Ah... Gosh... You've Got Some Really Nice Toys Here

by Arthur B

Arthur reviews Blade Runner: the Final Cut.
Everyone with an interest in film knows the story of Blade Runner, but a brief summary for those who don't: in 1982 Ridley Scott directed Harrison Ford in his role as Rick Deckard, the Philip Marlowe of 2019, a police detective devoted to hunting down genetically-engineered robots who are nigh-indistinguishable from human beings save for their super-strength, uncanny intelligence, limited emotional capacity and 4-year lifespan. Test screenings had a mixed response, and the studio forced Ford to add a needless voiceover and Scott to add a spurious happy ending. Widespread bootlegging of the pre-voiceover edition prompted Scott to release a director's cut in 1992, gaining broad recognition of the film's merits. Now, 15 years later, Scott has used the best technology available to him to produce The Final Cut, the ultimate and definitive version of the movie.

Of course, Blade Runner is the second genre-defining SF film starring Harrison Ford whose pioneering special effects and artistic vision had a powerful aesthetic impact to have had a deliciously-remastered rerelease. The first one, of course, is Star Wars. But there's a fundamental difference betweem Blade Runner: the Final Cut and George Lucas's new edition of Star Wars: Ridley Scott has a modicum of respect for cinematic history and understands why his creation was good in the first place.

While "Han Shot First" proved to be a useful rallying cry for people dissatsfied with George Lucas smearing ugly CGI all over the original Star Wars trilogy, but Han's trigger finger isn't the problem with the new versions of Star Wars; the problem is the special effects, and the use of CGI to interfere with them. Star Wars is not significant because of the plot or the worldbuilding, and it's certainly not down to the acting; it's because it was a stunning special effects extravaganza on a scale which was simply unseen when it came out. Adding a CGI Jabba the Hutt wobbling across the screen undermines that: it replaces effects which may have dated slightly but were revolutionary for their time with effects which date horribly quickly and are entirely pedestrian for their time. The alterations ignore the very reasons why Star Wars made cinematic history in the first place, and as a result obscure its worth.

Compare with the example of Blade Runner: The Final Cut, where most of the efforts are dedicated to preserving and clarifying the original sound and vision as opposed to slotting in spurious new material, although there are a few additions and alterations. It's actually difficult to see where the additions have been made; a few pieces of dialogue are changed to remove plot holes, some of the crowd scenes have been tinkered with and added to, and Zhora's death scene, in which she crashes through a series of plate glass windows, was entirely re-shot, although so seamlessly that I was astonished to find out that was the case. Oh, and the blooper where Roy Baty releases a dove when he dies at night time and it flies away into a bright blue daytime sky has been fixed, thank God.

The majority of the work, however, has gone into making this the most beautiful version of Blade Runner you will ever see. The visuals and audio are crisper and cleaner than in any previous version, and yet always in a manner which makes the epoch-defining special effects of the original seem even more impressive, as opposed to making it look dated. This is very much worthwhile in the case of Blade Runner; although in terms of acting and story it blows Star Wars out of the water, it's still mainly an aesthetic experience, and it's even more important to show the inspired model work that informed their depiction of 2019 Los Angeles in these dark days of heavy-handed and unconvincing CGI.

The best thing about The Final Cut, of course, is that it's given us all another chance to see Blade Runner in the cinema, although it's only playing at a very few locations. To coincide with the rerelease a 5-disc DVD box has come out containing every version of the film extant, including the early version shown to test audiences and the original theatrical release (complete with horrible voiceover and extraneous cheerful ending); compare this with George Lucas high-handedly destroying the negatives to the original versions of the first three Star Wars movies.

Blade Runner enjoys a cultural impact which eclipses that of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the source novel, but Philip K. Dick didn't mind: on seeing an early cut, he thought it would transform SF cinema forever. He was right, of course. Blade Runner is still as exciting, relevant, beautiful and haunting as it was 25 years ago. 100 years from now it will be taught in schools; 500 years from now it will provide the some of the only extant source material for historians of the 21st Century. In 2500 years it will form the basis of a new religion. Ridley Scott's work in securing the film's legacy is admirable, and should be the model for every future remastering of old movies.

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