The newly restored and, at long last, director-approved final cut of Blade Runner is playing in theaters in New York City and I had the chance to see it with an audience a couple of nights ago. My initial reaction was relief that the dreaded voice-over was completely absent, as it should be. Once I was able to settle into my seat without having to hear "the charmer's name was Gaff" I knew the rest would be gravy, and so it was. I'm happy to report that this restored print of the film looks completely amazing -- the restoration is as clean and clear as any I've ever seen.There have even been some touch-ups and a bit of re-shooting, although to what purpose I don't know. The new end credits give a big thank-you to Joanna Cassidy for agreeing to do some kind of re-shoot work, but if no one ever told me it had been done, I'd never know, so it must be some little thing that had been eating away at Ridley Scott.
This final cut isn't just a restoration of the visuals, though -- it's a plot restoration as well, and one that I find completely stupid and unnecessary. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then I don't know where you've been for the last twenty years, so I have no compunction about spoiling it for you. Ridley Scott feels that Deckard, Harrison Ford's Philip Marlowe of the future, is a replicant, just like the replicants he's chasing. It was always his prerogative to think this, even though it doesn't fit into the framework of the story, but now he's made his interpretation of it the definitive one. Instead of the film ending with Deckard spiriting Sean Young to safety in the woodsy wherever, he now learns that a vision that had haunted his dreams, of a galloping unicorn, is known to his fellow Blade Runners. They know he's a replicant, and they'll be coming for him. As this realization dawns on Deckard at the end of the new cut, he grabs Sean Young and slams the door closed -- smash cut to end titles.
Others have already done a detailed analysis of why this makes no sense whatsoever within the logic of the story, so I'll confine myself to why it doesn't make sense dramatically. Throughout the course of the movie, Deckard tracks down and kills replicants, one in extremely cold blood -- the Joanna Cassidy scene. Cassidy's fake-snake-wearing stripper character has done no harm that we see -- she may have killed some people while escaping a slave colony, but big deal -- and as soon as she realizes that Deckard has come for her, she takes off running for her life. She runs as fast as she can just to get away from him, and he chases her, gets a bead on her and shoots her square in the back. It's an incredibly cowardly moment that sort of makes me hate Deckard for the rest of the film. Suddenly turning the hunter into the hunted in the last reel is emotionally awkward, to say the least. It's a classic example of a twist for a twist's sake, and it's a shame Scott doesn't understand that.
The two major changes between the original cut and that other director's cut and this cut are the removal of the voice-over, which is an enormous plus, and the 'Deckard is a replicant' addition, which is an enormous minus, so I'm tempted to say that the final product is a wash, but there's something about seeing the film on the big screen that forces me to retain good feelings about it. Logical flaws and structural flaws aside, watching it is a pure experience-- this is a film that I believe truly ranks near Metropolis in terms of true visual wonderment. Consider that shot of Deckard eating noodles in the lift as it casually motors away -- that alone is worth the price of admission. The towering images of the Japanese face peddling God knows what kind of product is also incredibly iconic at this point -- what is she selling, anyway? And who is she selling to? Anyone with money is already away in the colonies, so who's buying? So many questions arise while watching, and so few answers are given.
There's no question it's Blade Runner, not Alien, that Scott will be remembered for. That's not a slap at Alien, but movies like Alien and Pulp Fiction, which spawn an entire copycat genre, pay a price for that level of influence. They lose a tinge of their specialness. Blade Runner is one of a kind in every way, with a marriage of music and imagery that has never and will never be repeated. I could hear one bar of the Blade Runner theme and know what I'm hearing. I could see one frame of the film and identify it. That's how deeply it gets under your skin and stays with you after you watch. I'm hard pressed to think of a favorite scene, but if you insist, I think it would have to be the scene where the creeps Roy Batty and Pris put the screws to the creepy J.F. Sebastian, while all of his insanely creepy 'toys' look on. I don't know why, but watching that scene always makes me want to hop the next shuttle to the off-world as soon as possible.