Blade Runner: The Director's Cut

Blade Runner: The Director's Cut

***

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

It's difficult to have an objective view about the most influential science-fiction movie ever made. Ridley Scott's film is a masterpiece of production design, vision, scope and dark beauty. Outside in the city, the murk, the glorious darkness and filthy red pollution are interspersed with flying cars - named Spinners - bursts of flame from the refineries and gloomy neon.

It boasts one of the greatest opening series of shots in all of cinema history - simply magical. I won't argue the stunningly awful brilliance of the visual impact of the film. It is one of the purest examples of "cinema du look" I can think of. The glorious visual effects by Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), conceptuals by the great Syd Mead, and intricate, smoggy set design easily convince. And a majestic and haunting Vangelis score completes the picture. It is among the most unwavering make-believe worlds I have ever seen in cinema.

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By 2019, Los Angeles has turned into the canonoical, nightmarish metropolis, with society fusing into an interesting blend of a neo-Tokyo design and towers of glass and steel stretching as far as the eye can see. Artificial intelligence has improved, and now the Tyrell corporation has created a being "virtually identical to a human" with superior strength, a limited emotional backbone, equal intelligence and - crucially - a four-year lifespan. These beings - called Replicants - are illegal on Earth. Police units, called Blade Runners, are ordered to shoot on sight - aka "retire" - any they discover.

Six Replicants escape from a ship, murdering it's crew. A Voight-Kampf test, which is used to assess emotional response within its tested subject, exposes one of the Replicants attempting to infiltrate the Tyrell corporation. It's up to the semi-retired Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to find and kill the remaining "skin-jobs".

Blade Runner lacks storytelling focus. The script tries to take on a few deep issues, and fails to deliver on most of them. It's a thinly written piece of film-noir, with a badly written and uninteresting set of detective work, which moves with the pace of a glacier. The best moment of the detective story is finding clues in old photographs using the ESPER machine - by careful analysis of the photo, one can be given potentially helpful information on the Replicants. It's compelling enough that we find ourselves leaning forward expectantly, sharing Deckard's desire for answers.

The script also ham-handedly squeezes in a formula romance. The disastrous phoned-in performance by Ford - oh, you can tell he hated being on that set! - and the distinct lack of chemistry between Sean Young as the Replicant object of his affections hurts the film. One of the better moments of this relationship is right at the beginning, where Deckard callously strings off a few of her implanted memories, proving she's an unknowing Replicant. A good script idea that falls flat due to Young's performance.

The changing of tones and styles back and forth is also infuriating. The detective stuff is hackneyed, then the film jumps to the Replicants' emotional immaturity in torturing an eyeball designer as though they were children pulling the legs off a spider. Rutger Hauer's performance as Batty is simply terrific - complex, interesting and Hauer is perpetually watchable.

There is also a pointless fight between Batty and Deckard, with Batty toying with him, breaking fingers. The handheld camera movement, and the criss-crossing beams of light give the climax the logic and space of a nightmare. It might even be apt, if only the film was leading up to this. It jumps tone quickly, without warning or respect for the spectator. Ironically, the only moment of the film to show a lit sky is the ending, an unsubtle metaphor for the new life Batty gives Deckard (changed in the Final Cut - bah!).

I find the changes made to the Director's Cut interesting - the removal of the voiceover is an immeasurable improvement, but the famous Unicorn scene is a disappointment. By removing any ambiguity of Deckard being a Replicant, you deny the audience the analysis of the performances, or Rachael asking Deckard whether he's taken the Voight-Kampf test himself.

The film has permeated our collective consciousness, as has it influenced scores of films and television commercials. And indeed, it has moments of utter magnificence, Batty's final thoughts on his own mortality ring much closer to my heart and head than anything a charred sky, flying cars and smoky suburbs can throw at me. I can only wish the film's story lingered anywhere near as much as it's artistry.

Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2006
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Rick Deckard is a Blade Runner, an elite cop trained to hunt down and ‘retire’ rogue replicants, android beings designed to be ‘…more human than human’.
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Merlin Harries *****

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples, Roland Kibbee, Philip K. Dick

Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James

Year: 1982

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: USA

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