Release Date(s)1982/1992/2007 (original BD release December 18, 2007)
Studio(s)The Ladd Company/The Blade Runner Partnership (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A+
- Overall Grade: A+
In memory of Paul Prischman
[Editor’s Note: This review has been modified from the original 12/8/2007 version to focus specifically on the Blu-ray editions, and to include details on the post-2007 Blu-ray reissues.]
I’ll tell you... we’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time here at The Digital Bits. A long time.
As you might guess, we’re all big fans of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner around here. The first copy of the film I ever owned on video was the laserdisc release from Criterion back in 1987, which featured the 1982 International Cut of the film. I still prize that disc to this day. Years later, in March of 1997, the very first DVD I ever purchased – even before I’d gotten my hands on an actual DVD player – was Warner’s original release of Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut. In retrospect, it was a terrible disc, with no features and mediocre (by today’s standards) quality. But damn it... it was Blade Runner and there it was on my favorite new format, looking way better than my laserdisc. At the time, for me, it was the Best Thing Ever.
As the years passed, however, that disc’s flaws became all too apparent. And as film after film was turned into elaborate DVD special editions, the question of Blade Runner’s re-release status continued to grow in the minds of fans.
Back in 2000, an effort was mounted to produce a true director’s cut of the film, and to give it the in-depth treatment fans wanted. Work was begun at that stage, but a variety of business and legal obstacles prevented the project from gaining momentum. Eventually, however, the Blade Runner Partnership and Warner Bros. were able to come to an agreement, clearing the way for the effort to move ahead, just in time to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary in 2007. The result is Blade Runner: The Final Cut, available on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD from Warner Home Video on December 18th, 2007. I’m pleased now to offer you all my ultimate, in-depth review of this release. No less than seven versions of The Final Cut will be available on disc on that day (three on DVD and four in high-definition). This review will focus on the most elaborate Blu-ray versions, the Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Editions, disc by disc. At the end of this review, you’ll find cover art for all the different Blu-ray versions, along with a list of content available in each, to help you choose the one that’s right for you.
It’s easy to understate Blade Runner’s impact on the films that followed it, particularly in the genre of science fiction. Based on an eclectic and complex novel by Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), Blade Runner is as much a hard-boiled film noir detective story as it is science fiction. And yet on the latter score, the film’s high-concept premise ranks easily alongside such cinematic landmarks of the genre as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and Forbidden Planet. All you need to do is watch almost any of the classic works of Japanese anime (Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor) and you’ll see Blade Runner’s influence in nearly every frame.
Set in a gritty, run-down Los Angeles of the near future, Blade Runner follows the efforts of a somewhat reluctant police detective named Deckard (played by a young Harrison Ford, who was just coming into his own as an actor, fresh off the experience of making The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark). Deckard’s job is to “retire” (read: kill) rogue, synthetic humans called Replicants. These Replicants are made to do Mankind’s dirty work, acting as soldiers, laborers and sex servants, and they’re given implanted human emotions and memories to make them seem more realistic. But those emotions eventually become troublesome as, over time, the Replicants begin to develop real consciousness and identities of their own. For this reason, they’re also given limited, four-year life spans before they simply deactivate. But when they become aware of their own “mortality,” some Replicants grow desperate, choosing to run and hide in the shadows of society, in the vain hope of saving themselves... or at least understanding the meaning of their brief existence. When they do, it’s Deckard’s job to find and destroy them before they hurt the humans around them.
In addition to Ford’s steady on-screen presence, Blade Runner features great, seminal performances by the likes of Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Sean Young and Daryl Hannah, not to mention a host of fantastic character actors. The film’s production design was overseen by legendary futurist Syd Mead, giving it a highly unique visual style never-before-seen on the big screen. The film also includes a sparse but evocative score by composer Vangelis (more commercially known for his work on Chariots of Fire). But it’s the efforts of director Ridley Scott for which this film is perhaps best known.
If The Duellists was the film that first garnered Scott critical notice, and it was Alien that brought him to the attention of a much wider audience... Blade Runner is the film that solidified his acclaim among hard-core cinephiles and earned him a loyal legion of fans. Scott’s near manic attention to detail and his use of rich, stylish and atmospheric staging and camera setups were on full, unrestrained display here - a fact that caused significant problems with his producers and the studio at the time. Surprisingly, when the film was released into theaters, it was a critical and commercial bomb. Many people just didn’t know what to make of it. Over the years, however, opinions have shifted dramatically. Blade Runner is, today, considered one of the best films (if not the best) in Scott’s decidedly impressive body of work. It showcases Ridley at his most... well, Ridley. Even at the time of its original release back in 1982, Blade Runner quickly and definitively set its director apart from other filmmakers as a singular, visionary talent.
Disc One – The Final Cut (2007)
Film Rating: A+
Video/Audio Ratings (Blu-ray Disc): A/A+
Bonus Material: A
In the years since Blade Runner first dazzled and puzzled audiences around the world, a number of different versions of the film have surfaced. There’s the original theatrical cut, the international cut, the much sought-after (and seldom seen) “workprint,” and a 1992 director’s cut that wasn’t actually a director’s cut. It’s only now in 2007 however, some 25 years after the film’s debut, that fans of Blade Runner finally have the chance to see it as its director intended.
An incredible wealth of vintage production material was unearthed from the vaults for this release, including some 977 cans of original film negative. Much of this footage was scanned at 4K resolution (some of the 65mm effects footage was even scanned at 8K) and an extensive restoration was done. Throughout this process, restoration producer Charles de Lauzirika worked closely with Warner Bros. and Ridley Scott to assemble the director’s ultimate version of the film, billed as The Final Cut.
The running time of The Final Cut is 117 minutes – virtually identical to the original theatrical release, but there have been many changes, most of them quite subtle. First, the film has undergone a painstaking frame-by-frame digital clean-up to remove unwanted dust, scratches and other age-related image defects. The film has been color-timed to Scott’s specifications, and its soundtrack has been remastered as well to take advantage of the latest surround sound technology (so when those Spinners fly by now, you’ll really hear them zoom past you and away).
As you’d expect, the film’s editing has been massaged here and there, but this time to Scott’s exact instructions. Like the 1992 version, this new Final Cut omits the Deckard narration and the happy ending. Scott has made subtle trims here and there to tighten the footage (without the narration, he felt that some shots went on a little too long), but he’s also added material. For example, the “unicorn” scene is now a bit longer and more effective (it’s actually the originally-intended version, the complete footage for which couldn’t be found for use in the ‘92 cut). Footage from both the international and workprint versions has been inserted into the film as well, including a number of street/atmosphere shots (such as the infamous hockey-masked geisha dancers) and more intense moments of violence.
Scores of subtle digital tweaks have also been made to correct problems that couldn’t be addressed during the original production. For example, the wires supporting the practical, on-set Spinner vehicles have been removed. In a couple of street shots, members of the production crew accidentally appeared in the edges of the frame – they’re gone now. Various matte lines have been erased, and detail that was lost due to image degradation has been restored. When you see the infamous “eye” shot at the beginning of the film, the optical printing process employed at the time wouldn’t allow for a moving image of the eye to be used. So now, in The Final Cut, you’ll notice the pupil iris slightly in reaction to the plume of fire billowing before it.
Other digital corrections fix continuity errors. In the original shooting script, Leon and Deckard fought in the street before Zhora was “retired,” so the make-up reflected this on set. When the film was edited together, however, Leon and Deckard’s fight was moved after Zhora’s death. But the bruise on Deckard’s face was still there, before the fight actually happened on screen, so it’s been erased digitally. In another instance, the first time you see Roy Batty on screen in the sidewalk Vid-Phon booth, the shots were actually stolen from later in the film (a moment of Roy at the Tyrell Corporation, I believe, and a shot of him in the Bradbury building). So the lighting and the backgrounds you saw in those shots didn’t match the booth or the rain-soaked streets behind it. Now they do. There’s also a scene where Deckard is talking to an old Asian woman about the snake scale he’s found. She’s reading a serial number from a microscope... but when you saw that serial number on the screen, it didn’t match. Now it does. The vast majority of these digital effects tweaks are so subtle that only fans who are intimately familiar with the film will even notice them.
On the other hand, a few of the digital fixes correct more serious problems with the film in its previous incarnations. For example, when Roy releases the dove at the end of the film, the skyline revealed as it flies away just didn’t match anything you’d seen before. So a new digital cityscape was created for the shot that finally does match.
There’s also a scene when Deckard is talking to the snake dealer, Abdul Ben-Hassan, in which his lip movements didn’t match the dialogue. Harrison Ford was unavailable due to scheduling issues, so his son Ben was brought in correct this. Ben was shot on an effects stage from exactly the same angle, wearing exactly the same chin scar (via make-up) that his father has, saying the correct lines. His mouth was digitally inserted over his father’s seamlessly.
Of course, many of you know of the infamous reshoot from earlier this year, featuring the character Zhora. When news of this leaked on the Net, it sparked an outcry from fans who feared that Scott was drastically altering the film with all new scenes. It turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. Back in 1982, actress Joanna Cassidy wasn’t allowed to do the stunt where Zhora crashes through the window panes. But if you watch the film closely, especially now in high-definition, it’s painfully obvious that it’s a stuntwoman in those shots. So Cassidy was brought back in, dressed in her original costume, and was shot on a greenscreen stage, going through the same movements as the stuntwoman. Her face and body angles were matched to those of the stuntwoman’s frame by frame. Cassidy’s head was then digitally inserted over the stuntwoman’s, and the resulting image was blended, color-corrected and matched seamlessly. So now, when you see Zhora crash through the glass, it’s actually Zhora all the way through. The result is amazing. The first time I saw the finished sequence several months ago, I was actively looking for the effect and I completely missed it. It’s only when you re-watch the original scene on DVD that you appreciate how startling the difference is... and just how good the new effects shots actually are.
Here’s a comparison: This is how the Zhora sequence appeared in the original version of the film...
Now, here’s the new digital effects shot from The Final Cut...
Ultimately, when you see The Final Cut for yourself, I think you’ll appreciate the tremendous and pain-staking effort that’s been made to smooth out the rough edges in Ridley Scott’s original film. I’ll tell you, I find it extraordinary after all these years to still have the chance to discover so much that’s new in this film. If you love Blade Runner like I do, this new version is a treat.
High-definition is definitely the way to go with The Final Cut. We’ve got the Blu-ray Disc edition, and I can tell you that the video quality is, in a word, spectacular. Contrast is superb, with deep, detailed blacks. Colors are lush and accurate. There’s very light to moderate grain visible, with breathtaking clarity, texture and detail. You can see how the effects footage benefitted from 6K scanning – these shots have just simply never looked better. Best of all, there isn’t a speck or scratch to be seen anywhere. The Dolby TrueHD audio is also a significant improvement over the previous (and already great) DVD edition sound. The soundfield is smooth and wide, and the score just sounds stunning in high-resolution. The low-end here will rattle your windows if you’re not careful. What a treat!
Disc One of the Blu-ray offers no less than three excellent, full-length audio commentary tracks. The first features director Ridley Scott himself, as he discusses the idea behind many of the different scenes, the symbolism, things he was trying to convey, the differences between the various versions of the film. There’s plenty here about the production but better still there’s lots related to the story and concepts as well. It’s a great track. I should note here that this disc also features an optional video introduction to The Final Cut by Scott, which you can select from the main menu. The menus themselves are animated with sounds effects, and are designed to look like Deckard’s photo-analysis machine. Occasionally, as you wait, a bit of the Vangelis score will play for atmosphere. The menus are tasteful – nice without hitting you over the head. The high-def versions feature the usual pop-up menus allowing you to select the various options. There are 36 chapters.
The second commentary track features co-screenwriters Hampton Fancher (also an executive producer) and David Peoples, along with producer Michael Deeley and production executive Katherine Haber. This is a really fascinating track. The combination of Fancher and Peoples is fun to listen to, but they’re an eclectic pair. The obviously discuss substantial elements of story and script, which is a treat to listen to. Deeley and Haber focus much more on the mechanics and business sides of the production effort, as you might expect. They’re interesting to listen to, but the writers are better.
The final commentary includes legendary futurist Syd Mead, production designer Lawrence G. Paull, art director David L. Snyder and special effects supervisors Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer. This is a great track for diehard fans – particularly those who are interested in the nitty-gritty design and technical aspects of the film. They obviously get deep into the creation of the effects, the miniatures, the props and the physical world of the film. They also comments on the new effects work as well, which is fun to hear, as these guys were actually involved and/or hand input in the new effects process.
So that’s Disc One, but that’s just scratching the surface of all the material available in these new sets. Next, let’s take a look at Discs Two and Three...