Fifty Great Films: Blade Runner -The Final Cut (1982/2007)

br1“Where were you in ’82?” Its a question I’ve asked so many times that I should have it on a tee-shirt. Its something of a badge of honour, having seen the original version of Blade Runner back when it first came out (reaching UK shores that September), and loving the film, and watching its fall into obscurity and eventual phoenix-like rebirth years later.

Last night I saw the Final Cut version of Blade Runner on the big screen again, taking the rare opportunity of a cinema screening of my favourite film. This close to Christmas made the whole thing seem something of an early Christmas present. I went with my old mate Andy, who was with me back on that September afternoon in far-distant 1982 when we first saw the film. “How long ago was that?” he asked me as the endless adverts screened infront of us (some things never change, although I miss the Pearl and Dean intros). I did the mental arithmetic; “Thirty-two years,” I told him. Andy looked around at some of the faces sitting amongst us in the cinema. A lot of them were not even born back then.  The very cinema we first saw the film in (the old ABC in town) doesn’t exist any more. Thirty-two years. Andy and I are each of us just shy of fifty years old now. I have a wife waiting for me back home. It seemed oddly poignant then, at that moment, the two of us dwelling on the passing of time, considering how so much of Blade Runner is about death and mortality. We wondered how many of those at this screening had never seen the film on the big screen at all before this night*.

If we are getting old, then so is the film, but you’d hardly think it. Even though I love the film, its still remarkable how well it holds up even today. The sets and the beautiful cinematography really shine projected on a big screen, the sound effects loud and overpowering, the music as astonishing as ever. All that amazing set-dressing. The film influenced the ‘look’ of pop videos, television shows and other movies for decades. Back on the big screen, the visual effects hold up as well as ever- indeed, better on the big screen than at home. Its not so much just the execution, its the design of each shot, and the impact of using effects so sparingly, something modern films could learn from. Even the matte paintings. Blade Runner dates back to paintings on glass, static wide shots quite removed from the all-singing/all-dancing 3D CG mattes we see these days with sweeping virtual cameras. But stillness can be far more powerful than motion, and Blade Runner‘s mattes are quite a revelation, precisely designed and crafted.

Its a beautiful movie. Such details! Rachael’s photograph momentarily coming to life as Deckard looks at it. Its extraordinary. Who thought of doing that? Who even does stuff like that now? The blood from Deckard’s cut lip slipping into his drink. Deckard waking up in his apartment, awkwardly spilling his glass that had been on his chest. The cuts and bruises on his face. Rutger Hauer’s incredible performance; his face up on the big screen is quite mesmerising. His howls of anguish as he stands over Pris’ body. Still gives me chills.

br3Its such a dark movie, but such a sad movie too. The sadness threatens to overpower everything. A character has her whole life undermined when she learns she isn’t real, not even her memories or experiences. Its all a lie, a fabrication, as she is herself. Rick Deckard may not even be real. He might be just the same as Rachael. Its not an idea I subscribe to, but its there, a possibility hanging over everything, underlined by the origami unicorn that he finds at the close of the film**. The Replicants are slaves who have fled for freedom and longer lifespans as they quickly near their termination/expiry dates. JF Sebastian has a genetic problem that leaves him in a mouldering, rotting building, so alone his only company are the ‘friends’, the toys he builds. The rain never ends, its like Gods tears endlessly falling onto the blighted world.

Even now, thirty-two years on, it feels so unlike any other so-called blockbuster. It almost doesn’t function like an ordinary movie. Without 1982’s voice-over, it really does drop people into the middle of a story (if only The Final Cut had finally dropped that awful text prologue at the end of the titles!), a future rich with darkness and complexities. I’m the first to admit though, the central premise is idiotic. There is no way anyone would create superior artificial humans without an easy way to identify them. A blood test or some microscopic stamp in their eye or under their skin. Be that as it may, the four runaway Reps are supposedly on the run/in hiding but don’t even change their names, Leon trying to infiltrate the Tyrell building giving his real address and not even changing his name, his appearance or anything. Holden’s only got to look at the ID file on Leon (that we see as Bryant shows it Deckard later) to see that its him. But none of that matters. In some ways its not even important. Its the whole thing. The look, the sound of it. Its a fantasy about death and mortality and what is human, what is God. Of course it flopped at the box-office back in 1982. It isn’t the film people were expecting back then. Its something else entirely. Every Harrison Ford fan back then could have told you why***.

At films end, we walked out of the cinema into the cold December night, and it was, fittingly, raining. The rain-drenched carpark and shopping mall reflecting all the bright neon of shop-fronts, advertising signs and car headlights. We were stepping out into Blade Runner. Its here now. Back in 1982 it was still the future, but we are in it now. We may not have the flying cars or Replicants or Off-World, but we have the rain and the neon and the multi-cultural society that the film visualised. And some of us have our own mortality breathing closer over us.

Back in 1982, it was still quite sunny as Andy and I walked across town to catch our bus home. I remember us raving about the film, reliving it as we eagerly discussed it, digested it. Would I have ever dreamed that I would be walking out of another cinema, another showing of the film, some thirty-two years later? Of course not. Funny thing though. We were still raving about that film, this time as we walked through the rain, just as we had when we were teenagers so long ago. Some things never change.

 

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*This would be the fifth time I have seen the film at the cinema, the first time seeing the Final Cut on a cinema screen. I saw the film twice in 1982, then again the following year in a double-bill with Outland (another Ladd Company venture), and then the Directors Cut version in 1994. I didn’t get chance to see the Final Cut in 2007, screenings were quite limited prior to its release on home formats.

**I still feel uncomfortable in the love-scene between Deckard and Rachael. It feels almost like rape, she isn’t even human, what’s Deckard doing with her, is it masturbatory abuse of a construct? (is he making love to a toaster? Is that even legal? Is he even human himself? Are they two Replicants fumbling at a human sex-act?). But goodness Sean Young is so beautiful in this film. Too beautiful. She isn’t real. She’s a construct. I’m surprised Sean Young even exists outside of this movie.

***What was Harrison even doing in the film anyway? He’s great in it and I think its his best film, but it seems an odd move for him. Likely he was trying to shake off Star Wars and become a ‘serious’ actor (its funny, considering some of the films he would end up in afterwards). Oddly, I was never ‘into’ that whole Harrison Ford thing anyway back then, had not even seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, so when I first saw Blade Runner I wasn’t expecting any popcorn adventure movie. It was from the director of Alien for goodness sake, I figured it would be dark and serious.

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11 thoughts on “Fifty Great Films: Blade Runner -The Final Cut (1982/2007)

  1. Beautifully written, and spot-on.

    I also went to see Blade Runner last week – the same re-issue, on the IMAX screen at Waterloo [not in IMAX, just very big]. I think this was probably my eight time seeing it on a cinema screen? Twice in 1982/3, twice in 1992, and three times in 2007, then this one?

    I can’t add anything except a couple of minor observations…

    1] John Brosnan’s review [I think] came to mind during the Zhora foot-chase: he pointed out how spot-on the detail of having the Hare Krishnas parading around was. Which made me laugh now, 32 years later, as they still bloody parade past my office in London at 4pm every single day.

    2] A very minor thing, but I think the shots of the lift ascending/stopping/restarting on the way up to Tyrell’s penthouse just before he’s murdered are the best miniature shots I’ve ever seen. The quality of the early morning light just feels so real there. It’s stunning.

    3] Have you read Michael Deeley’s book, by any chance? From his account, it seems Ford wasn’t actually a star as yet when he was cast – not in terms of carrying a film solo*. Bear in mind he was part of an ensemble in Star Wars, and Raiders was still filming when he took the role. It seems like a good choice for him, all things considered.

    4] In conversation with a friend the other night, who was frustrated that Deckard did so little actual detective work, I went further down the road of questioning Decker’s humanity than I ever have before, and it’s difficult not to argue at least some serious intentional ambiguity…

    Look at how nervous Bryant is with him when he’s explaining the job to him early on; the fact that Gaff is watching everything he does, like a keeper; the fact that Deckard “falls in love” so easily with Rachel against all common sense…

    I’m beginning to think that Deckard has no past at all – he’s simply activated and thrown into this case like a blunt instrument, he’s guided to where he needs to be [hence no detective work], does all the dirty work without any risk to human life, and then…?*

    So the love scene with Rachel actually plays in any number of uncomfortable ways: human taking advantage of ‘owned’ replicant? Unknowing replicant displaying same sudden immediate emotional hunger as his prey? It’s a weird one.

    I was slightly less affected by the film than I was in 2007, when I rediscovered it after a decade of Blade Runner fatigue [too many VHS viewings, too many books and essays written about it… I didn’t even own it on DVD, I was so tired of it, despite what it had meant to me in the 80s]. Then, I was almost moved to tears each time.

    But I’ll put that down to SF overload this month. The BFI are just finishing up their SF season at the NFT, and I had the joy of seeing a lot of great SF on a big screen all in a short space of time, including Close Encounters in a pristine 35mm print [that then turned out not to be the 1980 Special Edition as advertised, but the restored 1997 edit].

    Anyway, thanks for the piece, it really struck a chord.

    *no pun intended.

    **Shame he couldn’t prevent Tyrell being killed – I mean, WTF was going on there exactly? – but that’s another in a long series of Blade Runner WTFs.

    1. Someday I’m going to have to come down to London and meet up with you somewhere for a drink mate. We could likely talk movies for hours.

      Thanks for your (usual) long and interesting comment. Regards your points-

      1. I loved John Brosnan’s review of BR. Back in those pre-internet days I must have re-read that piece so many times. I don’t live/work in a city so some of the ‘living in Blade Runner’s world’ is still strange to me. I was in Birmingham a few nights ago and I was taken aback by how large some of the video screens in the streets/shopping malls are now. I commented to a friend that back in 1982 such things were just science-fiction, and today people walk by them without even noticing, its all so commonplace to people now. But yeah, its like Blade Runner has become real.

      2. Yeah, you’re right about those miniature shots. I still marvel at seeing Holden’s head (and the interview-room set) through the window as we approach the Tyrell pyramid at the movie’s start, and the Tyrell lobby with its pillars visible through the window in the shots as Deckard nears the pyramid and the elevator rises in the shot you refer to. Its astonishing stuff and I doubt it would look any better in CG; there is such thought and craft and detail in Blade Runners effects. Indeed I still don’t think many CG shots capture light the way shots of miniatures do. Its not the number of pixels its the play of light that makes effects shots work.

      3. No, I haven’t read that Deeley book yet. You raise a good point. Post-Raiders Ford was a major star but of course it was only in-progress when he signed for Blade Runner. And it was indeed a canny move signing to work with a ‘hot’ post-Alien Ridley Scott. Unfortunately that Raiders success likely hurt Blade Runner, particularly with Ford appearing in TESB the year before. The guy was turning into a summer-blockbuster superstar. I think Blade Runner should have been a winter movie rather than a summer release really, its box-office may have turned out different. I mean, E.T. didn’t help, that ugly critter killed The Thing too.

      4. You also raise some very good points about Deckard being a Rep. Intellectually I always have felt he should be human, and reflect the source novel that way, with the film’s twist on it being him becoming more dehumanised as the Reps become more human (Batty saving him when Deck would have just retired him given the chance). But re-watching the film in the cinema the other night, I think you might be right. I just had this feeling somehow, with Ford’s performance bigger on the screen… well, it just fits. Accidental as it may have been (neither actor or writer intended it) it just seems to turn out that way. It seems to explain so much of the films awkwardness (lack of detecting etc) and Ford’s cold performance. Of course there is also Zhora’s line “Are you for real?” which then has even more meaning. And I always thought it curious how Holden looks so much like Deckard, suggesting he might be a Rep too, that they might be a production line of Blade Runners (Bryants line about “..he can breathe okay ‘long as no-one unplugs him” then has additional meaning too). Would Gaff have been one of the last ‘human’ Blade Runners then, with his crippled status evidence of humans just not being good/fast enough to do the job anymore? Would they elaborate on this in the sequel, I wonder (likely not, I suspect any Blade Runner sequel will be heading down the Prometheus-stupidity route).

      I envy you with those BFI screenings. I haven’t seen CE3K at the cinema since its original release in 1978. That must have been something on a big screen, I’d love to experience that film at the cinema again with older eyes.

      Anyway, thanks again for your comment.

    1. Matt thanks very much for this, you made my weekend! There is some fascinating Vangelis music there, very much electronic-ambient. Its not something he has ever released much of and quite unlike the stuff he puts out now. Very Blade Runner-ish much of it, so yeah, I’m loving it. Thanks again!

  2. Pingback: Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut (1982/1992) | 100 Films in a Year

  3. Matthew McKinnon

    Here’s a random question for you: did you have a supporting film showing when you first saw Blade Runner in ’82? One of those 20-30min shorts that cinemas stopped showing not long after? There was a Superfly/blaxploitation pastiche called ‘Stretch Hunter’ attached to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, for example.

    I’m trying to remember the name of throne attached to my screening: it was about a young London couple who’d just been married that day but have absolutely no money. So they steal a middle-aged gay couple’s car and go away for a brief honeymoon. Then they return the car with a thank you note and tickets to the opera. There is a twist ending.

    Does that ring any bells?
    I keep expecting it to turn up on a BFI Flipside blu-ray, but no luck thus far.

    1. Yeah, I remember the one. Can’t remember the title of it (I used to have it listed somewhere, shall have to have a look), but that was what Blade Runner was attached to at my screening too. Actually, I had to suffer through it twice, as I was a naughty lad and stuck around in the cinema to see Blade Runner a second time. Back then it was continuous showings and they would roll the next showing straight after the main film finished, so I just stayed in my seat, watched the adverts again, the trailers again, that support film again and then Blade Runner again. Oh, those were the days- something like 5 or 6 hours in a cinema for 75p.

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