Blade Runner (1982) The Final Cut

July 6, 2008 § Leave a comment

If any film proves science-fiction isn’t necessarily about guys in clunky armour blasting away at each other, or even that science-fiction can be art, Blade Runner is it.  It owes a lot to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) mainly for its portrayal of an overcrowded, futuristic city, but I’d argue this flawlessly made, melancholy dystopia takes it a step further, with details like the mishmash of languages in the street, a planet clearly wrecked by environmental degradation (not stated anywhere except in ads that promise “A new life awaits you on the off-world colonies”) and an even darker tone.  Metropolis is a groundbreaking film, but exhausted workers looking soulless, groups mechanically shuffling off to work and some heavy-handed lessons about class differences are about the extent of the overall visual impression.  

Blade Runner gives us the Harrison Ford character reluctantly hunting down and killing replicants, artificially created slaves ultimately physically superior to humans but mentally young, even somewhat childish.  This “final cut” is Ridley Scott’s preferred version of the film, and adds touches as subtle as a flash in Harrison Ford’s eyes to suggest he could be a replicant himself (aside from other subtle suggestions) which means he’s hunting down and killing his own kind.  And, having been reluctantly pressured into the job he’s certainly a slave himself.  So if Metropolis gave us dehumanized workers plugged into the great machine, Blade Runner gives us workers killing workers who aren’t serving the system any longer, aside from asking questions about how we define life, and why we’d set limits on who can be deserving of dignity. 

With a terrific, haunting score by Vangelis, incredible sets (by pure coincidence, a strike led to nine months of pre-production before anything could be filmed), and appropriately subtle performances, I think this is nothing short of an exquisite film.  Audiences weren’t ready for it, or perhaps expected something different, but if it had been the hit that Star Wars (1977) was, we might have a slightly different perception of science-fiction, closer to our perception of 1984 than our perception of Space:1999.  

There are a number of versions of this film, including an original theatrical release with narration to over-explain things and a happier ending forced on the director.  This was followed by a “director’s cut,” and now this “final cut,” hopefully without anything called “really the final cut,” set to arrive down the line. Studios have certainly learned the trick of packaging and repackaging, but I do imagine this is the final version of this sad, beautiful film, and certainly it’s the most complex and subtle one.

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