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Blade Runner is the exception that proves the rule that filmmakers should not be allowed to revisit their earlier work, like George Lucas did with Star Wars. Unlike Lucas’s popcorn trilogy, Ridley Scott‘s visionary adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electic Sheep has always seemed like it really was only partially finished.
The version originally released in 1982, with the studio mandating a “happy” ending and Harrison Ford’s noir-esque voice-over, was never really Scott’s movie. The “Director’s Cut,” released in 1992, was clearly closer to Scott’s original vision, with a more ambiguous ending and no narration, but it was still not a true director’s cut. Scott approved it but had no hand in its creation. This currently is the only version available on DVD.
There should have been a true director’s cut of Blade Runner sometime between 2000 and 2002 but the film was caught up in a hell of rights issues that has only recently been resolved. So, for 2007, we will finally see Ridley Scott’s unsullied vision of this film. Hopefully, Zhora doesn’t shoot first in this version.
It’s been a long time since I saw the 1982 theatrical version of this film, and that was on commercial television, so it doesn’t really count, does it? The studio forced the inclusion of the voice-over because they believed that audiences wouldn’t been able to follow the film’s storyline line. I can’t speak for the average filmgoer, but I had no problem following the ’92 cut without Harrison Ford spelling it out for me. My dim memory of the theatrical cut was that the narration was pedantic, taking what was easily inferred and making it almost insultingly obvious. We didn’t need to be told that Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) is a bigot. It was like sticking a voice-over into the original Star Wars to tell the audience that Darth Vader was the bad guy.
While Blade Runner’s art direction and set design are a tour de force of bleak futurism, the film is still mostly a triumph of visuals over story and character, who give only a few hints of their humanity without really coming alive. We never really understand why Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a hard drinking burn-out case who only reluctantly returns to work as a “Blade Runner,” a cop assigned to “retire” (kill) rogue replicants (super-human androids used as slave labor on other planets).
Oddly, the most poignant, human moments belong to the replicants Roy Baty (Rutger Hauer in a blazingly charismatic early performance) and Pris (Daryll Hannah), faced with a limited four-year lifespan imposed as a safety measure. While emotionally immature, their goal is the most human of all the characters on screen: they want to live.
Harrison Ford is able to project an air of broken-down, world-weary cynicism that fleshes out Deckard far beyond the confines of the script but Sean Young’s Rachel is little more than a cut-out of a film noir femme fatale, undercutting their budding relationship, a failure laid at the screenwriter’s feet more than the actress’s.
The universe they inhabit, while visually spectacular, holds up only if you don’t think too hard about it. The changes evident in this future are too drastic to occur by the year 2020, even when looking from 1982, but this is a frequent error among many science fiction films.
Despite its failings as drama, Blade Runner does manage to ask some provocative questions about the nature of what it means to be human. These replicants, who want only to stay alive, sometimes seem more human than the human trying to kill them, who sometimes seems like he doesn’t care if he lives or dies. It is this existential layer, in addition to its mind-blowing visuals, that has made the film a classic that has influenced other films for the last 24 years.