Blade Runner: Director's Cut
Screenplay : Hampton Fancher and David Peoples (based on a novel by Philip K. Dick)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1982
Stars : Harrison Ford (Deckard), Rutger Hauer (Roy Batty), Sean Young (Rachael), Edward James Olmos (Gaff), M. Emmet Walsh (Bryant), Daryl Hannah (Pris), William Sanderson (J.F. Sebastian), Brion James (Leon), Joe Turkel (Tyrell)
In one essay about "Blade Runner," a critic wrote: "It is difficult to be ambivalent about 'Blade Runner': You either like it or dislike it intensely--or both." I am of the third variety, torn between an incredible fascination for its complexity and bravery, and my derision for its sloppy script and lack of emotion.
Whether critics and audiences liked it or hated it, "Blade Runner" has become an indelible part of cinema history. Few films would consider themselves lucky to be half as influential as this film is. It is truly a revolutionary cinematic experience, creating a vision so complete and seamless, that when a two-second shot near the end of the film doesn't quite fit, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Volumes of criticism have been written about "Blade Runner," and every scene has been meticulously taken apart and analyzed. Papers have been written on its religious imagery, its underlying commentary on the nature of humanity, its similarities to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," and whether or not it is a valid prophecy of what the future holds in store, to name a few.
The story, based on Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," concerns Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a blade runner who tracks down "replicants," genetically manufactured humanoids that have been declared illegal on earth because of their violent tendencies. Deckard, forced back into service by a seamy police officer named Bryant (M. Emmett Walsh) and his assistant Gaff (Edward James Olmos), spends most of the film "retiring" a group of rebellious replicants, led by the super intelligent Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). Along the way, Deckard falls in love with Rachael, a replicant who thinks she is human (Sean Young), and subtle suggestions are made that Deckard might be a replicant himself.
Deckard's humanity has become one of the major arguments among "Blade Runner" fanatics, and for the record, I would like to state that the film's director, Ridley Scott, has openly said in interviews that Deckard is a replicant. In the 1982 theatrical release, the producers forced changes on the film that obscured some of the film's references to this end.
However, in 1993, the director's cut was briefly released to theaters and then to home video, and I consider this to be the definitive version. It includes a few more scenes that flesh out Deckard and Rachael's otherwise dull and uninspired relationship, and it includes the infamous unicorn dream sequence, the strongest proof that Deckard is the same as that which he hunts. The director's cut also discards the explanatory voice-over narration, and the horrible Hollywood ending that incorporated outtakes of rolling mountain vistas from Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining."
Of course, all of this is academic. What's the movie like?
That is a hard question to answer. Visually, it is a brilliantly conceived film. Somehow it manages to mesh the hard-boilded detective film noirs of the '40s into a violent, science fiction extravaganza, creating a world where ceiling fans and cigarette smoke are at home with flying cars and impossibly tall skyscrapers. The sets and special effects are stunning. Los Angeles circa 2019 is envisioned as a kind of forgotten wasteland, where the dregs of society have been left behind, while others have traveled to live "Off-World" on other planets. Los Angeles has become a huge black market, populated with every race and creed, milling about in the perpetual rainfall.
While "Blade Runner" is a triumph of vision, those same strengths tend to be its weaknesses. Every scene is so filled with vision that the characters get lost. By the time the film ends, you're wishing for a simple scene with little or nothing in the background. Take, for instance, the residence of J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), a genetic engineer working for Tyrell, the huge corporation responsible for the replicants. He lives by himself in a seedy, rundown building with crumbling Gothic architecture. Why? He's a genetic engineer. Surely he could afford to live in a place that doesn't constantly leak rain, causing extensive wood rot. However, those aspects make wonderful eye candy, and it serves as a great backdrop for the final confrontation between Deckard and Roy.
The characters are hard to understand because many of them are replicants, so they are supposed to be devoid of emotion. After his inspired turns as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, Harrison Ford gives an incredibly low-key performance as Deckard. His almost inhuman personality is aptly explained if he is indeed a replicant, but that still makes him a dull emotional center.
As Roy Batty, Rutger Hauer is infinitely more interesting and animated. Batty is a complex character, a bit of a fallen angel and a prodigal son. With his blond hair and his blue eyes, he is almost reminiscent of Hitler's Ayrian race. The film refuses to make him truly evil -- instead, he is more confused, frustrated that he is such a perfect creation doomed by a four-year lifespan. Just like any human, he wants to live.
What all this boils down to is that "Blade Runner" is a visually stunning, film, a truly influential masterpiece that has been copied time and time again. Unfortunately, it is also an emotionally vacant and ultimately unrewarding film experience. Its strengths are also its weaknesses, and it succeeds only in creating a landscape with no interesting characters to populate it. If the screenwriters had taken half the time to develop characters that the special effects team had taken to develop their world, this would have been a much better film.
©1997 James Kendrick