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Ridley Scott’s first shot at the science fiction genre quickly became one of the most influential and successful of all time. It’s a testament to the director’s unblinking and impossibly keen eye that Alien changed science fiction and horror forever more. It wasn’t long before Scott took a second shot at the genre, mixing it this time with the grit of classic film noir, creating Blade Runner.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
The film was loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’. Like all Dick’s novels the book was relatively unfilmable, but was filled with magnificent ideas, and was a perfect fit for Scott’s powerful visual flair. Blade Runner is a perfect sampling of the director’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. Based on the visual strengths alone the film has earned its place in the annals of the most praised motion pictures of all time.

The problems arise when one stops to consider the nature of the film’s plot, which is razor thin on the surface, and dreamy, occasionally nightmarish in execution. It’s a detective story without any logical detection, as Harrison Ford has complained on more than one occasion. Deckard’s detective work almost always reeks of convenience, and a lot of the facts simply don’t add up under scrutiny. Some fans, including myself at one time, take the plot’s flimsy nature to have a deeper meaning, but consecutive viewings, and Scott’s continuous tinker have led me to the conclusion that the director’s vision was consistently unclear. Notorious tales of on set mayhem add fuel to that particular fire. These weak story elements Blade Runner has always remained controversial in critical circles. But simply dismissing the film as an exercise in form over function doesn’t account for the years of obsessive analysis.

There is an intellectualism to Scott’s images. Subtle decorations and repeating visual themes become the film’s real narration. Without the focus on eyes, the unicorn dreams, the origami, the dead city streets, and so on and so forth, Blade Runner would be a one-note joke. Scott’s vision was original, and though not quite as pulpy or flowery as his inspirational images may have dictated, Blade Runner has a beautiful ambiguity, which just added insult to injury for viewers that didn’t appreciate the threadbare narrative in the first place. Luc Besson’s Fifth Element actually captures the look of ‘70s and ‘80s Heavy Metal magazine (most specifically the art of Moebius) better than Scott’s film, but doesn’t capture the raw feel. The real deal is somewhere between the two films, but Blade Runner’s interpretation is in the end its own look, more of noir in neon.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
I had almost forgotten about the use of classic noir motifs in the years I waited for what ended up being the ‘Final Cut’. The dishevelled ex-cop, brought back against his will for one last collar, the one that may break him. The high-class dame the dishevelled ex-cop falls for against his better judgement. The colourful villains, the femme fatales, the dark alleys and rainy streets, etcetera and so forth. All that’s missing is a hard boiled narration, well, from this cut at least. The mixing of sci-fi and noir wasn’t new in literature (obviously, Blade Runner was based on a book), but at the time it was a revelation on film, and one that’s stuck with us for decades now. In fact, even after the success of the Star Wars series and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, science fiction was still viewed largely as a B property - in terms of themes above allegory. Had Blade Runner been a success off the bat we may have seen an Oscar winning sci-fi drama by now ( The Matrix is the closest we’ve got).

So years after the release of a rushed and unsatisfactory ‘Director’s Cut’, Scott has taken one last shot at perfecting what could very well be his masterpiece. It’s been so long since I’ve watched the film in its entirety that I found the ‘Final Cut’ differences eluded me for the most part. Scott’s final stab is more or less the same as his first. The new cut does flow a little more evenly than the other cuts, but the narrative issues are still there. This just leaves us to enjoy the film for what it is and what it was. It’s still one of the most influential and impressive cinematic visions of all times.

Video


Going from the lumpy and distorted scrap heap that was the original Blade Runner ‘Directors Cut’ DVD to full on, high-definition clarity is quite jarring. The 2.40:1 widescreen image is not without its flaws, but it more or less pushes the source material to the limit. There are volumes of detail in frame that haven’t been seen since the original release, maybe ever. The film’s age prevents positive perfection in skin and clothing textures, but the bits and pieces of various models and special effects, not to mention various incidental props, are on full display, and a joy to behold here.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
Sometimes the special effects suffer from the enhanced image definition, especially the miniature work, which appears more miniature than they did the first time around. The film’s deep and dark nature, mixed with constant layers of smoke make for some heavy grain in parts, but fine grain definitely.

The ‘Theatrical’, ‘International’ and ‘Director’s’ cuts are all on the set’s third disc. The differences are filled in by seamless branching and alternate audio tracks, so quality wise all these cuts are identical. I also didn’t notice any major differences in video quality between these and the ‘Final Cut’, though the new version has been remastered, so some shots, effects shots especially, have had their contrast and brightness levels fiddled with a bit.

The ‘Work Print’ looks about what a work print should look like. The overall image is closer to the original ‘Director’s Cut’ DVD release, very, very dark, obscuring many, many details. Any light is filtered roughly through layers of grain, and the blacks often absorb the surrounding colours. As is common for a work in progressing printing, the image quality varies throughout, sometimes appearing quite sharp, other times noisy. The one constant is the darkness, which thanks to the high definition is solid, and accented with very sharp edges.

Audio


From 2.0 Dolby Surround to 5.1 TrueHD, the jump in sound from previous DVD releases is just as spectacular as the jump in video. ‘Final Cut’ has been reworked to get the most out of a decent surround sound system, with deep and throbbing bass and fully immersive surround channels. Often 5.1 remixes produce very artificial results, and the redesigned audio can depend on too many new and obviously ‘canned’ elements. The sound effects here blend naturally into the mix, and are discretely placed in the most effective places.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
Vangelis’ beloved soundtrack is crisp and clear, and often cleverly divided among the channels. The electronic keyboards are warm and full, but don’t overlap important sound effects during dialogue-less moments. The dialogue is the only thing on the track that doesn’t seem to have been reworked (for the most part, there are some ‘Final Cut’ changes), and it does show, unfortunately. Often the centre channel is overwhelming during dialogue, and the dialogue itself has a slightly tinny and flat sound to it. Had the rest of the track been more ‘average’ overall this might have gone unnoticed, but the wonderful clarity of the rest of the track makes for some iffy moments.

The ‘Work Print’ is, again, the weakest of all five versions when it comes to the emulation of current technological heights (the disc three cuts of the film are very similar to ‘Final Cut’, though perhaps slightly flatter overall). It has been mixed into a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, but it’s quieter then the other tracks and features far more simple surround effects. In fact, besides the music, some thunder, and a few flying cars I noticed very little from the rear speakers. Everything is still quite clear and overall comparable to the other releases.

Extras


I’m afraid the addition of four alternate cuts of the film is sort of lost on me. It’s wonderful that they are included here, for an affordable price to boot, but I’m not a big enough fanatic to studiously watch all five versions while taking notes. In a way I suppose this release is the anti- Star Wars release, with Warner Bros. insuring that nobody’s favourite version of the film is left on the cutting room floor. It’s overkill for me, but I know that the real fans appreciate the effort.

The disappointing thing about the inclusion of the variant cuts is how similar they are to each other. Usually varying cuts feature quite a bit more or less information, but these changes are minute. The two biggest differences are the original theatrical release’s narration and happy ending, which is the way I remember the film in my mind, considering I first saw it on television. I like the idea of the narration, it adds to the pulp and circumstance of the film’s noir elements, but I also overall agree with the general consensus that it’s not very well executed. I suppose, without putting too much thought into it, that the new cut is my favourite, but it really doesn’t matter all that much.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
There are a total of four commentary tracks on the set—three on the first disc to compliment the ‘Final Cut’, and one on the fifth disc to compliment the ‘Work Print’. Scott’s solo track is undoubtedly the best on the first disc, and most ‘important’ of all four, but it’s a might sight drier than I’m use to from the director. Scott has proven himself on several occasions to be one of the best solo commentators in the film business. Here he’s no less honest or forthright with the information; he’s just a little ‘haggard’, for lack of a better word. Perhaps working on the same film on and off for two decades plus took its toll on him.

Track two is an amalgamation of producer/writer Hampton Fancher, writer David Peoples, producer Michael Deeley, and production executive Kathrine Haber. The writers and producers appear to have been recorded on separate tracks. We learn during the making of documentary that Fancher was basically fired from the film as writer under not so nice circumstances. There is a tinge of discomfort between him and Peoples (who rewrote the script later), but overall Fancher seems to have accepted the film for what it is. The writers both hint at a whole load of alternate versions of the script, and are far more interesting then the producers who mostly just recall how hard the film was to make.

The third ‘Final Cut’ commentary features visual futurist Syd Mead, production designer Lawrence G. Paull, art director David Snyder, and special photographic effects supervisors Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer. I admittedly didn’t listen to this or the writer/producer track in their entirety for time and sanity’s sake, but when given the flip option I found this track the duller. The people involved are very technically minded, as one might expect, and I had a hell of a time telling them all apart, but the track is still important to the set as part of the film’s history.

On the ‘Work Print’ disc is Paul M. Sammon, author of ‘Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner’. Sammon is a total nerd, and occasionally pretty goofy, but his wealth of knowledge is greater than even Scott’s. Many of his factoids are a bit repetitive if you’ve watched the making of doc, but he acts as a great place marker for the differences in the ‘Work Print’ cut and the other cuts by description.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
Disc two is a DVD presentation of ‘Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner’. Overall the doc doesn’t out impress the volumes of documentary footage that dawned the Lord of the Rings extended editions, but it is entirely exhaustive, from inception to post-release, and features plenty of enticing outtake footage. The three and a half hour doc is split into eight chapters. ‘Incept Date – 1980’ starts the ball rolling with the scriptwriting process, which should’ve been smoothest part of the filmmaking process. After years of development a solid script eluded Scott and his producers, which speaks volumes about the final film’s flimsy narrative. The utter frustration seen during the scriptwriting period is almost painful to watch. Even at this really early phase in the doc the developing drama is delicious and addicting.

‘Blush Response: Assembling the Cast’ features the smallest degree of conflict and drama, with the obvious exception of Sean Young, who no one but Scott seemed to like, due mostly to her inexperience. The big coup of the cast was Rutger Hauer, who was more or less unknown in the States until Blade Runner, and with the possible exceptions of Turkish Delight or The Hitcher, Batty has become his signature role. The rest of the cast simply makes sense, and before the filming started things looked pretty shiny. My only complaint here is that only the principal cast is covered.

‘A Good Start: Designing the Future’ revitalizes the drama of this mortifying story, and is the most technically fascinating part of the doc. This is the part in the story where the laces really begin to unravel, and the cast and crew is swept up in the Ridley Scott tidal wave of unrelenting focus. Scott’s obsession with the design and detail is mind blowing. As with the script, a lot of the stuff they didn’t use is more interesting and cool then the stuff that made it on screen.

‘Eye of the Storm: Production Begins’ and ‘Living in Fear: Tension on the Set’ are the drama at its exhausting height. The final film’s finished state is a testament to the material and everyone’s shaky faith in Scott’s vision. The focus during the doc is placed on the trouble, but even when keeping that in mind one wonders if anything good happened on set. I actually knew most of this stuff, including the T-shirt wars bit, from reading sections of Paul M. Sammon’s book, and a similarly named article in Hot Dog magazine, but hearing the duelling facts from the mouths of the drama’s participants is better then reading them in print.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
‘Beyond the Window’ covers the special effects processes. Personally, I find the effects process a bit tedious to watch, but the pre-digital age will always hold more mystery in its special effects. There are plenty of hyperbolic claims to the effects’ previously unseen ingenuity (there always are), but it’s hard to argue with the results. This section of the doc is exceedingly technical and dampens the flow a bit.

‘In Need of Magic’ and ‘To Hades and Back’ is the story of the post-production issues that plagued the project until its release. The many alternate cuts of the film arose from bad audience testing and angry studio execs. At one point most of the principle crew was actually fired, and some editing was done without the director’s knowledge. The ill-fated Deckard narration track and the sappy happy ending both represent Scott’s attempts at pleasing the people that didn’t understand his product. This final part of the story is especially satisfying because it holds the happy ending, where the film eventually found its audience (it was a flop at the box offices and with critics when it was first released).

Disc four, the ‘Enhancement Archive’, is another DVD, and is brimming with more featurettes about the behind the scenes process of the film which run a total of around two and a half hours. Under ‘Inception’ are three featurettes concerning author Philip K. Dick, and the original novel, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’. ‘The Electric Dreamer’ covers the basics of Dick’s career without putting much emphasis on the other successful adaptation of his stories ( Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly). ‘Sacrificial Sheep’ is all about the differences between the original story and the film. I still haven’t gotten around to reading the book (I swear I’ll do it some day), but the differences are interesting. This comparison spotlights the film’s narrative problems rather brightly, though had the book been faithfully adapted it would’ve been even more densely layered and likely even more poorly received upon release.

The ‘Fabrication’ section of the disc is about the minute details. ‘Signs of the Times’ covers the graphic design of Blade Runner’s future world, including various props (like security cards) and signage. I found the process interesting as a guy that went to school for and currently works in graphics. This leads into ‘Fashion Forward’, which is about the film’s bizarre and bizarrely prophetic wardrobe design. Admittedly, some of the costumes are too wild (the snake dancer’s street clothes, for example), but if you overlook the giant shoulder pads you can see inspiration taken from the film throughout recent film and music video history.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
This brings us to the screen tests of Nina Axelrod (who everyone but the director preferred to Sean Young for Rachel) and Stacey Nelken (who lost out Pris to Darryl Hannah). Both screen tests are preceded by short interviews with the actresses themselves. Nelken was actually hired to play the fifth replicant, but her part was cut just before filming commenced. These are followed by a lengthy tribute to cinematographer Jordon Cronenweth, whose contributions to the film are immeasurable.

Only a set this comprehensively obsessive could feature a strong and lengthy featurette about the production of the original poster art, with interviews with artists Drew Struzan (whose art more or less defined ‘80s film poster art) and John Alvin. Alvin’s poster image is the most common and popular poster art (I’ve always been dissatisfied with his representation of Sean Young), which has come to define the film. Stuzan’s art wasn’t used until the release of the ‘Final Cut’ DVD. Both artists, especially Alvin, make specific note of the relative death of the painted film poster, and resent the advent of Photoshop. I agree to a certain extent, but I’m also bored with the ‘good ole’ days’ complaints of so many older craftsmen and artists.

‘Deck-a-Rep’ examines the ever-popular controversy behind Deckard’s possible replicant identity. The facts are there to back up both sides of the argument, but Scott’s definitive P.O.V is that the character is, in fact, a replicant. On the other hand, Harrison Ford entirely rejects the idea. I find it particularly interesting that director’s Frank Darabont and Guillermo del Toro take opposite intellectual stances on the subject. I also find it interesting that my other two favourite Dick adapted movies have similar controversies behind them. Is the ending of Minority Report and the bulk of Total Recall just a dream?

‘Nexus Generation’ is the disc’s final featurette. This section concerns the stories of various filmmakers and other persons of note, and their personal experiences with the film. The interview choices are quite varied, from Del Toro and Darabont to the directors of Kim Possible and Torque, and CHUDcom’s Devin Faraci.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition
The seemingly never ending extras continue with deleted and alternate scenes. These total twenty-six and include: an alternate credit sequence featuring slow motion water drops, a longer search around Leon’s apartment, more hockey masked strippers, Deckard talking to a bar tender, the before and after of Batty’s patricide, a sexier sex scene, and two slightly alternate endings. In most cases the difference is in the narration, which Scott didn’t like in the first place, and/or general length, so it’s understandable not to include them in the ‘Final Cut’. The most intriguing are two scenes between Deckard and the downed Blade Runner, Holden, who sits on some kind of futuristic life support. In the second scene it is revealed that Bryant and Gaff have been watching the two Blade Runners speak, and the pair discuss Deckard’s possible replicant affair.

Disc four finishes with two1982 promos, an outtakes reel, a collection of five trailers for the various releases of the film, and one trailer for the Dangerous Days documentary.

‘All Our Variant Futures’ covers the process of developing Scott’s Final Cut. The thirty-minute featurette covers all aspects of the seven-year spanning process, from preliminary meetings in 2000 to actual production in 2007. As seems to be the norm, the original footage was almost destroyed, chunks were missing, and everything that could go wrong nearly did. The commentators never name names, but when speaking about the digital compositing and ADR recording they’re sure to point out the minute scale of their efforts, as well as the errors they’ve left in the film for charm. These guys are being rather clear about their anti-Lucas approach to the material.

Blade Runner: Complete Collector's Edition

Overall


This critical view of the film is not representative of my gut feelings, but we all know what’s right about Blade Runner. As a fan I had to force myself not simply gush. This is most likely the most exhaustive collection ever devoted to a single film. I am exhausted having seen it. My only complaints are with the set’s five discs. I’m not entirely clear on the space limitations of Blu-ray, but I reasonably sure they could’ve fit all this stuff onto two discs, especially considering that two of the five discs are standard DVDs. But the price is fair, so it’s a minor complaint. Now if you’ll excuse me, I don’t want to think about Blade Runner anymore for at least another year.


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