Blade Runner: The Final Cut: Science-fiction thriller. Starring Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah. Directed by Ridley Scott. (R. 117 minutes.)
Throughout the years, the studio responsible for "Blade Runner" has tended to the film the way you or I might approach our front yard shrubbery, trimming and fertilizing and then hacking some more.
After Ridley Scott delivered a work print of the 1982 movie to Warner Bros., Harrison Ford was brought in to add some memorably bad narration, which was removed again for a 1992 director's cut that wasn't really cut by the director. Violent scenes were also jettisoned, first for U.S. audiences and then for television release. All of these tweaks radically changed the film's narrative, initially leaving viewers with a false happy ending, and later a frustrating and ambiguous one. The futuristic cop thriller has since been cited as one of the best and most influential American films from the latter half of the 20th century, but at no point did it seem complete.
"Blade Runner: The Final Cut," in limited theatrical release this weekend with a DVD box set arriving on Dec. 18, is the first version of the movie that truly seems like a finished product. The film is a few minutes longer, yet seems leaner, with a tighter narrative that is now worthy of the outstanding art direction and cinematography. This definitive print should be the last little push that "Blade Runner" needs to complete its 25-year journey from box office failure to cult favorite to full-blown classic.
From the beginning, the movie was controversial. Filmmakers willing to butcher Philip K. Dick stories have become as commonplace in Hollywood as collagen injections, but the maverick Scott was the first high-profile scavenger of the author's work. The "Blade Runner" screenwriters took little more than the main character and key concepts of Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," and added their own twists and turns - removing, among other things, lead character Rick Deckard's pet sheep, and his residency in the Bay Area. (In Dick's story, Deckard works for the San Francisco Police Department.) The words "blade runner" never appeared in the "Blade Runner" source material.
As the movie explored 1980s themes, including genetic engineering and consumerism, it said more with production design than words, detailing a grim, overcrowded future where ornate architecture has been replaced by industrial overload. Harrison Ford, as Deckard, has an apartment so cramped and blocky, he appears to be living in a game of Tetris.
The setup doesn't change from the 1982 "Blade Runner" to the 2007 version. Deckard is forced by his superiors to "retire" four android replicants, who are indistinguishable from humans except for certain emotional responses. He finds a fifth, Rachael, who doesn't know she's an android, and they develop a relationship.
Ford's narration is so dopey and lackluster in the original "Blade Runner" that you can almost imagine producers pointing a gun to his head. That happy ending looked as if it came from another movie, mostly because it did. (For the final scene, Warner Bros. borrowed an aerial shot from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," which had come out two years earlier.) And while the so-called director's cut from 1992 left the question of Deckard's humanity a matter of debate, "The Final Cut" makes it much more clear, injecting a short dream sequence that suddenly makes Edward James Olmos' origami hobby much more significant.
Other scenes are added and extended as well, although the next best reason to see the "Final Cut" is the tuned-up special effects, which give the film a nice 21st century sheen. And don't worry about Scott airbrushing the gun out of anyone's hand. The director actually restores the film's brutal violence, including important scenes of savagery from the Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer replicant characters, Pris and Roy Batty. Their capacity for cruelty is particularly important to see, contrasting with Batty's contemplative final scenes in the movie.
If yet another cut is to be made, the movie could stand to trim from a few slow special- effects scenes, where models of a futuristic cityscape or a self- tinting window are unveiled at a glacial pace. Meanwhile, the Vangelis score is pumped up to 11, so everyone knows how amazed they're supposed to feel. (This is how the entire first "Star Trek" motion picture was shot.)
Scott is a great director, but he wasn't quite as successful as a futurist. Two of the three companies that dominate the mammoth electronic billboards in "Blade Runner" - Pan Am and RCA - collapsed or were taken over a few years after the original theatrical release. We'll be lucky in 2019 if they're making police cars that get 35 miles to the gallon, much less the ones in "Blade Runner" that can fly between skyscrapers.
And yet, the movie has aged exceptionally well. Part of this has to do with the time: In a world filled with filmmakers such as Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams, a science fiction film-noir cop thriller doesn't seem anywhere near as unusual or misguided as it did in 1982.
But much of the credit goes to director Scott, who took the opportunity to give "Blade Runner" the topiary treatment one last time, and turned his already great film into a masterpiece.
-- Advisory: This film contained adult language, nudity, violence and gore, plus one tortoise lying on its back, with its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs to turn over, but it can't. And you're not helping. Why is that?
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