The Cutting Blade: Raymond Red on Ridley Scott’s Controversial Final Cut

On Blade Runner’s 35th Anniversary, we look back on the cyberpunk classic.

by Raymond Red

This article was originally published in the June 2008 issue of Rogue Magazine.

 

 

One summer afternoon in 1982—probably a Friday, but then again maybe it was a Saturday—as we approached closer to the year referred to by George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel 1984, I found myself wandering out of Quezon theater in Cubao a totally changed person. I had just seen Ridley Scott’s now sci-fi cult classic Blade Runner, and I was profoundly mesmerized, bewildered, and stupefied.

 

I suddenly found myself walking down a path to a life in Cinema. I mean, it literally changed my spirituality, philosophy, and insight to life and art, and redefined “existentialism” for me. These may seem like big words to fathom for a 17-year-old kid back then, but quite frankly, I look back and realize 26 years later, my transformed ideology remains to this day.

 

As dark and angsty as it may seem, it is not just another sci-fi flick; it is an incredible story resembling a 40s noir detective manhunt story fused with Lang’s Metropolis and Orwell’s 1984 futurist visions, and the human journey of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane.

 

This film almost single-handedly turned me upside-down (withstanding the influence of Fritz Lang’s 1926 Metropolis and Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey) and convinced me to evolve from a painter to a filmmaker. But wait, this isn’t supposed to be about me, this is to be a review of the most recent “incarnation” of, arguably, the most artistic, realistic, and influential science-fiction motion picture of all time—a movie I must have seen over 100 times by now and whose dialogue I’ve totally memorized word for word.

 

Well, there I go again. So why “incarnation”? Well, a film of such importance would not have achieved cult status if its core fans were not obsessed enough, full of fascination and wonderment over the different released versions of the film. In this day and age when digital technology has allowed for means to exploit old film material to be released (think “rehashed”) as a “Director’s Cut” or “Special Edition,” Blade Runner stands apart as one classic work that actually has the right to release one or two, as it did have versions to speak of even before the theatrical release in 1982.

 

 

Today, it boasts of actually seven versions—the original workprint-cut shown only to test preview audiences, second is a revised preview version which almost resembles the theatrical release, third is the original 1982 U.S. theatrical release (which was released also on VHS and laserdisc), fourth is the International Europe/Asia theatrical cut (also released on laserdisc), the TV broadcast version is the fifth (not available on video), sixth is the botched Director’s Cut of 1992 (released theatrically and on DVD), and now, finally, Blade Runner: The Final Cut, released in limited select screens in the States and film festivals last year, and now available on several packages (incarnations?) of 2, 4,and 5-disc DVD/HD-DVD/BluRay releases. The different packages basically give cultists the momentous opportunity to own all the mentioned versions of the film.

 

Focusing now our attention on Blade Runner: The Final Cut, we are finally presented the version that closely and faithfully represents the original ideas of Ridley Scott. So what about the 1992 Director’s Cut? Ridley and his creative staff admit that the Director’s Cut release was a rushed version to coincide with the film’s 10th anniversary, and since they did not have the advantage yet of digital image manipulation and restoration, they made do with a less than satisfactory patchwork.

 

There were only three distinct changes in the Director’s Cut, namely the deletion of Harrison Ford’s voice-over narration, the insertion of the mystical “Unicorn” shot, and the deletion of the happy ending. I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t seen this must-see-before-you-die film, but these three seemingly simple changes have radically altered the mood, the impact, and most importantly the message of the film. At first glance, the Final Cut is nothing more than a polished version of the Director’s Cut. Do I like the changes? Well, I’m the wrong person to ask, the endearing original international theatrical version and the subsequent video release changed my life, and quite frankly I was distraught by the “new” story of the Director’s Cut (more on that later). If I may say so bluntly, it initially felt like it was reduced to something like a Twilight Zone episode. Is it worth it? You’re damn right it is, digital technology has sweetened the Final Cut and corrected some of the infamous blunders in an otherwise near perfect visual tapestry. It has made way for an even more convincing visual language and helps those of us familiar with the original early release to absorb the “new” story through a smoother transition.

 

 

For newbies, what exactly is Blade Runner? Imbibing the concepts of “film-noir,” “Dystopian retro-futurist,” and the 1980’s “cyberpunk,” Blade Runner still endures and endears as it definitely influenced most of the science-fiction films that came after it, as well as films of other genres. It is this significant contribution to modern cinema that is even now ingrained in a lot of films, and both filmmakers and viewers today may not even be aware of such an influence. From visual effects to cinematography, from costumes to production design, from characterization to overall mis-en-scene, the film’s achievements in cinema art is arguably unsurpassed.

 

As dark and angsty as it may seem, it is not just another sci-fi flick; it is an incredible story resembling a 40s noir detective manhunt story fused with Lang’s Metropolis and Orwell’s 1984 futurist visions, and the human journey of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. It is everyone’s journey through life defined by the three questions posted by Harrison Ford’s end voice-over: “Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got?” (which unfortunately is omitted in the Director’s and Final Cuts). Surprisingly, this philosophical musing is carried to heightened emotions not by our lead character, but by the hunted “villain” replicant Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer), and it is because of this that the Director’s and Final Cut’s changes do not radically ruin the film for me. (Or maybe it does?)

 

So this is where I get personal about the new versions. If given the opportunity, I would possibly edit together my own Blade Runner (calling it the Fan Cut or the Crew Cut—puns may be intended), by using what I think are the two best versions—the 1986 laserdisc release of the International Cut with the controversial voice-overs, and the re-mastered and digitally enhanced images of the 2007 Final Cut. I still have to decide if I will include the director’s mystical “unicorn” reverie shot, which in turn also changes the ending. Or maybe even re-edit a more radical version using the deleted scenes available in the 5-disc release of the Final Cut. Thinking of the limitless possibilities can drive one crazy. At the risk of sounding overly self-absorbed (and I say this as a crazed cult fan and not as a filmmaker), if I were to meet Ridley Scott, I would simply repeat to him one of replicant Roy Batty’s classic lines, “If only you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes . . .”

 

 

At the end of the day, for me, the original 1982 version is also Ridley Scott’s version. In the 1996 book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, and in the Final Cut DVD’s documentary “Making Blade Runner,” Ridley admits that it wasn’t really pressure from the producers that forced him to include the voice-overs and change it into a happy ending, it was a collective decision and all the ideas were from him, his writers, and the rest of the creative staff. Despite being both a critical and commercial flop in its initial release, the film proved it was destined to be a classic that wouldn’t be, as Roy Batty put it, “Lost in time, like tears in rain.”