Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Review: "Blade Runner - The Final Cut"

Warning: SPOILERS (spoilage factor: about the same as a plate of nachos left on the coffee table in your living room for two days)

Does it matter that Ridley Scott has decanted another replicant of his SF classic “Blade Runner”? Is the newly-released “Blade Runner – The Final Cut” worth buying?

Having just watched it, I have to say that while it is most definitely worth buying, I’m not so sure that this latest model is different enough from the Director’s Cut, released in the early 90’s, to be significant. (Excuse me while I brace myself for the collective in-drawing of breath and cries of “Sacrilege!” from some of the other BR fanboys out there).

I think though, we have to look at the two questions separately.

Firstly, I bought the 4-disc Collector’s Edition, which includes The Final Cut, as well as the original 1982 North American theatrical release, the international theatrical release, the Director’s Cut from the 90’s and a couple of disks of special features. I’m a big enough fan of BR that I knew going into the store it would either be this collection, or the super-duper-ultra-mega-metal-briefcase-there’s-no-nerd-like-me collectible collector’s edition (including a 5th disc with another cut of the film, a paper unicorn, a toy hovercar and some slides/cells) – no single-disc cheapo version for me. I made it in time to grab the last of both of these collectors’ sets from the shelf and stood there for a minute or two, studying the extras listed on the package. Ultimately, I took the 4-disc set because after an initial opening and examination, I probably wouldn’t look at all the bonus knick-knacks again, and let’s face it, if it’s resale collector’s value you’re looking for, really, if you want to keep the value up, you’d never open the metal box in the first place, let alone remove the plastic.

Getting the collector’s edition was worth it for me because I’m one of those freakishly rare types that enjoys both the theatrical release and the DC. Each has the feeling of a different film from the other, and while I love the DC, the TR certainly has its merits. The DC is definitely more of a challenging film. That being said, in some ways the TR does a better job of creating the tone of an old-style film noir – you could almost see Bogart doing that role – the narrative has much the same tone as one of his monologues from, say “The Maltese Falcon”. A buddy of mine recently made the observation (and one that, upon further thought, I’ve come to agree with) that the TR is probably a better vehicle to introduce non-BR, non-SF fans to than the DC. If they’re interested, they’ll want to progress to the DC.

Buying the collection to watch TFC was worth-while if for no other reason than to see the footage cleaned up and listen to the crispness of the remastered sound. But the little extras that have been added here and there to the shots, such as reflections, like the elevator lights off of an exhausted Deckard’s face, enhance the look of the film nicely, rather than crowd it out. In adding extra footage – an extra reaction here, a longer hold on a character there (like the side-long looks we now see Captain Bryant giving Deckard during the debriefing in the beginning), some raised audio (like Roy calling to Sebastian after he’s just used his thumbs to egg-beater Tyrell’s eyeballs and brain – something we see more of in the new cut), or in the case of Zhora’s death, reshooting footage, Scott has shown a deft touch in making sure TFC is a fine film, rather than a caricature of itself. Taken as its own version TFC is, like its predecessors, simply great to watch.

The only digital change I’m not so sure about is the changing of the sky as the dove flies away from Roy’s body at the end. In older versions, there was the rather odd sight of the dove flying across a patch of blue daylit sky, despite the fact that Deckard and Roy were lying on a building in the perpetual darkness and rain of the lower levels of the city. Now it’s been changed so that the dove wings-off across a dark, cloudy sky with a backdrop of skyscrapers. The new footage certainly fits better with the scenery, but metaphorically, I don’t think it works as well with for the scene. Especially towards the end of the film, despite the carnage he inflicts, Roy’s character is shown more and more to be a type of savior for his people, and the dove is a crucial part of this imagery. When the replicant leader dies and the dove flies away into the blue sky, it appears to show that Roy’s finally found peace – that he’s fled the tired and dingy world he’s come to. In rising into the blue sky, the dove seems to emphasize what we’ve just seen with Roy saving Deckard’s life and accepting that his time has come, that he has transcended his violent past and gained a sort of tranquility. And this is something we can see reflected in the understanding on Deckard’s face (or, if you’re watching the TR, it’s something we’re blatantly told). The switch to the dove flying across more dark buildings negates any chance of a metaphor at best. At worst it would seem to cynically tell us that in death, Roy has not gained any freedom - that things haven’t changed, even on a spiritual level.

This leads us to the question of whether TFC is significant in being Scott’s last word on the film (allegedly – we’ll have to wait another 10 or 20 years to see if Scott changes his mind). As I said previously, I’m not sure that it is.

There’s been a lot of hype about TFC showing conclusively that Deckard is a replicant. The afore-mentioned debriefing scene at the opening with Bryant’s sidelong glances at Deckard certainly adds to the implications that Harrison Ford’s character isn’t a normal human. But (and perhaps I wasn’t being attentive enough in the first viewing of this version – or perhaps I was distracted by the cleaner video and crisper audio) I didn’t really pick up anything else in this rendition that added to the case for Deckard being a replicant. That being said, the Bryant scenes, in my opinion make this likelihood conclusive enough for this version of the film.

But so what? So this version indicates Deckard’s a replicant. That just makes it the polar opposite of the TR, which, in my opinion, seemed to fall on the side of Deckard being human. The fact that in the 2007 version Deckard is a replicant doesn’t make TFC a better film.

Some might argue that Scott has said that TFC is the version he has always truly meant for the public to see. Again, I would answer with “so what?” Scott’s entitled to his opinion, but so am I and so are you. This is a post-modernist era, where it can be argued the interpretation of the audience (both personal as an individual, and general as a collective audience) has as much validity as the intent of the author – most especially so if I’m the one paying to buy altered version after altered version every decade or so.

In fact, I would argue that the DC from the 90’s is probably the best version because it’s not as conclusive as either of the others. It leaves plenty of leeway for Deckard to be either human or a replicant. Yes, Edward James Olmos’ character leaves behind an origami unicorn, and Deckard did have the unicorn dream, but it could be coincidence – or maybe not! How much significance, and what kind of significance should we put on Deckard’s reaction to the demands of the case, the stress in his life, his new relationship or the fact that Roy chose to save him? It’s the kind of unsettling uncertainty that a classic Philip K. Dick story would leave us with. And since BR is based on “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, that uncertainty is fitting.

That being said, TFC is not a bad film. It’s a very good movie and a worthy addition to the collection.

I think, in the end, the way I view the 3 versions of the film is something along the lines of a favourite old story being told orally around the camp fire. Many of the themes and characters and events are the same, even if the details and the implecations of the story differ from telling to telling. As long as the storyteller spins his yarn well, all versions can be entertaining and possibly enlightening. I think in each version, Scott has done a good job of telling a tale. The newest version of “Blade Runner” definitely makes the cut.

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