June 18, 2012

Readers' Choice Marathon: Blade Runner - The Final Cut (1982)

The amazing sci-fi images of Blade Runner

One of the more remarkable years for sci-fi was 1982. Within a short time period, we saw the release of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, The Thing, and Blade Runner. All three movies are relevant today and hold up very well. Ridley Scott's ambitious film is actually more beloved now than it was when it originally appeared. There are several likely reasons for the continued interest. First of all, the vision of urban decay remains stunning and doesn't look dated. Most importantly, Scott has repeatedly tinkered with this movie and offered new cuts. The Director's Cut removed the awful voice-over narration and included slight tweaks that possibly changed a major plot point. In December 2007, he returned with The Final Cut, which Scott proclaims is the definitive version. Chris from movies and songs 365 suggested that I check out a special edition of a movie with extra scenes, and Blade Runner was the obvious choice since I hadn't seen this version. You should definitely check out Chris' blog, which covers lots of great music and movies. It's a tricky combination, but he makes it work. Let's check out the questions before my replicant life runs out!

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott

So, what's this story about?
The year is our far future of 2019, where androids known as replicants live on Earth and other planets. Los Angeles is a bleak city with constant rain and dreariness. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a former cop who worked as a Blade Runner to "retire" the replicants in the past. He's commissioned by his former boss Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) and officer Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to take down a group of replicants who've returned to Earth. These Nexus-6 models have been wreaking havoc as they work to extend their four-year lives. Led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), they seem willing to do anything to prevent their impending deaths. Deckard also meets Rachael (Sean Young), a new replicant model who believes she's human because of implanted emotions. He starts a relationship with her, which becomes difficult when she's targeted for retirement. At the same time, indications appear that perhaps Deckard has more in common with the escaped replicants than he realizes.

Harrison Ford as Deckard in Blade Runner

What are the major themes, and how do they connect to the key issues of that time?
Blade Runner includes a few action scenes, but those occupy a small portion of the two-hour running time. Writers Hampton Fancher and David Peoples are more interested in creating a specific mood and raising interesting questions about what it means to be a human. Are the replicants less important because they were created? Rachael's emotions are manufactured and her memories are fake, but she still interacts with others like a person. Deckard barely registers any emotion, while Batty and Pris (Daryl Hannah) are powder kegs of love, anger, and regret. Bryant and Gaff are cynical figures who seem to care little about anyone. They're likely manipulating Deckard, while Batty saves his life. These complexities are what raises this film above your typical sci-fi adventure. This version strongly implies that Deckard is a replicant, which only solidifies the theme of questioning whether the androids are truly expendable. The humans have destroyed the society and glide through the rainy streets like shallow husks. Transforming the lead character into a machine only solidifies the negative feelings towards the society. If the character we follow for most of the movie turns out to be a construct, it seriously lessens the hope for this world's future.

Sean Young in Blade Runner

Are the characters believable and fully drawn?
It can be tricky for first-time viewers to find an emotional connection with the characters. Deckard is a cold guy who treats his romance with Rachael in a clinical fashion. When you consider the idea that he is a replicant, however, it's easier to understand his character. Despite his subdued demeanor, Deckard's still interesting because Ford sells the behavior. He functions as the lead character in a detective story, and his mundane approach matches the gumshoes of the film noir era. Also, the bleak environment of this future city makes this attitude a lot more believable. The most engaging characters are Batty and Pris, and they receive a limited amount of screen time. This is a smart move by Scott because they retain a mysterious allure. Rutger Hauer can play Batty as an over-the-top guy and never grow tiresome during the quick appearances. His climactic monologue carries more weight since we're just starting to understand his motivations for staying alive.

Joanna Cassidy as Zhora in Blade Runner

What are some of the most memorable scenes?
The final showdown with Deckard and Batty is a classic moment, particularly because it plays out much differently than you might expect. In most films, when you put the hero and villain on a roof, it's very likely that the bad guy is going to take a dive off the edge. This is also a common form of death in Disney animated films. The prime difference here is that Deckard and Betty aren't your typical stock characters. Viewed from a certain perspective, Batty and his group are the heroes, and Deckard is the bad guy gunning them down. I should also mention the abrupt ending following this scene, which gives us little chance to digest what's happened. This version ends faster than the awful theatrical ending, and it works much better. Another fun sequence is Deckard's encounter with Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), which starts are a basic conversation and shifts into a foot chase. Wearing a snake around her neck and serious glitter, she makes quite an impression during the brief screen time. Scott actually digitally added Cassidy's face to the action in place of a stunt woman from the other versions. While this doesn't have a dramatic effect on the scene, it's a cool example of the intricate changes that he made to this cut.

Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott

How’s the direction? Is there an original vision?
Another reason that Blade Runner resonates so strongly is the visual style, which shows great ambition. From the first long shots of the flames shooting in to the air above the city, we know there's a master running the show. Scott's most comfortable when he's shooting massive sets that dwarf the puny individuals roaming the streets. While the "spinners" soar through the air, the camera glides by giant advertisements that loom over the urban environment. When you combine this footage with Vangelis' elegant score, the effect is spellbinding, even on the small screen. The Greek composer also wrote the score for Chariots of Fire, which took home the Oscar. Scott's vision would not create the same effect without the powerful score. While the shots are gorgeous, they do have a detached feeling that's shared by Robert Wise's striking work in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Both look remarkable, but they can also overtake our interest in the story. In Scott's case, I believe this is by design and fits with the overall theme of the emotionless world.

Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner

Would I recommend this film to another friend?
This question is easy. This is one of the seminal sci-fi films that hasn't lost any of its impact today. The Final Cut delivers an even better experience, and the improved effects bring a modern feeling to the 30-year-old movie. The entire movie looks brighter, and these sharp details are a pivotal element to creating a believable world. I will give the caveat that there are some minor flaws that slightly lessen my opinion. On repeat viewings, the glacial pace stands out, particularly during the second act. This is a small issue and fits with the more thoughtful approach from Scott. This isn't an adventure film like Star Wars, yet it could still use an injection of energy before the impressive finale. These are minor quibbles with such an intriguing movie, but it pulls it down just below my favorite movies.


  1. I still haven't seen this cut of the movie. I really gotta get around to it. It's definitely made me wanna buy a Blu-ray player.

    1. I'm not an expert on how much changed plot-wise, but it looks gorgeous. I watched it on DVD, so I can't imagine how great the Blu-Ray has to be. From what I read, Scott also cleaned up some scenes and made it a smoother story too.

  2. Thanks for the mention! The summer of 82 was indeed amazing for sci-fi, I'd also add Spielberg's ET

    I agree the ending of Blade Runner is memorable and avoids being formulaic.Yeah, the pacing and harrison ford's character being so low-key and not funny was what may have alienated audiences in 1982 wanting Han solo or indiana jones.
    Ridley's tinkering I'm ok with, the directors cut (1992) is the best version for me, as the question of Deckard being replicant is more open, though the final cut has some beautiful unicorn scenes.

    The tacit questions in Blade Runner is the same approach I sense the script writers went for with Prometheus(I am expecting a longer edit for dvd)

    1. No problem, Chris! I still need to check out Prometheus and have managed to avoid spoilers so far, but what I'm catching is that not everyone loves it, but there are some interesting ideas in there for sure. I'm looking forward to it.

  3. I've heard so many great things about this film but have never watched it. I might have to look into it finally; the images of the city are amazing, even by today's CG standards!

    1. Blade Runner is definitely worth checking out at least once. The photos above can't do enough justice to how impressive the visuals are, especially the long shots of the city. I can't guarantee you'll love the movie, but I think it's worth a chance for sure.