take their somewhat morbid and perverse roles and twist so much emotion, regret and humanity around them that, together, they more than make up for the lackadaisical approach of the film's leading man. Sanderson, in particular, is remarkable as the geneticist working for Tyrell. Suffering from “accelerated decrepitude” - getting visibly older long before his time - his plight is wretchedly akin to that of Batty and Pris. Yet his innate need for company in an otherwise forlorn and lonely existence is exactly the thing that will prove his undoing. Sanderson, ironically, is the warmest and most compassionate person in the film, his sense of being left behind on Earth rendering him not unlike some fairytale captive in a desolate tower, surrounded by the creatures of his own imagination. Quite why Roy ultimately does what he does to Sebastian is possibly the darkest thing of all and certainly the most upsetting.

“If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes.”

The film is all about the eyes. The eyes ... and the hands. Batty is obsessed with the things that he has seen, the wonder and the horrors. The film employs a great many close-ups of eyes - check out the moment when Pris allows hers to roll over white as she senses the approach of Deckard - and the Voigt-Kampff Test focuses on the eye the whole time. Replicants can be spotted because their eyes glow - something that I think has been enhanced for this version - and, in his act of righteous, Oedipal vengeance, Roy instinctively goes for the eyes. But, as far as Scott is concerned, the hands are as much a symbol as the eyes. Our first encounter of Roy is of his clawed and then clenched fist. Hands are thrust into either extremely cold or extremely hot elements to prove how strong and impervious their replicant owners are. Roy thrusts a nail through his own palm to stave off the impending death that is coming for him, revelling in the pain of life. He breaks the fingers on Deckard's hand, the film dovetailing nicely with Roy's nail incident and Deckard performing some impromptu first aid on his own battered digits. The pivotal “over the edge” scene is a hand-in-hand moment of blissful, euphoric salvation and, if we are going to go the whole hog, there is even a couple of moments when both eyes and hands are brought into comical relief - Leon playing with the frozen eyeballs in Chew's Eye Works and later on, Roy playing with two googly orbs on springs to amuse Sebastian.

“More human than human is our motto.”

As much as I adore the film - and it would certainly reside proudly within my all-time top ten - I cannot deny that it is flawed. Despite the many versions that have now come to light - a lot of fans have already seen the long-fabled Workprint, International Cut, etc - there is an undeniable feeling that Scott and Co had definite and unshakable conviction to get certain visual scenes and scenarios up there on the screen come hell or high water - and that the script would have to be altered, nipped and tucked as best as it could be, to help ensure that this happened. Thus, the movie occasionally puts a foot wrong, even in this largely corrected Final Cut. But it is the fact that the much-reworked script continues to confound and mystify that makes Blade Runner such a worthy repeat viewing, even now after 25 years, it offers something new and intriguing. In fact, every damn time you see it some new consternation rears its ugly head and some deeper level of meaning rushes up to assuage the head-scratching. With a deceptively simple plot - detective hunts down felons in a murky milieu - Scott turns inward and ploughs through the psychological and emotional angst of what it means to be human. Asimov, Niven, Clarke and Kubrick, Star Trek , Frankenstein and even Doctor Who have all probed the same conundrum. The delight of each interpretation - one of the very foundation stones of Science Fiction - is that it never gets tiresome. Each treatment, providing it is done with conviction and integrity, delves beneath the surface veneer of future-scapes, space travel and alternate realities and asks questions of itself and of the viewer. Blade Runner, despite its immensely rich tableau and fascinatingly comprehensive setting of a living, breathing Asian-dominated, neon-dripping nouveau-vista, possibly asks more than most. The very audaciousness of its wrestling with the theological trap of creator and the created coming into conflict is the ace up Blade Runner's sleeve. Batty is both an underling and a god at the same time. His crusade to meet his maker and prolong his existence is an act of human desperation, yet his power and willingness to destroy the very thing that gave him life in the first place is an act grand self-adulation that will, in his fateful meeting with Deckard, turn full circle and implode with the simple, unimpeachably human attributes of charity and acceptance of one's own mortality. All very high-brow, isn't it? But Scott manages to make such thematic exploration amazingly taut and exciting. Deckard's awe-struck contemplation of his quarry's final moments, rhapsodising famously about those attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, and those beautifully eerie-sounding C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate is a moment of the purest transcendence and justifiably one of the genre's greatest ever denouements.

“It's too bad she won't live. But, then again ... who does?”

This version may well be available on HD, BD and SD DVD in only a matter of days time (in the UK at any rate), but no true fan of Blade Runner can afford to pass up the opportunity of seeing Scott's masterpiece on the big screen in finally what has to be its definitive edition. The experience is majestic and much more powerful than ever before, given the history that has welled-up within this collision of emotions and technology, violence and poetry.

A truly unique film, Blade Runner deserves to be seen at the cinema no matter how many times you may have watched it at home.

“I need the old Blade Runner. I need your magic.”

But why settle for the old one, when you can have this new and improved version? There's even more magic in it now.

Picture

So how does Scott's future-noir actually look in this spruced-up print?

Well, it looks terrific, actually. The image projected at the Fact Cinema in Liverpool unveiled a level of detail that has, previously, been unthinkable. The vast cityscapes are positively brimming with detail, from the subdued-Coruscant travel-ways in the murky air - the lights on the Spinners and the huge advertising blimps are mesmerising. The size and scale of some of sets beggar belief - the Union Station that stands in for Bryant's precinct and the Bradbury Building especially. The modelwork for the lifts going up the side of the Tyrell Corporation don't look so obvious on a screen this large and the buildings themselves feature lots more detail and depth. When Deckard is climbing up to the roof towards the end, have a look far left and down below to see a trail of cyclist come into view - something I had never noticed before. Close-ups have an incredibly sharp appearance and the whole film, throughout, has more clarity and finite attention to object delineation. Barring one moment when Tyrell's chessboard, as he looks down at it after J.F. has made his move, softens and becomes a blurry mess, Blade Runner looks an absolute dream and really bodes well for the forthcoming releases on HD and BD.

Naturally, for a film that is sci-fi noir, the combination of intense light and shadow is showcased with utter brilliance. A shot of Rachael near the start, cigarette in hand, her head only half-lit from the side and the deep coal of eyes smouldering (not glowing at this moment) looks simply amazing. The filtering tunnels of light from above as Deckard first begins to investigate Sebastian's place and the coruscating light as seen through the tippling sheets of rain as he battles for survival on the roof, are breathtakingly beautiful and should translate well to high definition.

For those who have only seen Blade Runner in its Director's Cut on DVD, the cinematic presentation is actually quite a grainy affair, certain elements of the movie quite fuzzy at times. And, especially for those who have been dining on high definition images for last few months, some shots can look surprisingly suffused with the stuff and may seem illegitimately disappointing. However, this is part and parcel of a cinematic presentation and, although the two friends that I saw the film with (both dual format owners and severely “grain-intolerant”) complained vociferously about it, I actually found that it gave Blade Runner as splendidly textured and atmospheric feel that was definitely in-keeping with the detective-noir theme.

Sound

With unmistakably more design having gone into the audio mix for this Final Cut, Blade Runner still isn't the absolute aural feast that you might want it to be. The stereo spread across the front remains astoundingly wide and rich with individual effects, voices, ambience and a keenly detailed wall of sound that is alive with clicks, whirs, music and babble. Greater acoustic stretch is attained with the many lively street scenes that bring the crowds and the hubbub to convincing life, but there is a definite limit to the surrounding envelopment. The traffic beacon - “Don't walk! Don't walk!” - fills the air above your head very nicely though.

The frequent depressing, but cool, rainfall, comes across well, deluging the setting with precise placing around the auditorium. The opportunity for audience immersion (apt, but thankfully only of a sonic nature) is not quite as thorough as you might think though. But then I am almost certainly guilty of expecting too much from the presentation simply because I wanted to be blown away by it. There is still much to enjoy, however. The gunshots have a resonant boom and the crashing of the glass when Zhora plunges through is scintillating. Ford's mumble is always intelligible and the clear and regal tones of Turkel shine through. Young's voice during her Voigt-Kampff Test is luscious and, of course, Hauer's voice breaks through any amount of sound effects or music, echoing through the movie - “Now ... questions Morphology? Longevity? Incept dates?” or how about the tauntingly terrific “I'm coming!” when he virtually yodels after a retreating Deckard. But, it is his final speech that carries the finale of the film to a new degree. We've all seen and heard it a thousand times on disc and on TV, but when that lilting soliloquy issues forth across a packed cinema, you can hear the amassed intake of breath from the audience.

And all the while Vangelis' awesome score soothes, soars and serenades Scott's powerful visuals, infiltrating every corner of the film and layering it with soul amidst the style that launched a whole new vogue. The love theme languishes with warmth like woozy lullaby, the opening cue feels gently epic with its subdued bass eruptions dotted around the soundscape, and the final blistering cue over the end titles pounds with vitality, punctuated by little splashes of embedded electronica. Awesome.

So, whilst, Blade Runner's theatrical sound presentation is no match for the aggressive bombast of, say, Transformers or Beowulf, it is still a tremendously atmospheric mix that sounded more dynamic and involving than I've heard it before.It is easy to state that the Final Cut is merely the Director's Cut freshly cleaned-up and injected with a couple of extra bits here and there. Certainly, the story is completely un-altered and that version's possible revelation about Deckard still stands. But the audio-tinkering and the bringing back of Joanna Cassidy to partly re-do her death-scene make the experience fuller, richer and contain less of those nagging little discrepancies that were flies in an otherwise delectable nectar. And, if anything, the film becomes more absorbing and memorable because the vision feels more complete. The print looks wonderful for a film now 25 years old and there are so many iconic shots and scenes here that you really owe it to yourself to witness it upon the hugest screen you can find.

And one of most spectacular things about it? Well ... after you've munched your popcorn and wandered off into the drizzly night (which is perfectly appropriate to keep you in a Deckard type of mood) you can smugly look forward to owning this, and every other version of the film, in only a couple of week's time. My advice - go for the Ultimate Edition that comes in the briefcase. You can never have too much Blade Runner!

Scores

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