Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007, Ridley Scott)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Twenty-five years after its release, director Ridley Scott returned to Blade Runner and oversaw another new version – this one was touted as the last one ever, definitely, we promise. As well as reversing changes he’d been forced into making in 1982, Scott took the opportunity to carry out numerous other tweaks. The film and soundtrack were also digitally remastered. Scott considers this the definitive version. As I’ve already written about the original movie and its 1990s re-edit, this is a discussion of the notable changes made in 2007. It’s far from a full list – just those that I spotted and thought interesting.

* This version uses the ‘International Cut’ as its basis, so contains the shots of violence missing from the 1982 US edition and the 1992 Director’s Cut.
* The whole film has been graded more brightly, which allows us to see extra detail in the glorious production design.
* The voiceover is absent.
* During the briefing scene, a plot hole has been fixed. Originally, Bryant told us that *one* escaped replicant was killed while trying to break into Tyrell’s headquarters; now, he says two. It was a genuine mistake in 1982 that the ‘one’ line was used. It was filmed that way because there was going to be a fifth rogue replicant in the story. Actress Stacey Nelkin was even cast as Mary, but the scenes were dropped before she filmed anything.
* In the same conversation, Bryant now goes into more detail about Leon.
* The first shot of Roy Batty is a close-up that was actually stolen from a different scene – and in the earlier versions of the film you can see Tyrell’s thumb on Batty’s shoulder! For this Final Cut, the thumb has been digitally removed.
* The unicorn dream is included, but in a different way from the 1992 Director’s Cut. It’s now clear that Deckard is awake and specifically thinking about the unicorn. We cut between reality and dream a couple of times. The sound mix of the unicorn shots has also been redone.
* A photograph we see of Zhora now features Joanna Cassidy, the actress who played her, rather than whoever-the-fuck-it-was in the 1982 version.
* The scene between Deckard and snake-seller Abdul Ben Hassan has had its lip-syncing issues fixed. In both the original version and the Director’s Cut, Deckard’s voice doesn’t match his mouth movements *at all*. Now it does, thanks to some astonishing moviemaking magic. The lower portion of Harrison Ford’s face has been digital replaced with newly shot footage of his son Ben’s mouth saying the dialogue! Talk about attention to detail.
* There are some extra shots of the LA streets. Amongst them, we see two near-naked women dancing in a plastic tube. They’re wearing hockey masks for some reason.
* When Deckard is searching for nightclub owner Taffy Lewis, he now asks a cop for directions.
* Perhaps the most famous goof in Blade Runner has been corrected. In Zhora’s death scene, the head of the obvious stuntwoman has been digitally replaced by new footage of Joanna Cassidy shot 25 years after the fact.
* When Roy Batty confronts Tyrell, he now says, “I want more life, father!” rather than “I want more life, fucker!” It’s a toss-up which version is better. The new one speaks to the theme, I suppose, but I miss the punk attitude of the original.
* Originally, the shadows of two crewmembers – said to be Ridley Scott and cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth – could be seen on a wall during Deckard’s chase of Batty. They’ve now been silently erased.
* When a dying Batty lets go of the dove he’s been holding, the shot of it flying away has been changed. Originally, it was a jarring image of a drab warehouse wall and a daytime sky – no one was happy with it. Now, the architecture and mood of the shot match the rest of the scene.
* As in the Director’s Cut, the ‘happy ending’ scene of Deckard and Rachel driving off together has been dropped.

Review: Sumptuous. This is the version to watch.

Ten skinjobs out of 10

Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (1992, Ridley Scott)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In 1982, during post-production of Blade Runner, a work-in-progress edit was shown to preview audiences in Dallas and Denver. Negative feedback led to numerous changes for the release version, such as the addition of both Deckard’s voiceover and a ‘happy ending’ scene of Deckard and Rachel escaping the city. Eight years after the movie came out, a 70mm copy of that early rough cut (known to Blade Runner fans as the workprint) was found and screened at film festivals. A buzz quickly grew, so Warner Bros decided to cash in. Despite its name, Ridley Scott was too busy to oversee this ‘Director’s Cut’ for its 1992 release, though it was an attempt to restore more of his original vision. As I’ve already reviewed the 1982 version of the film, this is instead a discussion of the changes made a decade later.

* The Director’s Cut uses the US theatrical version as its base, so it’s missing the 16 extra seconds of violence that were seen in other countries. A shame.
* Deckard’s narration has thankfully been completely removed. Early in the film, to plug a gap where voiceover used to be, we hear a longer Tannoy announcement coming from the massive blimp flying above the city.
* As Deckard sits at the piano in his apartment, he now has a 12-second daydream about a unicorn running through the woods.
* The film ends one scene earlier than before, with the lift doors closing on Deckard and Rachel. So the daytime shots of them driving into the countryside are missing.

Review: At the original film’s climax, Deckard finds a small origami unicorn outside his apartment. The fact it’s a unicorn is neither here nor there; it’s simply a tip-off that Gaff tracked down Rachel but let her live. However, the Director’s Cut introduces the daydream mentioned above, which gives the story new meaning. Now we must ask: is Gaff actually revealing that he knows what Deckard has been dreaming about? If so, does that mean Deckard himself is a replicant? Of course, a unicorn is a mythical, fictional creature: in other words, not real. The dream also acts as a magnet, pulling other pre-existing clues into focus:
* When asked if he ever took a replicant-spotting Voight-Kampff test, Deckard doesn’t answer.
* Deckard’s eyes glint in the light at one point, in the same way replicants’ eyes do at various times in the film. (Harrison Ford says this was an accident when he stepped across Sean Young’s mark – but of course the fact Ridley Scott used the take is significant.)
* Deckard’s apartment is littered with photographs. Not only are they mostly old-fashioned and black-and-white, so therefore seem to be from someone else’s life, but we’re told that replicants collect photos as a way of forming their own histories.
* When Deckard is briefed about his mission, his boss tells him that six replicants have escaped and that one was killed trying to infiltrate Tyrell HQ. That leaves five: Roy, Leon, Pris, Zhora… and Deckard? Could he actually be one of Roy’s gang reprogrammed to hunt them down? (Again, this plot ambiguity is actually a mistake: the line should have been that two were killed before the film began, but the wrong take was used and no one noticed the mathematical error.)
Pleasingly, the film never comes out and says for certain either way. But on balance, the Director’s Cut suggests that Deckard is a replicant. This was the first version of Blade Runner I ever saw, on VHS in 1992 or so. Perhaps that means I’m biased, but because it erases the dreary voiceover and adds ambiguity via the daydream I’d say it’s even better than the original.

Ten attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion out of 10

Next time… Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Ten Things I Love About Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

1. The script.
Los Angeles, November 2019. Six replicants – strong, skilful, synthetic humans – have escaped and are on the run. So a detective called Deckard is pulled out of retirement to hunt them down… Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a thoughtful book set in a post-apocalyptic world and is full of complex sci-fi ideas. However, in adapting it for the cinema, writers Hampton Fancher and David Peoples unashamedly stripped the story down and repurposed it as a film noir. There’s a world-weary detective on one last job, a gruff boss who wants results, a classy broad with a secret past, a dark, rain-sodden city… Despite being about robots, it’s a pleasingly old-fashioned plot. And it’s remarkably simple: detective Deckard simply moves from A to B, following clues and tracking down the ‘bad guys’. There’s virtually no intrigue. Director Ridley Scott’s previous film, Alien, was about a dispassionate creature killing a group one-by-one. Here’s the same concept, but from the killer’s point of view. But with so much going on visually and thematically, the story needs to be linear and clear. (The combination of sci-fi concepts and film-noir conventions resulted in a new sub-genre called Tech Noir, named for a nightclub in 1984’s The Terminator. Blade Runner is its definitive text.)

2. Deckard.
This is Harrison Ford in the middle of one of the *the* great CV runs. For a decade or so from 1973, he appeared in American Graffiti, The Conversation, a Star Wars trilogy, Apocalypse Now, two Indiana Jones movies and Blade Runner (and was cut out of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial). Not too shabby. Philip K Dick certainly approved of the casting, calling Ford “more like Rick Deckard than I could have ever imagined… Seeing him as a character I created is a stunning and almost supernatural experience to me.” Here, Ford’s hair is closely cropped rather than Han Solo shaggy, while the Indy charisma has gone too. It’s a terrifically controlled, unshowy performance. Deckard is a classic film-noir gumshoe – he works reluctantly for the police’s Blade Runner Unit (what the name means is never explained), is a loner (the droll voiceover tells us he has an ex-wife) and barely raises a smile. The character’s name is a pun on René Descartes, a philosopher whose most famous maxim was “I think therefore I am.” And that rings with the film’s central question: what does it mean to be alive? Deckard is initially cruel to Rachel, the first robot he meets, because he doesn’t see her as a genuine person. But he gradually grows fascinated by her, falls in love, and this helps with his mission: he only starts finding the rogue replicants once he accepts they have emotions and personalities… In one scene, Ford gets to step outside the private-eye persona. When he meets Zhora, he pretends to be an unctuous union rep with a whiny voice. It’s a better bit of acting than Harrison Ford’s Scottish accent when does a similar thing in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Note: because it’s less relevant to this version of the film, I’ll save discussion of who Deckard really is for the next review.)

3. Futurism.
When released, the movie was set 37 years into the future – a date we’re now only 36 months away from hitting. But like all the best science fiction, it looks back as much as it looks forward. This is not a Star Trek world of gleaming perfection and utopian lushness. The city still has garish 1980s commercialism, such as billboards for Coke, Atari and Pan Am; there are flying cars, but they mostly have the silhouette of vehicles from the mid-20th century; and every street is full of bustling, chaotic crowds. There’s just as much decay as there is progress. As a fictional setting, it’s *totally* convincing. (It’s also constantly raining. This helps with the relentlessly gloomy vibe, but Ridley Scott had a more prosaic reason: the water disguised how small the exterior sets were.) Blade Runner is also the key example of cinematic cyberpunk, which is perhaps surprising given that it pointedly sidelines computers and has little concept of a digital world. Machines here are functional and analogue. (Check out Deckard’s chunky, juddering photo scanner!) But the clash of ‘high tech and low life’ is what cyberpunk is all about – the more advanced the technology gets, the more rotten the society becomes. And Blade Runner’s world is built on that conflict.

4. The design.
The aesthetic of the sets, costumes, vehicles, props and locations is *extraordinary*. Numerous cinematic geniuses worked on the film’s physical look, among them concept artist Syd Mead (Tron, Aliens), production designer Lawrence G Paull (Back to the Future), special-effects wizard Douglas Trumbull (2001, Close Encounters, Silent Running) and of course Ridley Scott. Their Los Angeles is a masterpiece. From a wide shot of the city, we see familiar sprawl – but with additional power plants, flaming towers and flying vehicles. Thick smog hangs over the whole area. Then when we go down to ground level, everywhere is busy, textured, overflowing with people and vehicles and activity. Again, it’s about imagining a future culture by using what’s gone before – specifically the early 20th century. To suit the story’s film-noir mood, sets and costumes (including men’s hats) often feel like they’re from the 1940s. Meanwhile, because he’s detached from the rest of the population, Tyrell’s office building is shaped like a pyramid and has a vaguely Egyptian feel inside (another logical throwback: after Howard Carter opened Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, a streak of Egyptology ran through American theatre, film and fashion). The 1920s and 30s are also evident in the flashes of Art Deco architecture and the decadent nightclub where Deckard finds Zhora. But playing on the rise of Japanese technology in the early 80s, the city has been laced with an Asian influence – colourful neon signs pop out of almost every exterior shot, many in eastern languages, while fast-food stalls sell noodles. Ridley Scott mostly used sets, including a heavily redressed section of a pre-existing fake street, but there are also carefully chosen real locations: the cavernous Los Angeles Union Station for the police HQ, the Bradbury Building for Sebastian’s apartment, a glistening road tunnel… All of these elements build a stunning universe for the story to take place in. There is enormous detail – extras, shop fronts, stalls, vehicles, signage, screens, umbrella, bicycles, hovering sky-ships – but it’s never overwhelming or cluttered like a lumbering CGI blockbuster. Instead, the world feels alive and vibrant and menacing and fresh and dangerous and seductive. On each viewing, I want the camera to follow every single extra to see who they are and where they’re going.

5. Lighting.
Let’s not equivocate. Blade Runner is the best-lit film there is. The director of photography was Jordan Cronenweth, who was responsible for two hours of sensationally beautiful images. Not one single frame is boring or ugly. There’s a lot of smoke and shadow, flares and florescence, Venetian blinds and fan blades. Almost the entire film is set at night, yet for such a dark film there’s beauty, atmosphere and texture in *everything*.

6. Rachel.
A dame right out of the 1940s – clock her vintage outfits and victory-rolls hairdo! – Rachel is introduced with an archly lit shot where she walks into a spotlight. The camera loves her. When Deckard realises that she’s actually a replicant, he starts referring to her as ‘it’. Sean Young is maybe not the strongest actress, but you can’t help but feel the character’s pain when he then rudely confirms her fears that she’s not real. Sadly, Rachel later drops out of the story while Deckard hunts down Roy Batty. She returns for the ending, though: Rachel escapes the city with Deckard and they drive off into the countryside. For the first time in the film, it’s daytime. Ridley Scott hated being forced to include the scene, and it’s been dropped from subsequent versions. But I’ve never had a problem with it. It’s not a cosy happy-ever-after; it’s a brief glimpse of hope…

7. Music.
The famous score is by Vangelis. It’s electronica with Pink Floyd prog-rock grandeur. Elegant, seductive, hypnotic. Later, it turns appropriately grubby when Deckard’s detective works leads him deep into the bazaar-like streets. (The whole sound mix is generally terrific. Multiple viewings keep throwing up new details.)

8. Roy Batty.
We first see the film’s antagonist on a computer screen. A caption tells us that his ‘incept date’ – ie, his date of birth – is 8 January 2016. Billy Idol blond, he’s a combat model and is the leader of the replicants who have got loose. In some ways, Roy is the most human character in the story. He certainly has the biggest lust for life. His tragedy is that he’s fatally aware that his time is running out – and that means he appreciates experiences more vividly. Roy isn’t actually in the film very much, but like any great ‘villain’ he’s really charismatic. You can’t take your eyes off him. His pre-death soliloquy – partly written by actor Rutger Hauer – is rightly lauded. An action film where the climax is the baddie saving the hero’s life, sitting down, and quietly dying? That’s a pretty decent trick.

9. The rest of the cast.
We meet three other replicants… The kooky and sweet Pris (Daryl Hannah) has a punk look and is euphemistically called a leisure model. Ironically, her incept date is 14 February 2016. Tough guy Leon (Brion James) is uncovered in the opening scene, so attacks his boss and later tries to kill Deckard. The youngest of the gang, his incept date is 10 April 2017. And the beautiful Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) is hiding as an exotic dancer at a seedy nightclub. Her incept date is 12 June 2016. Sadly, her death scene features a very obvious stuntwoman in a very bad wig. Roy and Pris befriend a nervous, naïve man called JF Sebastian (William Sanderson), who lives with a gaggle of animatronic toys. They force him to take them to their creator, Tyrell (Joe Turkel), who lives in a palatial apartment of drapes and candles. Meanwhile, Deckard has two colleagues of note. His boss is Bryant (M Emmet Walsh), while a man called Gaff (Edward James Olmos) seems to have a watching brief over the Blade Runner agents. The latter uses a cane, enjoys origami and talks in Cityspeak, a mishmash of various languages.

10. Cuts.
One of the minor reasons Blade Runner has such a lasting legacy is that there are five different edits available, some with really interesting differences. For a kick-off, there were two versions released in 1982: in the rest of the world, we got 16 seconds of violence that had been trimmed from the US print. This review is based on that slightly longer ‘international version’. The bits not seen in America come during Tyrell’s murder, Deckard’s fight with Pris, and a moment when Batty pushes a nail through his own hand. I’ll discuss the other versions in the next two reviews.

Review: There’s a recurring motif of eyes in this movie. A close-up of a pupil is one of the first things we see; the machine that assesses replicants uses an iris-scanner; Leon threatens to poke Deckard’s eyes out; an ocular technician gives Roy some vital information; Batty pushes Tyrell’s eyes into his head; replicants’ eyes sometimes glint red in the light… The eyeball is a product of evolution, but is so complex and useful that many assume it must have been designed. That tension – evolution vs design, human vs replicant – runs through the whole film. Nominally a standard manhunt movie, Blade Runner is a discussion of what it means to be alive. Are the humans (evolution) any more ‘alive’ than the replicants (designed)? Do they have more right to life? The film’s biggest achievement may be that it’s so stylised, so constructed, so designed, yet feel totally organic and real. Just like a replicant. It’s also, as mentioned, the best-looking movie of all time. The craft on show in the design work, the photography and the special effects has yet to be bettered. Unfortunately, before the film was released, poor audience reactions at test screenings led to a voiceover being added against the wishes of the director and star. As a storytelling device, it’s fine in concept – it really does fit the Sam Spade idiom – but is just bad writing. All it does is spell out things we would rather be left to infer. The crassest example comes just seconds after Roy has died: the narration cuts in, spoiling the moment, to tell you the bleeding obvious. Make no mistake: this film is a masterpiece. It’s one of the most imperishable examples of popular culture. But that voiceover, man… I just can’t justify a 10. Let’s cheat:

Nine and a half Voight-Kampff machines out of 10

Next time… Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut