All Blade Runner Versions Retrospective Review
Blade Runner is a neo-noir science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, and Edward James Olmos. The script was written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, and is a loose adaptation of the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. There are going to be some spoilers but the original film came out in 1982 so you've had a few years to see it. There have been many released versions of this film, each with its own fan base. Prior to seeing Blade Runner 2049, I re-watched all of the films (US Theatrical, International Theatrical, Director's Cut, and Final Cut) and here are my thoughts.
Background on the Various Cuts:
The U.S theatrical version released in 1982 was 116 minutes. In this version, the ending is "happy" and there is a Harrison Ford voice-over throughout the film that gives an explanation to the story. This version is very different than the other cuts of the film. The voice-over does make the film more grounded in a sense that has the film explain to the audience what is happening. However, the voice over is very uneven and the happy ending was not Scott's original version. The reason they added was due to an apparent dislike from pre-screening audiences towards the film. The studio eventually chose to add in the voice over to give exposition to the audience on what was going on. It sounds extremely out of place and really boring. However, if you are a fan of being told everything to you in a film, you may find this choice positive. The ending was added with leftover footage from The Shining and honestly just a mistake. It was just Hollywood trying to give a conclusion to the film. After Rick Deckard (Ford) and Rachael (Young) leave the apartment, you see them driving outside of Los Angeles on the run and that Rachael does not have the life limit that other replicants have. This ending, to me, is just terrible but some may like this more than I. The International Cut was also released in 1982 but was 117 minutes. It is fairly similar to the US theatrical version but it has more violence in three scenes that were added to the Final Cut. Both of these cuts are good in their own way but are not films I would watch again.
Rating to both: 3.0/5.0 bowties
The first major change to the film was in the Director's Cut, which was released in 1992 and was the film that I first saw. While consulted by Scott who provided notes and consultation, this film was ultimately created by Michael Arick, a film restorer. It runs for 116 minutes but it removes Deckard's voice-overs and the happy ending. It also adds the unicorn dream scene that implies a different ending than shown in the theatrical cuts. It brings up the concept that Deckard was also possibly a replicant. This is shown through Gaff's origami unicorn left on the floor that Deckard sees as he and Rachael leave the apartment. This implies that his memories are artificial and would be a replicant similar to Rachael. This is also supported by a line by Gaff who asks Deckard "But are you sure you are a man?" This line is also not even in the Final Cut. These changes and its ambiguous ending made a film that I loved up until I saw the Final Cut. The fact that the effects the film utilized were made before I was born was amazing to me. At the time, my love for science fiction films was only blossoming and this film had really pushed it forward. As I grew older, I realized the background behind this film and Scott's lack of ability to have artistic control over the film's story. So when I found out that a newer cut was being released that had given Scott this control, I was ecstatic.The Final Cut was released in 2007 with a run time of 117 minutes. Scott worked with another film restorer to put together a cut that he had complete control over. It kept a lot of what the Director's Cut changed and expanded on the significance of the unicorn. It also added back in the violence that was in the International cut. This is the cut that is my favorite to this day, but I do have some admiration towards the Director's Cut as it was my first outing of the story. The Final Cut is the main film I will be reviewing but the rating will be the same for the Director's Cut.
The Story/The Direction:
This film is set in dystopian Los Angeles in 2019 and this future has synthetic humans aka replicants. They are bioengineered by the Tyrell Corporation to work on off-world colonies. Each replicant is given a death day, four years from their "birthday." This makes Roy Batty (Hauer) and his group of replicants come back to earth to try to extend their lives. In response, the LAPD brings Deckard in to hunt them down. During this investigation, Deckard meets Rachael, an advanced replicant, who makes him care for a replicant in a way he never knew he could. "Futuristic" Los Angeles is an Asian-American hybrid and is loud but depressing. It is drenched in rain and is very overpopulated. Scott had created such a universe in 1982 that fully encapsulates ideas that are relevant to this day. In a genetic cloning aspect, this film is a telling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Both stories have a very intelligent person playing God creating "life" and both creations were then looked down upon by society as a whole. Both stories look at the idea of that if someone acquires too much knowledge, it can be dangerous. They both also play with the idea of that if scientists were capable of creating life via cloning or other scientific ways, humanity would never look at them as the same as a human. They would always be less than their creator even if they act and feel the same way as their creator. These questions of "what does it mean to be human?" is the central theme to both of these pieces of art.
In Blade Runner, the police officers use a psychological test to test whether someone is human or not. The questions that are asked focus on empathy as the film states that replicants are able to be indistinguishable from humans except they can't feel empathy. This test is done by looking at the eyes of the subject. Eyes are looked at being one of the most important organs in the human being. They allow you to see and to be seen. Eyes are known to be "windows to the soul" and potentially tell you about someone on the unconscious level. This is shown greatly in the film as the test looks at things such as fluctuation of the pupil and involuntary dilation of the iris to demonstrate empathy. What immensely interesting is that the film shows the replicants being more empathetic towards their kind in comparison to how the humans coldly treat one another. They seem to the audience as being more human than the actual human but they are still looked at as inferior to their creator. As our society has already cloned sheep and automated driving cars becomes more common, you can't help but think that this future is possible. Los Angeles is already notorious for their smog due to pollution. This adds to the realism of the film which is another thing that Scott is able to do successfully. While the world that he created is huge, he is able to bring the audience into the nooks and crannies of Los Angeles, the grimy and polluted areas of a city that are evident in a lot of cities today. The cinematography of each element of the city feels authentic from its big tall buildings to the crowded lower streets. The effects of this film were done by Douglas Trumbull who has also done 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He is able to create a fantastic environment for these characters, especially for the time. The film also has a dark yet soulful score by Vangelis that brings you into this futuristic world while also paying homage to noir films of the past. The music is not the only homage that this film does. The film almost always seems to be at night and its raining. The bight and dark colors are strongly contrasted against one another and the main character is very typical of the genre. To keep the darkness, the typical noir characters are somewhat obscured by shadow or smoke from cigarettes.
Ford's Deckard is an alienated person who has a questionable morality. His character is very similar to that of The Maltese Falcon's Sam Spade and The Big Sleep's Philip Marlowe. Ford's gruff acting fits perfectly into this character as he is a cynical person who has this mysterious aspect about him. The big question that has a lot of film fans up in arms about is whether or not Deckard is a human or a replicant. I believe that there are possibilities to both, however, I lean towards him being a replicant. There are enough hints to lean this way such as his eyes changing colors like the other replicants but the biggest is the unicorn origami left for him by Gaff. I feel this shows that he has had implanted memories. There are however moments in the film where Deckard does not seem like a replicant as he is unemphatic like the other humans around him and seems to kill these beings with no care in the world. However, when he does kill them, he does show guilt and has to drink a lot of alcohol to make himself feel better. This shows he has an empathetic side which the majority of the humans do not. So then why is he so gruff and grouchy all the time? Because his memories and human handler (Gaff) have taught him to be that. Gaff looks at him as a secondary being similar to how Deckard views the other replicants. This also shows another interesting concept of how hatred is taught and not grown. Deckard also keeps a lot of photos around him of his past. While not ever really gone into, this characteristic is shown to be comparable to that of the other replicants.
Out of the supporting cast, the standout is Hauer as Batty. Hauer is brilliant as the leader of the replicants to find out a way to extend their lifespans. He essentially is the most developed of characters as you know where he comes from and where he wants to be. It has been said many times over that the closer you are to death, the more alive you feel and being a replicant, you essentially are facing death every day. They do not know when they will die but they know that it will happen. Ironically, this is something that affects humans as well but because we know when we were born, we anticipate it won't happen soon. While not immortal, humans too gear death but over a longer period of time. Replicants do not know their birthdays but they know that they will die four years post that date. Thus everyday could be their last and they would never know it until the final moment. This allows them to be more "human" than the actual human characters. Batty, himself, becomes more representative of mankind than Deckard especially shown in through the film's religious allegories. Batty was created by Tyrell, a God-like character, and then sent off world as Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden. He then wants to meet his maker. To do so, he does "questionable things" and also "extraordinary things" but "nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn't let [him] in heaven for." However, he does not want to die and when Tyrell/God cannot give him want he wants, he loses faith. However, as his life gets close to the end, Batty starts to change his mind. He has the opportunity to kill Deckard but he doesn't. Why? Because he realizes that the idea of forgiveness is key to living forever. As shown through his self crucifixion and his forgiveness towards the man who killed the woman he cared so much about, he will be remembered by Deckard for the rest of his days. Legends will told forever about the replicant who had the opportunity to kill his prey but let him live instead. He comes to terms that he is going to die and should revel in it. He then gives one of the most touching and iconic death scenes in film history:
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time time like tears in rain. Time to die."
These final words also allow his story to be passed on to Deckard and is analogous to how stories are passed on through words from our older generation to us. Grandparents of the generation lived through World War II and potentially World War I and the Great Depression. But soon these memories will be only "tears in the rain." As his final story is told, Batty's expiration date arrives and he dies. A white dove he was holding flies up into the sky representing his "human soul." This final act made him even more human than Deckard. Prior to this scene, the audience also sees Batty and Deckard play a game of cat and mouse and through this game their similarities grow. Both want to hunt the other, are in pain, and a disfigured right hand. This sequence further shows how similar Batty and Deckard are either as humans or as replicants, depending on the audience's interpretation of the film. Hauer a fantastic job in this role. In addition, the fact that this final line of dialogue was changed by Hauer without the knowledge of Scott from the original script to what is seen in the film shows his dedication to the role.
Having said all of the above about the film, the film is not perfect. The romance between Deckard and Rachael was completely unbelievable. The characters seemed forced to be together due to the lack of chemistry between Ford and Young. The two actors apparently did not get along on set and unfortunately, that shows on screen. While there is somewhat of an attempt to link these two characters together, it doesn't seem to fall into place effectively. In addition, the so-called "love scene" is also a problem with this film. She is clearly under duress and does not give consent. The gravity of a scene like this and how the audience sees the film is subjective and can be analyzed in many different ways. However, in my mind, it can be acknowledged that it is seen that could definitely lead to rape. While obviously not okay, this scene is also very reminiscent of the style of film that had been shown before. In noir films such as The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon, there are scenes that definitely are similar and are along the lines of "no but she really means yes." While this does not justify the act, those films were of an era where that type of behavior was okay and Scott was taking a lot of influence on them. It also brings up the question of humanity within the act as "If she's a robot, is it rape?" This again does not warrant the act of rape but rather adds to the discussion within the film.
One can overlook these flaws though due to the greatness of the rest of the film. Its biggest strength was that the film analyzed what it means to be human without being too preachy or full of itself. It boils down to a detective story about a man trying to defeat another that may have more in common with himself than he initially realizes. This film has influenced many other pictures over the years such as both the animated Ghost in the Shell, the live action version, The Matrix films, and Scott's own Prometheus and its sequel, Alien: Covenant. There is so much to take from this film that will only expand after multiple viewings. If you have never seen the film, the best overall film is the Final Cut. While flawed, as shown in its multiple iterations, this is one of Scott's amazing masterpieces with its soulful score, its great non-digital visual effects, and its look at what it really means to be human.
Rating: 4.5/5.0 bowties.
Blade Runner 2049:
The average score for all four renditions is 3.75 bowties which is between "good and enjoyable," and "really great but has some flaws" in my book. However, it has been said that this sequel, which takes place twenty years later, is a direct sequel to the Final Cut version of the film. This sequel is directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto. The score will be composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. This sequel has a lot to live up to since the score of that film was 4.5 bowties, which is "amazing with flaws," in my book. However, I am confident it will still be good even if it doesn't completely live up to it.
What did you all think of the films? Which cut is your favorite? Let me know in the comments section.
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