After 25 years since its original release, a definitive version of Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterwork Blade Runner, Blade Runner: The Final Cut, has arrived.
So what exactly has changed? And is it worth all the fuss?
After attending a recent screening, I can report that there are significant differences, mainly improvements, between this new version and Ridley’s first Director’s Cut released in 1992.
First off, the unicorn dream sequence, originally introduced in the Director’s Cut, has been extended. Deckard’s daydream of a unicorn galloping through a forest in slow motion is a pivotal scene, apparently suggesting that Deckard, like Rachel, is a replicant. In a recent article in Wired, Ridley explained why.
“Gaff, at the end, doesn’t like Deckard, and we don’t really know why,” said Ridley, after being asked whether it was on paper that Deckard was a replicant. “And if you take for granted for a moment that, let’s say, Deckard is Nexus 7, he probably has an unknown life span and therefore is starting to get awfully human. Gaff, just at the very end, leaves a piece of origami, which is a piece of silver paper you might find in a cigarette packet. And it’s of a unicorn, right? So, the unicorn that’s used in Deckard’s daydream tells me that Deckard wouldn’t usually talk about such a thing to anyone. If Gaff knew about that, it’s Gaff’s message to say, ‘I’ve basically read your file, mate.’”
Physically, Blade Runner has been altered to take advantage of the latest improvements in film and audio technology. The quality of the print and the audio has been significantly enhanced. A new digital print of the film was created from the original negatives, while the special effects were updated and polished. Special effects footage was scanned in at 8,000 lines per frame, which is four times the resolution used for most restorations. The dystopic Los Angeles landscape of 2019 is now more stunning than ever before. Watching flames leap skywards as a spinner flies through the darkness during the opening sequence is mesmerising.
Vangelis’ evocative soundtrack, remastered for The Final Cut in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound, sounds better than ever, complimenting the story perfectly, from the fast-paced action sequences to the slow, haunting scenes in Deckard’s smoke filled apartment.
One of the most compelling aspects of Blade Runner is its bleak depiction of a dark decaying world lost in drizzle and shadow. The multicultural inhabitants struggle through busy city streets but reside in almost empty skyscrapers, abandoned by the majority lucky enough to have left for better lives off-world.
Extra footage and alterations enhance this compelling vision, including an additional shot of a crowded city street, a brief sequence of two exotic dancers wearing hockey masks, and a shot of Deckard meeting a police officer before he enters the Snake Pit.
There’s also new footage of Zhora crashing through a display case after being pursued by Deckard. This scene was reshot. The original actress, Joanna Cassidy, performed the stunt herself, replacing original footage of an obvious stunt double.
Roy Batty’s death scene, where a dove is released into a bright blue sky, supposedly at night, now shows the dove flying into a night sky, with an appropriate bleak backdrop.
Some scenes, such as Deckard’s first meeting with Gaff in the noodle bar, have been trimmed, as they ran too long after the removal of Deckard’s voice-over from the original theatrical release.
Various pieces of dialogue too have been inserted or altered. In an early scene, where Bryant and Deckard are looking at Nexus 6 profiles, Bryant now describes Leon’s job. When he talks about replicants being caught in an electrical field, the dialogue has been changed from: “One of them got fried running through an electrical field” to “Two of them got fried running through an electrical field”. This alteration fixes the problem of a sixth replicant unaccounted for in earlier versions.
In the scene where Batty confronts Tyrell, the line, “I want more life, fucker” has been replaced with “I want more life, father”. In the same scene, after Batty has killed Tyrell, he now says to Sebastian, “I’m sorry Sebastian. Come. Come.”
Deckard’s conversation with a snake merchant has been rerecorded and reworked. In the 1992 Director’s Cut, the dialogue is completely out of sync, making it very distracting.
Other additions include extra violence. All of the violent scenes in the International Cut that were deleted in the U.S. theatrical release have been reinserted, most unsettlingly when Roy Batty crushes Tyrell’s head in his hands, gouging out his eyes. Pris’s shocking and sad death scene, her arms and legs thrashing about wildly, also appears to be have been extended. Presumably, censorship is not as restrictive as it had been when the film was originally released. Personally, I think they could have left the level of gore as it was.
With so many previous versions, you could be forgiven for thinking that Blade Runner: The Final Cut is not worth much of our time. Some may argue that Ridley is merely tweaking a film that has already been tweaked well beyond its use by date. There’s some support for this given that Ridley Scott was quoted at the Venice Film Festival recently claiming that the science fiction genre is as dead as the Western.
“There’s nothing original,” he said. “We’ve seen it all before. Been there. Done it”.
Perhaps that’s why, instead of creating a whole new science fiction film, he has merely retouched an old one.
You could, of course, hold an even more cynical view: this latest version is nothing more than a commercial exercise. Are Warner Bros. and Ridley Scott merely trying to squeeze the last drops out of loyal fans who should know better?
After viewing Blade Runner: The Final Cut in all its enhanced glory, I’d have to disagree. This is not just a patch up job attempting to cash in on a cult film. Like an oil painter retouching a masterpiece, or a novelist polishing prose, Ridley is trying to complete his vision. The film has been improved markedly using all the time, technology, and feedback Ridley had at his disposal. In an article for in New York Times, Ridley stated that he had “never paid quite so much attention to a movie, ever.”
That’s not to say that it’s flawless. Detectives in the future, for example, appear to lack some basic common sense: when Bryant shows Deckard profiles of the Nexus 6 replicants, it’s clear they know exactly what they all look like. So why didn’t Holden, whom we see in an early scene giving a Voight-Kamff test to Leon, already know that Leon was a replicant? Didn’t anyone give him the mug shots?
Equally, if Deckard really is a Nexus 7 created to work as an exterminator, why is he lacking the strength of the inferior Nexus 6 models he is chasing? He seems to spend a large part of the film being bashed to a pulp.
Flaws aside, Blade Runner: The Final Cut is a science fiction masterwork. There’s a reason Blade Runner has stood the test of time.
Article originally published on Science Fiction World / 9 December 2007