Now available on DVD, HD-DVD, Blu-Ray
Five-film boxsets include the original US version, the International version, the Workprint (all 1982), the Director's Cut (1992), and the new Final Cut (2007).
Well, wow. It’s about time I talked a little about my favourite film. The perfect opportunity has arisen with the new boxset releases that include a new Final Cut of the film. It's not a review of the film, but thoughts on the new version.
After a delay of five years for legal haggling, the 20th anniversary release has become a 25th anniversary. While the wait has been unbearable, hopefully the extras have had time to be almost perfect! But I was expecting more of a fanfare, aside from all the advertising. The tenth anniversary gained a wide theatrical release, and this version is much more different than the so-called 'Director’s Cut'.
For years I’ve been fuming about the Director’s Cut eclipsing the original International Version that I first saw in 1982 (a much more violent version than was seen in the States). The Director’s Cut lost the violence, the narration and the happy ending. But it was little more than an intermediate edit for the new Final Cut and deserves to be ditched in the scheme of things as little more than a castrated reissue. Of course, it’s now had a shelf life of 15 years and been the only version ever available on DVD, versus the original’s 10 year reign which only made it to VHS panned and scanned, only ever widescreen on laserdisc. The Director’s Cut has been the most seen, but least interesting version. The unicorn shot was the only additional footage, lifted from out-takes from Legend (which was filmed after Blade Runner, fuelling rumours that Ridley had made up the scene afterwards).
I’m obsessed with many films, but this one has preoccupied me the most. It’s so dense, layered in meaning, visuals, music... I love the production design of the film, the cast, the special effects, the accurate-looking future, the emotions, the richness of the cinematography… I could go on.
It was released at a time when journalism was starting to provide accurate behind-the-scenes coverage about film production, and here was a subject that deserved to be written about, most notably the Cinefantastique double issue and the Cinefex issue dedicated to the special effects. When the Directors Cut was released, the crucial Video Watchdog article listed the differences between all versions and highlighted the Workprint as being far more interesting – finally we can see that too in the 5-disc disc release.
Entire books have been devoted to the film, best of which was an authoritative expansion of the CFQ article written by Paul Sammon – Future Noir. Though it's likely to have been pillaged for all the best anecdotes to go into the extensive documentary and DVD extras.
Added to this, along the years, several indepth websites continued to update props whereabouts, interview the cast members, log alternate early scripts, and even post missing chapters from the Sammon book.
So after pouring over images of lost scenes, sounds and anecdotes, we finally get to see an update of the film, with the most annoying special effects and continuity errors of the film corrected digtially. Wire removal now makes the full-size Spinner car fly, a stunt woman in a bad wig has now morphed back into Joanna Cassidy, Deckard’s tell-tale bruise has been removed (it appeared beofre his fight with Leon because a dialogue scene got the number of surviving replicants wrong). Countless other dialogue tweaks in the soundtrack explain the unexplained, yet the much talked about narration remains missing, leaving the film treading water in places. I liked the narration – I miss it’s poignancy as well as background exposition – it still echoes in my memory as the new versions of the film play without it.
Anyway, hopefully there’ll be no more variants. Besides the fixes, there is little additional footage - three scenes are very different, jarring to someone who’s seen it many times – the unicorn, the dove, the hockey masks...
The whole debate about Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, being an artificial replicant like the ones he’s hunting down, is a complete red herring, but it's the storypoint that everyone now talks about. Scott fixed it in the Director’s Cut to lead us towards that conclusion (why didn’t he do that originally?). He’s now nailed it in interviews, but in the film the unicorn scene and it's pay-off are oblique references open to interpretation. To me, Deckard is more human than the replicants, he loses every single fight with them, even the pleasure model! The story has him teaching a non-human to love – that scene is meaningless if he too is artificial.
One scene has his eyes subtly ‘glow’ the same way as the replicants – I always thought that was a clever red herring placed halfway through the story to send the audience in the wrong direction. Harrison Ford didn’t play Deckard as artificial, while the other actors take great pains to portray something child-like and different in the replicants. Zhora’s killing machine anger and strength, Pris’s four-year old vulnerability, Leon’s twitchy ignorance, Roy’s race against the clock – all masterly performances of replicants, very different from Ford’s.
The film for me is about the contrast between human and artificial human. The irony, the humour and even the plot falls falls down if he’s one of them too. It’s a cheap twist ending, more abrupt and “huh?” than the original ‘happy ending’ which I prefer. In the Channel 4 documentary, many other members of the cast and crew were equally divided about this point – it should be open to opinion, not ‘fixed in post’.
But now on HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, an impeccable futureproof 4K telecine transfer now gives us a glorious new version to be studied, rendering far more background detail – sometimes too much. Spinners can now be seen flying around in the far distance of the cityscape – an astonishing detail.
To me there’s little that dates the film. The themes of genetic replication, overpopulation, artificial intelligence, fucked weather, are all as relevant as ever. The vision of a future that will be mucky, wet, and dangerous and that humans will escape and discard the dying planet to look for new ones seems more likely than ever.
For me, the future hasn't arrived until we get flying cars.
Now for the other four discs...
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