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DVD SAVANT

Blade Runner
(Four-Disc Collector's Edition)


Blade Runner (Four-Disc Collector's Edition)
Warner Home Video
1981 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 117 min. / Street Date December 18, 2007 / 34.99
Starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy
Cinematography Jordan Cronenweth
Production Design Lawrence G. Paull
Art Direction Peter J. Hampton
Film Editor Marsha Nakashima
Original Music Vangelis
Written by Hampton Fancher, David Webb Peoples from a novel by Philip K. Dick
Produced by Michael Deeley
Directed by Ridley Scott

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Warners is tipping the scales on holiday gift sets this Christmas. Following close behind their enormous Man From U.N.C.L.E. attaché case set (actually available through Time-Life) are smaller but just as impressive Blade Runner packages. The science fiction film comes in two, four and five-disc editions and also on HD DVD and Blu-Ray; the only potential problem will be sorting between them all. The volume of extras in the larger sets is so big, viewers may feel like they're remaking the movie insead of watching it.

Blade Runner had an enormous influence on 1980s art direction. It wasn't a success at first, and disappointed Harrison Ford fans knew why. Unlike Indiana Jones, the humorless Rick Deckard spends the entire movie looking down in the mouth. Perhaps to compensate for the lifeless hero, someone added badly written tough-guy voiceovers. The film's Dystopian future displays Film Noir stylistics, but Harrison Ford is no Philip Marlowe. The Sci-Fi ground rules are established through a lot of fast expository dialogue, in which Ford and the cops discuss topics they should already be familar with so we can learn what's going on. We touch on fascinating Sci-Fi concepts but the real subject matter on view is a series of pursuits and shoot-outs in the rainy streets of a futuristic Los Angeles. Ridley Scott's commitment to high style epitomizes the eighties' triumph of style over content: a simplified storyline backed by terrific visual thrills.

Blade Runner's reputation grew steadily in the decade that followed. Interest in Philip K. Dick's science fiction became even greater, and it was rumored that the theatrical version had suffered from a Brazil-like compromise with the studio marketers. After a number of years pan-scanned on VHS and cable, Blade Runner was one of the first discs to be released on widescreen laserdisc. Then in 1990, lightning struck. A couple of theaters in San Francisco and Los Angeles (the Fairfax) capable of running 70mm started a screening series showcasing forgotten Road Show prints from the studio vaults. Many of these Road Show cuts were different than the final 35mm versions, making it thrilling to see something like In Harm's Way with an intermission, and maybe even an extra scene. When the series organizers projected Warners' vault copy of Blade Runner the audience went nuts. The 70mm print appeared to be a one-of-a-kind find, a preview version of the film before the studio's final changes. It had only a few hardboiled voiceovers and skipped the happy ending altogether.

The film has twice been restored in a 'director's cut', with Ridley Scott (or his designated editors) being allowed to re-cut scenes and in some cases add new material. This release's new The Final Cut has been a 'stop & go' project for more than ten years.

Synopsis:

Ex-policeman Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is coerced back to work by his supervisor Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh). The exploitation of alien worlds has been made possible by the production of 'replicants', genetic-synthetic creatures difficult to distinguish from humans. They're used as slave workers and soldiers and are forbidden to come to Earth; when they do, 'blade runners' like Deckard are dispatched to kill them. Bryant has determined that four murderous replicants have rebelled and are in Los Angeles. One (Brion James) has already killed a man during a test with a replicant-detecting device called a Voight-Kampf machine. Deckard interviews replicant manufacturer Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) and discovers a good reason for the replicant revolt: they have a built-in life span of only four years. The fugitive leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leaves a trail of corpses in his search for a genetic technician who can 'give him more life.' Meanwhile, Deckard falls in love with Tyrell's beautiful secretary Rachael (Sean Young), who sympathizes with the doomed replicants.

Just as his Alien transformed a deep space freighter into a new kind of haunted house, the visually oriented Ridley Scott creates in Blade Runner a compellingly tactile portrait of a 'used future'. Los Angeles in 2019 is a rainy mess of the trendy new and the crumbling old. Genetic labs share kiosk space with fast food sushi, and new-age cops in flying squad cars police multilingual streets where English speakers are in the minority. The biggest influence appears to be Japanese, with signage in that language and huge animated billboards that play music and advertising pitches over public address systems. Giant advertising blimps float above like Sea Urchins, promising a new future for unhappy city dwellers in the glorious off-world colonies.

These details are hints to themes in other Philip K. Dick stories, several of which involve an overpopulated future in which excess 'human resources' are cajoled into emigrating, to live in miserable hovels on far-off planets. Nobody can expect a two-hour film to fully embrace Philip K. Dick, and Blade Runner only skims the surface of Dick's mind-altering concepts. Simply by taking itself seriously, the film has gathered a loyal following that considers it the best science fiction film ever made.

Blade Runner certainly looks good. Its best material is not the detective story, which tries too hard for a neo-noir angst. To cozy up to Joanna Cassidy's snake dancer, Deckard badly replays the bookstore scene from The Big Sleep. Better than the predictable chases and violence are a few choice moments that exploit new ideas. We learn that 2019 photographs can be put in a viewer that allows us to 'enter' the space in the picture and look in different directions. The film's most affecting scenes present the quiet, sad realization that one of the main characters is a replicant and doesn't know it. Replicants are cruelly implanted with fake childhood memories, to give them an illusion of the human experience.

The film's quiet passages are a meditation on the meaning of personal identity. Nobody talks about God but the revelation that one is a synthetic 'thing' is a fall from grace comparable to Adam and Eve being expelled from Eden. By most measures the replicants are superior to living humans. They're stronger and more durable -- replicant Leon can stick his hand in liquid oxygen without ill effects. The abusive treatment of replicants reads as species jealousy -- 'racism' pure and simple.

Tycoon Eldon Tyrell lives high above the squalor in an Olympian pyramid. When Roy Batty pays him a visit it's a clear case of Frankenstein meeting His Monster. Batty appeals for fatherly protection but Tyrell sees his creation only as an expression of his pride -- and something to suppress. For Star Wars fans unaware that Sci-Fi can transcend spaceships and monsters, Blade Runner is an introduction to the possibilities of speculative fiction. For science fiction fans already attuned to such things, the film just scratches the surface.  1

Seen 25 years later Blade Runner is a visual marvel, with the top effects wizards of its day working in support of superior art direction. Harrison Ford may not be perfect for his role but the players around him are consistently interesting. Joe Turkel is a lonely industrial Demigod; Rutger Hauer does indeed suggest an unhappy soldier back to ask for a new life. It's touching when Roy proves to be more than just a killer. Edward James Olmos has a 'cool' look even though we can't figure out the first thing about him, and the other players are effective in even sketchier parts. Daryl Hannah's flaky concubine android Pris airbrushes paint onto her closed eyes, an intimate, disturbing touch. Joanna Cassidy's replicant Amazon has only one scene but makes a lasting impression. A substantial part of Sean Young's performance is provided by a killer hairstyle and exaggerated Joan Crawford shoulder pads. Ridley Scott imposes his elaborate patterns of stylization on the characters too -- especially the women.

In Young's case we get the idea that Rachael is 'shallow' for a definite reason. Rutger Hauer is a replicant, and he's the most soulful person we see. The idea persists that Rick Deckard might unknowingly be a replicant as well, a notion deliberately salted with a few narrative hints and unconsciously encouraged by Harrison Ford's dispassionate performance. Curiously, even the movie's main artistic contributors are in conflict on this question -- some claim it was wholly intentional but one of the screenwriters insists that any such interpretation ruins the film's concept!


All the above will be but quibbling to the legions of devout Blade Runner fans. Warner Home Video's various offerings include packages in HD DVD and Blu-Ray. Savant watched the new The Final Cut on regular DVD and was impressed with the transfer, which replicates (hmm...) the dark, rich look of the original theatrical experience. People indifferent to Sci-Fi concepts will be entertained just by the clouds of cigarette smoke artfully obscuring Sean Young's all-too-perfect face. Most of the differences in the Final Cut are subtleties, and unless you've memorized earlier versions you may not notice any of them. Some scenes are extended while some dialogue has been changed. A few special effects shots have been improved, and we're told a couple of them are new.

The goodies multiply as one steps through Warners' three basic purchase choices. The Final Cut Two-Disc Special Edition is the basic item. It has The Final Cut with three commentary tracks: Ridley Scott alone, one with the writers and producers and a third with the film's art directors, designers and special effects people. The second disc contains Dangerous Days, an exhaustive docu with input from dozens of filming participants. It will make you think that the Blade Runner is the culmination of 20th century culture.

But wait, there's more! The Blade Runner: 4-Disc Collector's Edition packs two more discs with additional material. Disc three contains three separate film versions. The 1982 Theatrical Cut allows one to assess the original's happy ending and added voiceovers. As is to be expected with any film in multiple versions, many viewers prefer this cut and love Deckard's stilted noir speeches. The 1982 International Cut is a slightly longer unrated version with a bit more violence; it's what appeared on cable and later home video releases.

The 1992 Director's Cut is Ridley Scott's first crack at a renovation after the wave of publicity that followed the 70mm preview cut screening. Blade Runner was swept up in the brief flurry of major restorations that followed Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus. New opportunities for home video revenue made possible the notion of reworking a ten year-old picture that hadn't turned a profit.

Disc Four is called the Enhancement Archive. It carries a long list of featurettes on and about the film's designs and fashions, cameraman Jordan Cronenweth and even the poster art. Philip K. Dick is covered with three extras, including Paul Sammon's audio interviews with the legendary author. The controversy of whether Deckard is organic or plastic is addressed in the featurette Deck-A-Rep: The True Nature of Rick Deckard. The Archive also contains screen tests for the Rachael and Pris characters, the expected trailers, teasers and TV spots and a big stack of deleted and alternate scenes. The alternates often use different camera angles and employ reams of uniformly awful faux-hardboiled Deckard voiceovers. This past-tense chatter distances us from the visual story while delineating every thought that goes through Deckard's head. We also see an alternate title sequence, two different endings and a couple of completely new scenes, including one where Deckard visits an injured colleague in a hospital. The medi-pod in which the patient lies resembles our vision of a half-life container from the great P.K. Dick book Ubik.

After all that, the pricey numbered and limited Ultimate Collector's Edition still has a hook to lure the Blade Runner completist. It is said to come in oversized packaging resembling Deckard's briefcase. No Voight-Kampf replicant detector is included, but Ultimate Consumers will receive a lenticular (?) film clip, an origami unicorn, a toy spinner flying car, stills and a note from Ridley Scott.

Reviewers weren't sent the fancy case but we did get the Ultimate Edition's fifth disc, which contains a transfer of a Blade Runner workprint (the old preview cut) that amounts to yet another distinct version of the film. The workprint has been tweaked in transfer but is still fairly ugly compared to the restored versions. It comes with a commentary track by author Paul Sammon, an intro by director Scott and a featurette called All Our Variant Features. The producer of The Final Cut relates its long, interrupted gestation period and shows how new digital effects were used to alter scenes. Joanna Cassidy returned to help replace a stunt double's face with her own for the big gundown scene, and Harrison Ford's son serves as a 'mouth double', correcting some of his father's wildly out-of-sync dialogue. In contrast to some other effects revision jobs (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) the new material is nigh invisible. Some continuity mistakes were corrected and others retained as 'desired flaws' from the original filming process.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Blade Runner (Four-Disc Collector's Edition) rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: oh, a few ... hundred. See above.
Packaging: Four discs in plastic and card folder in card sleeve.
Reviewed: December 9, 2007

Footnote:

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was reportedly written in 1966, although Philip K. Dick probably worked with the same concepts much earlier. The truly groundbreaking film on the subject of synthetic humans and the robotic future is Jay Simms' 1962 Creation of the Humanoids. An awkwardly static and talky obscurity, Humanoids shares with Blade Runner the notion of robots becoming indistinguishable from live people and likewise depends for its main twist on the idea that a robot might be unaware that it isn't human. Creation develops the same core ideas much further. Instead of self-destructing like a consumer product, Simm's 'clickers' can function for 150 years. Robots and humans are locked in a legal-political competition, while some humans are even 'marrying' robots. Creation even ponders the meaning of life and God in a world where humans define themselves by their faith. A robot proclaims, "I know who created me. You have to accept your creator on faith."

The tacky Creation of the Humanoids uses cardboard sets and paints people blue to represent robot 'clickers', and some Sci-Fi fans consider it a loser. $15 million in the hands of an army of creative moviemakers gives Blade Runner a huge advantage in production value. It has unforgettably beautiful visuals, but it isn't as imaginative or as original.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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