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Director's Cut enhances already great Blade Runner

Blade Runner
Directed by Ridley Scott.
Screenplay by Hampton Fancher
and David Peoples.
Starring Harrison Ford,
Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer.
Loews Nickelodeon.

By Bill Jackson
Opinion Editor

Ridley Scott's 1982 epic Blade Runner has been rightfully praised and publicized as "years ahead of its time." The film has had (literally) volumes written about it and fans hotly debate minute details of the movie to this day. When a different version of the film was found in a back vault, it was hailed as the long-sought "director's cut," but Scott declared that although it was closer to his vision than the previously released version, it was not his original cut. When a limited release of the found version began to break box-office records at some theatres, Warner Bothers found the money to let Scott re-edit the film into a true "director's cut." The result is stunning.

For those of you who've never seen Blade Runner, it is set in a nightmarish, over-commercialized future Los Angeles. Although Replicants -- special, genetically engineered humanoids -- have been banned from Earth, four have found their way back from their assigned slave-colony and are attempting to find their "creator," the owner of the company which manufactured them. Harrison Ford is Deckard, a "blade runner," or special policeman assigned to destroy Replicants. His assignment is to kill the four escapees, and though this may sound like a science-fiction shoot-em-up, it actually becomes a meditation on the human soul and what it means to doubt the truth of one's existence, thanks to career performances by Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer as the leader of the Replicants.

Blade Runner is famed, of course, for its amazing special effects. The world of the film is completely realized, a steamy and dark place of massive sensory input, an assimilated Asian-American inner city culture, and a corporate and police-run state. When the film was first released, however, the studio wanted some changes to make it more palatable to the public.

One change was the Raymond Chandler-style voice-over narration, added during post-production and badly monotoned by Ford. The studio believed the narration would make the narrative more understandable. Unfortunately, I have difficulty deciding whether or not this is true, because I saw the voice-over edition first, and this may be why I understood the director's cut. However, I am reasonably convinced that the script is written clearly enough, and the dialogue invested with just the right amount of cleverly hidden exposition, to keep things clear. Blade Runner requires careful viewing in this new version, but the average viewer should have little difficulty understanding the plot.

One thing that the lack of narration does, however, is to enhance several scenes, especially the special effects scenes involving flight over the city. Excising the narration has left only the majestic score by Vangelis, which lends these scenes a mysterious, meditative quality reminiscent of Kubrick. The pace of the film is thus changed -- the new Blade Runner feels more thoughtful, giving the viewer more time to consider the implications of what is happening. The special effects take on a ballet-like quality without Ford's voice intruding every few seconds. If a film has never taken your breath away, this might be the one that does it.

Another much-ballyhooed change supposedly demanded by the studio was the ending -- without spoiling it for first-timers, I'll say it involved the addition of one scene which left the resolution much more concrete than Scott or screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David W. Peoples had intended. For the director's cut, Scott has truncated the ending one scene earlier (if you've seen the film, it ends with the elevator door closing). It serves to leave the viewer slightly uneasy, but it is by far the least interesting change.

Also much discussed is the addition of the unicorn scene, a brief flash in which Deckard sees a grunting unicorn. The scene has resonance at the end when the symbol of the unicorn reappears, but it is outside the parameters Scott sets for himself. The scene does, however, add fuel to the argument that Deckard himself may be a Replicant. This is by no means clear from the film, but the way in which the unicorn appears at the end, after having been a memory in Deckard's mind, gives the Blade Runner fanatic plenty to chew on until Scott recuts the film again in 2002.

Not to be discounted is the simple thrill of seeing Blade Runner on the big screen (or at least the quasi-big screen). The press screening was gorgeous on the large screen at the Charles theatre. The regular showings will be at the Nick with smaller screens, but seeing BR in a movie house should still be a big thrill. Now that Scott's career has degenerated into far less complex analogy films (e.g. Thelma and Louise), it's wonderful to see his masterwork again, especially for those of us who have previously seen it only on video.