Science Noir 

Going Back to the Future with One More Blade Runner

Prophetic and beautiful, Blade Runner was released in June of 1982, and no one cared.

Well, more or less: Released two weeks after a little film called E.T., and on the same day as John Carpenter's The Thing, Blade Runner was one more sci-fi flick in a summer already full of them. And compared to the feel-good cheer of Spielberg's freakish little alien orphan, or the easily marketable, gory frights of Carpenter's space monster flick, Blade Runner wasn't an easy sell. Slow-paced and with more philosophizing than gunfire, Ridley Scott's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel was ignored by most and beloved by few.

Worse, Scott himself wasn't even one of Blade Runner's fans: Thanks to studio meddling, he had been forced to change his film's ending and add a dumbed-down voiceover track by star Harrison Ford. While the Blade Runner that Scott tried to bring to the screen bore little resemblance to Dick's novel, the studio-mandated version only occasionally resembled the film Scott intended to make.

So, more or less, people forgot about Blade Runner... except for those who had been rightfully impressed. And years later, after an accidental showing of an unfinished version of the film—one without the voiceover, or the artificial ending—Blade Runner's reputation began to grow. A 1991 "Director's Cut" DVD omitted the voiceover and cheery ending from the now-famous film. And now, on the film's 25th anniversary, Blade Runner: The Final Cut is the definitive version of a film that has grown from a forgotten bit of genre cinema to one of history's most influential films.

It is, if nothing else, gorgeous: Scott, fresh off of directing Alien, pulled together an astounding team of artists and special effects technicians to create a futuristic Los Angeles that is still romantic and terrifying—where, in 2019, the sun never rises, the cold rain never stops, and neon billboards preaching for corporations incessantly flicker, crawling along the sides of filthy, massive skyscrapers. Flying cars flicker through L.A.'s canyon-like streets, but the real city is below, where—amongst steam and gibberish and squalor—a melting pot boils, and Rick Deckard (Ford) stumbles to find his way. Deckard is an old-school detective straight out of a 1950s film noir, but instead of tracking down flesh and blood dames, Deckard hunts rogue "replicants"—artificial humans, originally designed for slave labor. As Blade Runner begins, Deckard is charged with finding a slew of particularly violent replicants—an assignment that leads him through all social and philosophical levels of Dick and Scott's dystopia, eventually introducing him to all sorts of Big Themes: patricide, deicide, sex, memory. For all its special effects and techno-babble about "cellular decrepitude," Blade Runner ultimately wrestles with the deceptively simple question of what it means to be human.

Restored in fantastic detail, this theatrical re-release is amazing to see—never before have the film's dense, astounding visuals looked better, nor has Vangelis' ethereal score sounded more haunting. There are, supposedly, a few tightened-up effects shots, a few tweaked scenes—but if you've seen the '92 director's cut on DVD, nothing's going to be too new here. The real joy is seeing the film on the big screen, beautifully restored. (Okay, yes—for the diehards, of which I'm one, there are other benefits to this "final cut." There is, for example, finally a firm answer on whether or not Deckard himself is a replicant.) Two-and-a-half decades after its initial botched release, Blade Runner is back, on the big screen, as it was meant to be seen. And this time, people care.

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