Blade Runner is one of the greatest films of the last century, and perhaps the greatest science-fiction movie of all time. Writers Hampton Fancher and David Peoples rifled through Philip K Dick’s magnificent, subversive novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, tacked on a dose of the emerging cyberpunk ethos and layered it all in a sheen of Chandler and Hammett. Then director Scott, having cut his sci-fi teeth in style with Alien, took those varied allusions and ran with them, creating in one fell swoop a new aesthetic of the future, a neon-lit noir vision that would go on to influence almost every sci-fi flick that followed.
Add to that career-best performances from pretty much everyone involved – particularly stars Harrison Ford, Sean Young and Rutger Hauer – and some astounding technical support, and it really is bewildering that Blade Runner suffered so much in its infancy. Baffled test audiences led to a studio-driven re-edit, and the addition of possibly the most half-arsed voiceover ever recorded, courtesy of a frustrated Ford, as well as a preposterously forced happy ending. It was only in 1992, with the so-called Director’s Cut, that Scott’s masterpiece could be seen in its true glory, and fully receive the acclaim it deserved.
That being said, is there really any need for yet another cut? Blade Runner has had more than its fair share of versions, and the director’s cut has served perfectly well since its appearance. It’s hard to argue with a polish of the audio and video, but talk of insertion of new footage and new special effects rings alarm bells after George Lucas’s “improvements” to the Star Wars trilogy. Do we really need Ridley Scott to fix what isn’t broken?
Well, there’s a big difference between broken and subtly flawed, and thankfully it’s a difference that Scott has recognised. The Final Cut, for the most part, barely qualifies as a new version. What very little meddling there is, including the newly shot footage and SFX, is in the nature of fixes – a couple of continuity errors, some bad lip sync, wires marring the odd effects shot, all these cracks and more are neatly and invisibly plastered away.
It’s hard to imagine that any fan, no matter how devoted, could take exception. The only change that might be considered controversial is the addition of some surprisingly hard-to-take gore and violence. Batty’s assassination of his maker, Pris’s fight with Deckard, and Batty’s self-mutilation with a rusty nail are all bloodier than in previous editions. Some will object – Tyrell’s end is particularly nasty – but it’s easy to see why the move was made. The action in Blade Runner was always unsettling and unglamorous for something billed as a thriller, but now it’s downright repellent. The impact is greater, the sense of threat and consequence more acute, and some elements – noteably the Pris / Deckard fight – make considerably more sense.
So, should you see this so-called Final Cut? Well, if you’re a big fan of the film then that question pretty much answers itself; likewise if you’ve never seen it and want to then this is the perfect opportunity. But even if you have seen it before, even if you own earlier versions, it’s still worth another look. The editing differences may not add up to much, but the improvements in quality make a colossal difference – it really does look and sound astoundingly good. This is without doubt the best version of Blade Runner and if you have the opportunity, it’s an incredible experience to watch it on a cinema screen.