Blade Runner: Final Cut (1982) dir. Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Joe Turkel
Congratulations to the Regent Theatre in Toronto and all other theatres around the world that are hosting the re-release of “Blade Runner”. It’s being billed as “The Final Cut” after many other cuts that have circulated since 1982. The marketing and hype around this would make it seem like we’re watching a brand new version. For me it’s still the same “Blade Runner”, with differences I barely noticed from the previous versions. In fact, it’s basically a re-editing of the various elements cut out or edited back in over the years. Whichever version it is it’s still a fantastic film and one of the all-time great sci-fi pictures.
Personally, I liked all the versions. I don’t mind the much-trounced noir-ish voiceover from Harrison Ford, and I don’t mind the so-called ‘happy ending” which has Deckard and Rachael driving off together away from Los Angeles, nor do I mind the unicorn subplot which implies Deckard as a Replicant. All of these elements are peripheries to the main themes of the film, which are profound examinations of the nature of humanity. If Replicants were created by humans does this give us the right to exert absolute superiority and authority over them? Do they have the right to freedom?
In the backstory Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) created a series of artificial intelligent robots called Replicants that look and act exactly like humans. They are so real only through a series of electronically monitored psychological tests can they be differentiated from normal humans. Tyrell gave his creations a life span of only four years, after which time they die. When several of the Replicants revolt aboard their spaceship and return to Earth illegally, they are immediately targeted for termination. A Blade Runner named Deckard (Harrison Ford), whose specialty is in tracking down these robots, is assigned to this job.
I remember back in the ’82 my Dad and my older cousins were talking about the film with exuberance. Though it wasn’t successful commercially there was a buzz about the film. When I saw the film on video as an 8-year old I was disappointed (with any sci-fi film I always expected “Star Wars” or “The Black Hole”). Even for adults, it’s a tough film to crack. The pacing is intentionally slow; in fact listen to the slow-motion speed of Roy Batty’s dialogue; and the cinematography and production design, though brilliant, is dark, wet and moody.
But on subsequent viewings “Blade Runner” quickly grew on me, specifically once the existential themes seeped into my skin. The final cat-and-mouse chase between Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Deckard is a classic Ridley Scott scene (remember the ending of “The Duellists”, or “Black Rain”?), but Rutger Hauer’s speech at the end is even more important. If the film were from Batty’s point of view, he would be the hero. His description of the pain and suffering he has experienced over his four years of servitude puts the entire film into a different context. Think of relativity. What would you do if you were born into obscene slavery, forced to fight wars against your will and then be told your life has clock-ticking expiration date? Great films show the shades of grey of their lead characters. And by the end of this film, the seemingly sadistic bad guy becomes a tragic hero. And his heroism in saving Deckard, his final act of redemption, proves he, like his human counterparts, are capable of forgiveness.
Even if these thematic elements seem weak (as they did with Roger Ebert), there’s always the awesome auditory and visual experience of the film to enjoy. The special effects by the legendary Douglas Trumbull are still phenomenal. As the creator of the optical effects in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Trumbull is true master of light. His work is complimented by the lighting by cinematographer Jordon Cronenweth – who underlights his interiors, but blasts harsh spotlights through every window. And in the Regent Theatre, the awesome sound system added a new level to the film I had never experienced on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD or late night television.
Each and every version of “Blade Runner” is special. The mere fact there are 4 or 5 versions of the film is a testament to the fact that the little additions don’t really change the grand scope of the film. It’s greater than the sum of its parts and a classic. Please see it in the theatres if you have the chance. Enjoy.
Buy it on DVD in December: Blade Runner (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition)