I went to see BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT at the last night of its Ziegfield run here in NYC. Yes, we lucky bastards in NYC and LA got to see the final restored version on the big screen and the rest of you didn’t. I’m sorry.
I purposely didn’t read about what had been tinkered with for this actual Ridley Scott endorsed version (the previous Director’s Cut was mostly put together by Warners). So I came to it fresh. I could tell a few scenes and dialog had been changed — notably they finally explain that TWO replicants were killed already, accounting for all six — but it was mostly the sound editing that stood out. There just seemed to be a lot more ambient noise and background electro-noodling. It seemed distracting in places.
But otherwise, it was perfect. While the in-depth comparisons will await the home dvd release in December, two other notable fixes were that Zhora’s death scene has been reshot — God bless Joanna Cassidy — and the actual take of the unicorn scene was used. (There’s also much more blood when Roy kills Tyrell.) The final shot of the dove has also been improved. In this version, it’s much clearer that Deckard is a replicant, but I couldn’t say exactly how or why I got that impression. It was very subtle, but it worked.
This was actually the FOURTH time I’ve seen BLADE RUNNER in the theater. The first time was in LA at the NuArt when they first released the Director’s Cut. (Not, alas, the famed “NuArt screening” of the workprint); the second was in a double bill with ALIEN that celebrated the opening of a new theater in Century City. (I also saw all three original Star Wars movies in a one day screening.) The third time was during the one and only Dynamic Forces con about a decade ago. This screening included a Q&A with Rutger Hauer afterwards, so this has to be my favorite viewing.
This version is by far the clearest, cleanest and most breathtaking. (One friend of mine went to see it four times at the Ziegfield.) As I left the theater (which was sold out) the plaza outside the Ziegfield was filled with pockets of happy nerds and cineastes lingering and talking it over — it was clear that they had never seen it in a movie theater, and he experience had galvanized them. Suddenly I felt old.
Another friend of mine saw it during this run for the FIRST TIME EVER and I haven’t been able to hear her thoughts. In truth, I can’t imagine what that would be like, since, although the film has aged beautifully, so many things that were stunningly innovative when it first came out are now so much a part of the movie making language that it doesn’t have the power to shock any more. It’s hard to see now how groundbreaking BLADE RUNNER was when it first came out. The pioneering brilliance of the imagined world — the floating ads, the towering flames, the city-buildings — it was all new. Nothing like it had been imagined before.
Much credit must go to the concept artist, the great Syd Mead, who also worked on TRON, as did Moebius, who also contributed some designs for BLADE RUNNER. (A piece of Mead concept art, but not from BR, above.) On the other hand, sometimes its hard to know what to make of Ridley Scott. He’s directed so many seminal films — ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, THELMA AND LOUISE, GLADIATOR, BLACK HAWK DOWN — but also so many that just make you scratch your head — say, anybody want to watch MATCHSTICK MEN? — it’s hard to call him a visionary. He comes from a background as an art director, and seeing BLADE RUNNER on the big screen it’s clear that the look is first, the story was just something that had to be there.
But oh, what a look. The shock when it came out wasn’t that it was so different, it was that it was rooted in the real world. (Deckard even has a bin full of paper chopsticks on his kitchen counter, a detail I had never noted before.) This is how it could be, the neon rain and crowded noodle shops, the flying cars and menageries of living toys. This is where it is going if we follow this path. There’s still a lot of truth to this future — except for the fact that no one was blabbing on a cell phone, it could still be the future. BLADE RUNNER is a movie that looked so cool that people are still trying to make the world look like that.
BTW: there was also a comics adaptation of BLADE RUNNER by Archie Goodwin with art by Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon, Dan Green and Ralph Reese. It was published as a “Super Special,” Marvel’s early foray into magazine sized, process colored comics. (I say early, but no one uses that format any more but Heavy Metal, so it was a bit of a dead end.) The cover was by Steranko.
MORE: A good post by Jim Emerson at the Sun Times, with much linkage to contemporary accounts.