Twenty-five years ago, in the summer of 1982, Blade Runner hit theaters with a thud. It was E.T.'s year, and there was little interest in a moody, sluggishly paced film that combined features of sci-fi, film noir and a story by an underground writer named Philip K. Dick.
Since then, Blade Runner has had a charmed existence, steadily rising in critical estimation, with a director's cut re-release in 1992 and now this, the alleged "final cut," which will open at Durham's Carolina Theatre this weekend.
Blade Runner is the most outstanding—or, depending on your point of view, notorious—example of a film being packaged and repackaged for the same people to re-consume. Still, the distinctions between the first version and the second, released in 1992, are fairly profound: An ineffective voiceover was dropped, as was an unlikely happy ending. The differences between the 1992 version and this one are more subtle, but are presumably striking enough for the film's many devoted followers to justify shelling out big bucks for the "five-disc ultimate collector's edition" or the "four-disc collector's edition" (amazon.com sells no fewer than eight different collectible editions, all released a month ago).
Even if you're not one of the sub-Talmudic scholars who parse every draft of Blade Runner, it's well worth seeing the gorgeous 35 mm print secured by the Carolina Theatre with great effort.
I hadn't seen the film in at least 10 years, and found it was both better and worse than I remembered. For the most part, the film's celebrated production design—which depicted a 2019 Los Angeles in which cops, thugs, Hasidic Jews, spaceships, Asians, punks and androids all rub elbows in a decaying, overstimulated society—holds up all too well as a now-accepted global self-portrait. In 1982, this vision was new and dark. Other elements, however, are laughable, particularly the heavy-handed film noir lighting, Sean Young's Alice-in-Wonderland outfits and Rutger Hauer's campy turn—he's like a bathhouse Brando, with his white dove in one hand and a bloody nail rammed through the other.
But what justifies this latest "final cut"? Apparently, director Ridley Scott has added a few minutes of footage and "improved" some effects. He even reshot parts involving Joanna Cassidy's doomed replicant. Some bladerunnerologists say this version establishes that Harrison Ford's bounty hunter Rick Deckard is himself a "replicant"—a synthetic human of the kind that he specializes in "retiring." Scott makes this claim, as well.
Me, I'm puzzled by Scott's overweening need to fiddle with a perfectly memorable—if not perfectly good—film. Especially, I don't want to hear his pronouncements about plot points of a story he didn't even write. At this point, the tale clearly belongs to the fans—Scott should know better than to act as if the story is still his. And, why do all mysteries require answers? Ambiguity is a fine thing: If we knew all the answers, we would no longer need to make art.
To answer the question is to miss the point. As it happens, Ford—who has just as much claim on Deckard's identity as Scott—says Deckard is human while Scott says he's a replicant.