Blade Runner on the big screen - The Final Cut

You can say what you like about Los Angeles, but we have Hollywood, which means we have the movies - and lots of movie-lovers to go with it; consequently, there are actually a handful of theatres, even in this era of home video, that continue to offer repertory and revival programming. This results in wonderful opportunities to re-experience movies on the big screen, where they were meant to be seen. A recent example of this is the "Final Cut" of BLADE RUNNER, which I recently saw at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. Of course it was interesting to note how this (presumably last) version of the film stacked up against its predecessors, but I could have done that on DVD (or even, heaven forbid, on Netflix Instant Viewing). The real joy of the experience was once again seeing the sights of 2019 Los Angeles splayed out larger than life before my eyes, filling not only the screen but also my brain with an overwhelming rush of visual input that few films ever match.

The most striking note of the experience was being overwhelmingly impressed by how much more vivid and detailed the old-fashioned miniature effects appear, compared to today's more modern digital technology. There is, quite simply a texture to the work in BLADE RUNNER that makes you feel as if you can almost reach up onto the screen and feel it. The movie is much more than a pretty light show; it is a compelling, mesmerizing vision of the future, a self-contained imaginary world that takes on a life of its own on screen and inside the mind of the viewer.

Of course, mondo credit for this goes to the special effects team supervised by Douglas Trumbull (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND) and Richard Yuricich (RESIDENT EVIL). However, one achievement of the film that always amazed me was the way that the different elements synthesized so perfectly, for which I credit Ridley Scott. Auteur criticism aside, he directed a movie in which the contributions of the various departments are combined without any of the seams showing; the live-action footage looks exactly like the miniature special effects scenes, and you seldom if ever have the perception that you are seeing two different elements edited together.

As for the Final Cut itself, there are few surprises for fans who have seen the film in its various permutations; this is an amalgamation of bits and pieces from the 70mm preview cut, the unrated European Theatrical cut, and the 1992 "Director's Cut," with a few film flubs digitally airbrushed away. What follows is a brief rundown, noting the more obvious changes from the original theatrical version released in 1982:

FROM THE 70MM PREVIEW VERSION

  • When Holden tells Deckard about the escaped replicants he tells us that two (not one) fried on the electrical fence trying to sneak into Tyrell Industries. This corrected a flaw in the original, which told us that six replicants came to Earth but accounts for only five of them: we see four and hear of one more who died in the electric fence. (This dialogue flub was probably a vestige of the screenplay, which featured five escaped replicants; the fifth character was cast, but the scenes were dropped for budgetary reasons.)
  • When Deckard goes to Taffy Lewis's night club to see Zhora (the snake dancer who turns out to be a replicant), the sequence begins with a brief shot of masked female dancers.
  • When the replicant Roy Batty confronts his maker, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, he says, "I want more life, Father" instead of "I want more life, Fucker!"
  • When the replicant Pris squeezes Decard's head between her thighs, she puts her fingers up his nose and opens her legs, so that his head dangles for a moment before slipping to the floor.
  • There is no happy ending with Deckard and Rachel flying away to the unpolluted wilderness.

FROM THE UNRATED EUROPEAN CUT

  • When Roy Batty kills Dr. Tyrell, the scene is more explicit, holding longer as the replicant sinks his thumbs into the humans eyes, causing blood to come out.
  • The death of Pris is slightly more grizzly.
  • When Batty drives the nail through his palm (to bring back feeling after it starts to go numb), there is a shot of the nail bursting through the skin on the back of his hand.

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S CUT

  • The voice-over narration has been entirely eliminated. (It was almost entirely eliminated from the 70mm Preview Version, but there was an alternate piece of narration near the end, when Batty dies.)
  • Deckard dreams of a unicorn.

NEW TO THE FINAL CUT

  • I have not done a side-by-side comparison, but I believe that some of the longer scenes that used to feature narration have been trimmed, since they no longer have to last a certain length to accommodate a voice-over.
  • When the camera peers through a terrarium while Deckard questions a seller of artificial animals, the dialogue has been re-dubbed so that it matches the lip movements. (The preview cut had mixed the dialogue so low that the discrepancy - so obvious in the old theatrical cut - was not apparent.)
  • When Zhora is shot, crashes through a window, and falls, the footage of an obvious stunt double (her face clearly visible) has been replaced with footage of the actress playing the role (Joanna Cassidy).
  • When the "Spinner" (i.e., flying police car) flies away after questioning Deckard about his presence in a restricted zone, the clearly visible wire lifting the full-scale prop has been removed.
  • The unicorn sequence is edited differently. Instead of a dissolve to a single shot of a unicorn, the film cuts away from Decard to the unicorn twice. Also, his eyes are clearly open, so he is not dreaming, but perhaps day-dreaming.
  • When Batty dies and releases the dove, the insert shot of the bird flying away used to feature a blue sky that did not match the rest of the sequence (which is set on a rainy night). Although I had always "read" this as a deliberate, surrealist touch, the shot has been changed, to feature the bird flying over a skyline of buildings against a dark sky that match the other effects shots in the film.

Except for the bird shot, which I always liked, the Final Cut represents the "Best of Everything" version of the movie, almost rendering the prevous versions obsolete, except as they provide a fascinating glimpse at the movie's evolution through several stages. The original narration never bothered me that much, so I am glad that that version still exists in the new DVD box set that came out last year. And the brief narration in the 70mm Preview Cut is also interesting (although the fact that it suddenly appeared in only one scene was rather jarring).

Personally, I hope this latest version of BLADE RUNNER puts to rest the tiny cult of people who insist that the 70mm Preview Cut is the best version of the film. The differences between it and the old theatrical cut are certainly striking enough to make it interesting viewing for hardcore fans, but it is so obviously an unfinished version that one wonders how anyone could have considered it the "best." (To cite the most obvious example, the original Vangelis score disappears in the final reel, replaced by a temp track consisting of music from the 1968 PLANET OF THE APES.)

When it arrived on screen in 1982, BLADE RUNNER was pretty much trashed by critics, who saw nothing but visual effects and production design. Over the years, the film's reputation has grown, even while fans acknowledged flaws (most often pointing to the tagged-on happy ending and the narration, both of which were meant to lighten up the film for the multiplex audience more interested in sci-fi escapism than serious science-fiction). Each of the permutations that followed the original theatrical buffed out some of the flaws, but none of them quite got it right. On a plot level, BLADE RUNNER still may not be perfect (questions about the back story and police procedure abound), but short of remaking the movie movie, this is as good as it is ever likely to be, and that is pretty damn good.