In 1982, director Ridley Scott unveiled his third film, a slow and visually stunning science-fiction thriller, Blade Runner. The studio funding the shoot panicked; they’d paid for an action movie and Scott had delivered something sombre and thoughtful. A quick re-cut was ordered: a voice-over added to explain all the unspoken links in the plot; a happy ending grafted on using footage borrowed from The Shining.
Critics were left bemused, and although a strong fan-base developed, the original Blade Runner was no more than an ambitious failure. However, ten years later, a “Director’s Cut” was released, more or less restoring the original print. The film was widely acclaimed and became one of the first DVD releases. Scott was not content however, and now, an incredible 25 years since the original cut, he has revisited the original footage to produce this version: “The Final Cut.”
The plot is a mixture of dystopian sci-fi and Chandler-esque noir. Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a Blade Runner: a policeman specialising in the detection and execution of the human-like Replicants, escaped from slave-labour off-world. In now-widely familiar near-future LA of floating cars, neon adverts and endless smoke and rain, he is forced from retirement for one last job.
We follow the investigation and the four escaped Replicants, led by charismatic Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and his lover Pris (Daryl Hannah). Built to resemble humans exactly, Replicants are only distinguishable from people by a lack of emotions, and a strange test based on emotional reactions is used to identify them. But in a decaying world, where the humans are forgetting their empathy and the robots are learning theirs, can such a test be relied upon? And is Deckard a hero, or a murderer? Is he, indeed, a Replicant himself?
The Final Cut sees the footage digitally re-mastered and the quality produced is astonishing. Details leap, sharp and fresh from the screen: for the first time, audiences can truly appreciate the eye-aching depth of the art direction and set design. The world teems. It’s so striking (especially to those familiar with the original) that it’s almost distracting, and it’s fair to say that in removing the haze and grime of old film stock, some of the original’s bleak, decayed atmosphere has been lost. The bustling street scenes, thick with cars, umbrellas, talking street-signs and Hari Krishnas, seem more like a studio set than before.
However, the effects sequences have never looked so good. The post-capitalist wasteland of an emptying LA has never seemed so grand or so desolate. Modern high-budget equivalents, such as Minority Report or the Star Wars prequels, are more ambitious in scope but far less successful in delivery. The Blade Runner city is an icon of the modern film age and to see it on the big screen is worth the cost of the ticket alone.
The new edit itself is less remarkable, in that it’s essentially the same as the ’92 version. Some scenes have been extended, but they’re mostly background details, corridors and flying cars, that add little and slow the pace in what is already a very slow film. The famous “bug” in the script – four Replicants are hunted down despite an earlier scene stating there are five on the loose – has been fixed. There are no new lines, although one has been edited to remove the film’s only swear-word (Roy, encountering his creator Tyrell, now demands “I want more life, Father”). There’s a tiny bit of unnecessary extra gore, perhaps to please the more vicious palette of a modern audience.
Indeed, it’ll be interesting to see if this release wins the film new fans. It’s possible modern viewers will find the pace sluggish, and the vision of a world smothered by machines all a little quaint. In contrast to modern Hollywood titles, there’s little emphasis on story here: the plot is episodic and the focus is the android’s nascent emotions (Deckard’s included, if you will). The mystery the viewer is asked to unravel is not in the world but the character's heads. With no twists, no comic relief, virtually no exposition and no clear moral, it’s unlikely the film would be green-lit in today’s industry.
However, twenty-five years on, Blade Runner still dazzles. Its artistry, in the fields of set-design, cinematography and concept, are as breathtaking as ever. Little has dated, beyond the actress' hairstyles (and even they fit into a future world seamlessly, fashion being as volatile as it is). The script is lean, poised, and full of the riches that fans have been quoting for years. (“If you could see, what I’ve seen, with your eyes.”) The music, an original score by Vangelis, is evocative, alien and expressive. The actors – given the difficult task of portraying emotionless robots uncertainly discovering their own depths – are mesmeric, with Hauer’s Roy Batty being the actor’s definitive role.
Blade Runner is a modern classic, that deserves every new cinema run it receives. Whether this Final Cut is superior to the Director’s Cut is likely to be a matter of personal taste, but the film’s place in the pantheon of science-fiction and Hollywood is guaranteed. Not to be missed.
The Final Cut is on limited release at Picture House cinemas from the 23rd of November, and released on DVD on the 3rd December.