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Movie Review: Blade Runner – The Final Cut

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Twenty-five years have passed since the debut of director Ridley Scott's visually stunning Blade Runner, the futuristic sci-fi tale adapted from a story by Philip K. Dick. To mark that milestone, a new version has been released. More than the usual "director's cut," however, the latest incarnation, Blade Runner: The Final Cut, offers a decidedly different take on the movie that appeared in theaters in 1982.

Most of the story hasn't changed. It still focuses on the fate of artificial humans (called replicants in the movie) who have decided they want to "live" on their own terms. They especially want to continue their existence beyond the arbitrary expiration dates they've been given by their human creators.

Unfortunately for the replicants, the humans in Blade Runner don't want the replicants to take charge of their own lives. In fact, to insure that no replicant outlives the time allotted to it by its human creators, enforcer Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) is dispatched to take care of any replicants who try to avoid termination. With this set-up, there's plenty of conflict to make an exciting story.

Blade Runner is a widely known film, probably more fondly regarded now than when it was new. (Many viewers in 1982 preferred Steven Spielberg's family-friendly E.T.) One reason people do remember Blade Runner is purely visual. The movie's portrayal of a decaying megalopolis is breathtaking. In fact, the convincing visual depiction of an imagined future world, awash with castaway humans and perpetual gloom, is perhaps Scott's biggest and most enduring achievement with the film. Whatever else they thought about the movie, many people in the original audiences realized they were seeing a visionary (if nightmarish) cinematic creation.

Back in 1982, people behind the scenes were nervous about whether audiences would know what to make of the story itself, however. What Scott planned was not exactly an uplifting tale. Therefore, prior its first wide release, Blade Runner was touched up, with the story altered in an effort to give it a better chance at the box office. In a word, it was made a bit more optimistic.

One major change, which the original audience probably didn't realize, was made to the way the story ended. As it appeared in theaters, the admittedly bleak story was capped with an ending that was not as bleak. The final scene, in particular, seemed to offer some sense of optimism. It implied that some sort of human redemption might be found.

As it turns out, however, that was not the ending that Scott originally had in mind.

An earlier re-release made some progress in returning the film to Scott's original vision. Now, with the newest release, the director's original vision for the story is fully resuscitated. Indeed, after careful restoration and re-editing, Blade Runner: The Final Cut is much darker, if not downright depressing. And yes, the biggest change is to the ending, which is now decidedly downbeat. I won't give away the details, but it's the kind of ending studio executives feared would alienate audiences in 1982 when Scott first tried to use it.

Today, the movie industry is less fearful of this kind of darkness, of course. In modern cinema, we somewhat expect that "serious" films, regardless of genre, can be identified by an unflinchingly bleak stare into the abyss of human existence. In many, perhaps most, dramatic screen productions, optimism is cast aside as though an optimistic outlook can only be the expression of naiveté or weakness or ignorance. Rightly or wrongly, optimism is often not regarded as the stuff of serious filmmaking.

Undoubtedly, audiences today are more tolerant of bleak stories with dismal outcomes, at least to some degree. Still, I'm not sure audiences will come to prefer Blade Runner's new, darker ending (which is actually the old ending) to the version that they already know. Viewers will have to decide for themselves, of course.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut has appeared in limited release in several cities. The DVD version has a December release date.

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  • moonraven

    It’s traditional for film critics at the end of each decade to come up with a Top Ten list, and Blade Runner made mine for the 80s.

    The best thing about the film was undoubtedly Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography–iin fact, it seems that is what most viewers remember about the picture.

    Jordan had Parkinson’s and by the late 80s had also had a stroke which made it very difficult for him. Although he directed the photography on a couple pictures post-Blade Runner, his career petered out with the tepid Peggy Sue Got Married.

    Jordan lived in Santa Fe–at the time when there were a lot of folks from the industry living there–and I considered it a privilege to share an occasional meal with him and his wife.

    Jodan died shortly after I left Santa Fe for Mexico.

  • http://www.getting-your-ex-back.com Christopher Rose

    The cinematography is indeed fantastic on this movie, but the storyline is also stunning, which has kept it firmly in my personal Top Ten Movies Of All time list for so long. I am delighted that it has finally been returned to its original intended vision.

  • Jerome

    Umm, news for you… the ending in this film has been the expected ending for the last 15 years since the “Director’s Cut” was released in 1992. It was one of the first director’s cut style releases.

    The main things in this release are that the film has been digitally remastered at an even higher resolution than was used for the Stars Wars re-releases, the sound has been cleaned up, and a couple of short scenes were included that increase the ambiance of the film.

  • http://winterstreetreview.wordpress.com/ G. Arnold

    Moonraven, Christopher, and Jerome all make useful comments. I agree that the cinematography is superb and that this aspect of the movie raises it far beyond most films with a somewhat similar theme. Jerome also makes the point that many people have been aware of Scott’s intentions for a good while now. Fair enough. Overall, however,I think that Blade Runner is not necessarily one of those films that has made as deep an impression on the mass audience as is sometimes supposed, though deservedly it is widely respected among fans of its genre. I think a lot more people know about it than know the picture itself. For those people who are only casually familiar with Blade Runner (especially from when it originally was released), in other words those for whom the previous director’s cut was not likely a high priority, the restoration of Scott’s original ending may be eye-opening. In any case, I agree with Jerome that the new release offers many things–the scene restorations and the upgraded image quality–that make it worth another look.

  • duane

    What I remember most about Blade Runner is the degree to which Scott’s choice of Rutger Hauer to play Roy the replicant impressed me. No doubt, Hauer’s finest moments are in this film, but beyond that, he was a powerful and imposing presence, radiating menace like no bad guy ever.

    My only negative comment about Blade Runner in its original form was the lame narration by Ford — completely incongruous. I know Scott added that in as an afterthought to help clarify the plot, but it didn’t work like it might have. Ford just sounded too ordinary, lacking the dark heaviness that the visuals conveyed. I’m guessing that the voice over has been removed from the Final Cut.