The neo-noir neon nightmare that is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) has finally made it to town in its latest—and presumably last—incarnation as Blade Runner: The Final Cut. This is to differentiate it from plain old Blade Runner and Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut. (I’d have called it Blade Runner: The Final—No Fooling, Really Final—Cut, but that’s just me.) Of course, it’s gotten here after the film’s release on DVD, but don’t let that stop you. There’s really only one way to see Blade Runner, and that’s on the big screen. Prior to Friday night, I had never seen it on a movie screen. It makes a significant difference—probably more of one than this latest version.
Not being one of the film’s more ardent admirers, I can’t cite chapter and verse about the latest changes. I know the sub-Raymond Chandler narration that was slapped onto the original release has been removed, as has the cheesy happy-ish ending, but these were changes made to the director’s cut as well. Any other changes, I leave to those who know the film like the back of their hands. I’m far more interested in how much the movie gains from sheer size, and how time has treated it in the 26 years since its original release.
While I’ve always admired Ridley Scott as a visual stylist, I’ve never found him terribly convincing or satisfying as a dramatist. I have some of that problem here, but it’s a problem that’s largely overcome by the coherence of the film’s extraordinary look. As a vision of the future, it’s probably close to being on par with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) in terms of grandeur—although of a stunningly different and far more unsettling kind. The world of Blade Runner is a rain-soaked, perpetually dark dystopia where the wealthy live far above the poor in horrifying gigantic buildings that would blot out the sun if the sun could penetrate the pollution on the rare occasions when it isn’t raining. Gigantic billboards float in the cityscape, enticing a consumer-based society to ever greater levels of consumption, while the lower levels are a testament to decay and crime and seediness.
In a way, it’s simply the logical sci-fi extension of the world of film noir. Even the mastermind who created the replicants (androids almost indistinguishable from humans) central to the film’s story isn’t very far removed from, say, the reclusive industrialist in Frank Tuttle’s This Gun for Hire (1942). It all works here—in part because it grows out of an identifiable reality (in both fact and fiction), but also because the film never leaves its manufactured world. This darkness and amazing complexity demands the size of a movie screen in order to be appreciated. It also shows off the film’s Douglas Trumbull special effects in a telling manner. Scott appears to have tweaked things via computer wizardry for this version, but the solidity of the original non-CGI effects remains in place—and frankly they’re far more convincing than those in most recent effects-oriented films. Look and see what technology has cost us.
I still have problems with the film’s storyline. Some of the scenes between Harrison Ford and Sean Young—important to the plot and theme of the film—drag badly for me. And though it’s deliberate, the supposedly (or presumably) human characters tend to seem very two-dimensional. The hints—a few lines of dialogue, the unicorn imagery—that Ford’s replicant hunter might himself be a replicant give the film a certain weight that at least suggests a depth that’s not entirely supported by the story. But the film inescapably raises some pointed questions about the nature of humanity, and it does so within the confines of a splendidly evocative setting. For those reasons alone, Blade Runner deserves respect. Rated R for violence and brief nudity.