Sunday 1 April 2018

From the archive: "Blade Runner: The Final Cut"

By the time we reach the year in which Blade Runner unfolds – 2019, which is to say 37 years on from the film’s debut – we might have a version we can claim as definitive. The story so far: released to a cool reception in 1982, Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? spent the remainder of the decade developing a reputation as a notable film maudit, inspiring its maker to try and fix certain narrative problems and issue a Director’s Cut, to wider acclaim, in 1992. 

Even as Scott became a Hollywood go-to, he found he couldn’t stop tinkering with his vision, and so the film was reissued once again, in November 2007, as The Final Cut. Where the Director’s Cut provided a vital narrative restoration, this new version was generally acknowledged as a (debatably necessary) technical upgrade, readying the film for its hi-def Blu-Ray release – and its reappraisal by those obsessive fans primed with fingers on pause buttons, prepared to pore over every gorgeously designed frame. The net result: a much-debated unicorn dream remained in situ, but its images were sharper than ever.

That version returns to UK cinemas this weekend on a far wider release than the exclusive London engagement it had back in 2007, giving more cinemagoers the opportunity to marvel at one of the cinema’s most extraordinary acts of world-building: anyone wowed by Big Hero 6’s hybrid city San Fransokyo can only be knocked out by the future-L.A. Scott and his team assembled here, smashing together elements of East and West with scant regard for PG-rated harmony.

Narratively, however, Scott’s film remains something of a bumpy ride, the work of a negligent civic planner who, in turning all his attention to the skyline, forgot to tarmac the highways. The potentially redemptive relationship between Harrison Ford’s cop Deckard and Sean Young’s glowering femme fatale Rachael has, for all the stylish smoke and mirrors the director throws up around it, always seemed to this viewer one or two scenes short of being entirely persuasive, and chilly in a way that proves consistent with the rest of the picture.

For some, Blade Runner’s singularity lies in exactly that chilliness: in the torrential rain, the billowing clouds of liquid nitrogen, the crucial presence of snakeskin as evidence. Deckard’s quest, to sort humans from replicants, leads him and us into the realms of a more or less entirely forensic investigation: it’s driven by a need to identify and classify cold, lifeless flesh, including – just perhaps – his own.

The noir pastiche that initially provides us with a way into this world draws us in only so far, then you’re left to notice the thick wall of ice around the film’s heart – and it may be this, rather than the obvious lack of action figures, that differentiates Blade Runner most from its similarly design-heavy, no less tinkered-with contemporaries in the Star Wars series: Scott’s film doesn’t beg to be loved, and would quite possibly prefer to be admired from a distance. It was never going to Comic-Con.

The spectacle is up there on the screen, certainly, but this still feels like a continuation of the European tradition of sci-fi as speculative enterprise – a worthy follow-up to Solaris and Alphaville, rather than something that was ever likely to knock E.T. off the top of the box-office. James Cameron was to blow such highfalutin notions away with the relentless The Terminator two years later, and then with Aliens two years after that – another master builder, subjecting one of Scott’s own worlds to a radically more efficient redesign.

(MovieMail, April 2015)

Blade Runner: The Final Cut is now showing as part of the latest Secret Cinema event: for ticket information, click here.

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