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Blade Runner on DVD again

BLADE RUNNER will be released on DVD again — and this time we’re going to get the so-called “final cut” that fans have been waiting for. This disc has supposedly been ready to go for over a year, but sat on the shelf while legal issues were sorted out.

If you’re not a fan of the film, you may be wondering what the big deal is. After all, didn’t we get a “director’s cut” back in 1992?

The answer is yes and no. There is a re-edited version of the film that was briefly released to theatres in 1992 before showing up on laserdisc and then, in 1997, DVD. But this was not really a “directors’ cut,” despite being billed as such.

Confused? Need an explanation? Here’s the short version:

While BLADE RUNNER’s director, Ridley Scott, was out of the country working on his Columbus movie, Warner Brothers accidentally unearthed a preview print of the film for a 70mm festival at the Fairfax Theatre in Los Angeles. When people saw that this was radically different from the release version, it briefly became known as the “director’s cut” while it was booked into art house engagements in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

One big problem: this was not the director’s cut; it wasn’t even a completed film. The most obvious evidence of this was that the original music by Vangelis dropped out in the last reel, which was scored with temp tracks made up of old movie music.

Scott found out and objected to having the film billed as the director’s cut. He got the studio to fork over the money to create a proper director’s cut.

But with the film already sheduled for several engagements, and with Scott still busy working on his current film, there was not time to complete the job to his satisfaction.

Conseqquently, the “director’s cut” that eventually got a small, nationwide release in 1992 differed from the theatrical cut in only three ways:

There was no voice-over narration
There was a shot of a unicorn while Deckard (Harrison Ford) is dreaming.
There is no happy ending.
Scott had wanted to restored footage that was in the unfinished preview cut. He also wanted to add some scenes from the unrated cut that had been released overseas (this is the version that came out on VHS, which has a few more moments of graphic violence in the final reel).

Equally important, he wanted to re-edit the film to make the pacing work now that the voice-over was gone. If you’ve seen the director’s cut, you know that there are long silent passages that could easily be trimmed; they only ran as long as they did to leave room for the narration.

Paul Sammon, who literally wrote the book on BLADE RUNNER — Future Noir, which gives a complete look at the making of the film — told me last year that Scott had complete his cut and the DVD (along with loads of extras) was ready to go. He indicated there were some behind-the-scenes problems holding up the release, which he could not divulge, but now it looks like that hurdles have been surmounted.

According to this Reuters article posted at Yahoo News, Warner Brothers will first skim a little extra money off fans by re-releasing the 1992 cut on DVD in September. After four months, it will be replaced by a 25th anniversary “final cut,” which will get a brief “platform” theatrical release early in 2007 before going to DVD. This multi-disc set will include the original 1982 theatrical cut, the unrated international cut, the 1992 “director’s cut, and the new “final cutl.”

Apparently, the “preview” cut will not be included. Strangely, this version has earned a reputation among some fans as the best version, despite being obviously incomplete. One suspects the reason for this is that (not counting the unseen “final cut’), it is the version most obviously different from the theatrical — which gives you the feeling that you’re seeing something significantly different and, hence, potentially a bigger improvement.

But I suspect this version will not be lost in the vaults of time. The preview cut seems to be the only version readily available on 70mm, so whenever the ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome (or some similar theatre) screens the film, they end up (probably inadvertently) screening this preview cut.

Which raises an interesting (although tangential) legal point: isn’t there some kind of copyright infringement going on if the studio and the theatre are making money by screening BLADE RUNNER with music copied from other movies? At the very least, couldn’t the composers sue for screen credit?

Inquiring minds want to know…