I’ve never been a huge sci-fi fan, but still: never having seen Blade Runner is downright embarrassing. Aside from the fact that there have been about 50 different releases of the film in my lifetime (okay, two), it’s one of those movies that gets referenced and revered so often, you may as well be talking about Citizen Kane.
Likely being one of few people at the press screening for the New York Film Festival who had never seen the film, I was in a unique position of viewing the Final Cut as the only cut, as far as I was concerned. Going back and watching the version currently available on DVD (the 1992 Director’s Cut, which removed some of the most noxious elements of the original theatrical cut), it’s difficult to make comparisons. There’s nothing as dramatically different between this version and the ‘92 version as there were between the 1982 and ‘92 versions-- still no voiceover or “happy ending”-- but the viewing experience is completely changed. Simply put, Blade Runner is something that really ought to be seen on the big screen. The coppery glints in the eyes of the replicants, the crowded streets of multi-culti 2019 L.A., the giant smiling billboards passed by flying cars-- none of it seems in proper perspective when you see it from the couch.
That immense difference is a testament to what Ridley Scott accomplished in making this film. At a time when the future on film was either in space (Star Wars) or a comedy (Back to the Future), Scott was brave enough to show a world not all that unlike our own, but with everything that makes it unlivable and nothing that makes it worthwhile. In the same way the noirs stripped the sheen off the late 1940’s, a post-war boom era in which there were supposedly only bright things ahead, Scott’s neo-noir gives us a future in which the things that are supposed to have made humanity better, somehow, made us less human. You can escape the crowded metropolis streets by living off-planet, but not everyone passes the test to go. You can hire a replicant to do the work no other human will, but what happens when that replicant too starts to wonder what else might be out there for them?
Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the film follows Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford), a specialist in tracking down “replicants,” humanoid robots who have been made illegal on planet earth after a violent uprising on one of Earth’s colonies in outer space. When four replicants return to earth for unknown reasons, Deckard is assigned to track them down. He uses old-fashioned sleuthing methods that result in old-fashioned fights, as much gumshoe as Philip Marlowe ever was. His search is complicated, though, by a budding romance with a non-rogue replicant, Rachel (Sean Young), who isn’t aware of her soulless interior until Deckard cruelly lays it out for her. In the meantime another man is starting a romance with a replicant, the pleasure model Priss (Daryl Hannah), whose robotic heart can only truly belong to another replicant, the Aryan superman Roy (Rutger Hauer).
I don’t know the original Blade Runner well enough to adequately compare it to this Final Cut, except that Deckard’s unicorn dream (the best argument that he is, in fact, a replicant himself) is longer, the eye-gouging scene near the end way gorier, and the special effects are dynamo-- nearly as good as what you would expect from a film made today. What’s great about the film, though, is it couldn’t be made today-- in a time where comic book movies are all the rage and hyper-active nerds are taking over the cinema at last, a sci-fi movie with this concept could never be so slow, so meditative, so resolutely weird. A tiny walking Napoleon programmed by its maker to greet him at the door each night? A killer vixen robot who does cartwheels before she maims? Michael Bay would never go near something like that.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut will screen for one week in New York theaters before seeing its expansive DVD release in December. The 5-disc DVD set will likely be worth it for diehard fans, containing four separate versions of the film that will make easier the kind of side-by-side contrasts I wish I could have accomplished here. What’s important, though, is that the New York Film Festival wasn’t just engaging in marketing synergy when it included this film; Blade Runner deserves another big-screen bow, even in the age of CGI special effects, because its accomplishments remain, in many ways, unmatched. Replicants may live only four years, but Blade Runner seems destined to live to 2019 and beyond.