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Let me preface this review by explaining that I am probably not the most qualified person in the world to review the final incarnation of Ridley Scott's sci-fi classic. Don't get me wrong, I like it well enough, but I don't have the kind of encyclopaedic knowledge required to do justice to a film with such a convoluted history. However, as the only UK-based contributor with an HD DVD player the task of reviewing Blade Runner: The Final Cut fell to me. The film is so well known I don't really think there's anything I can say that hasn't already been said before and I doubt there are too many people who are going to be swayed by my review of the feature itself. No, my job is to assess the quality of this new high-definition release of Ridley Scott's Final Cut. I hope the following is of some use.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Feature


Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles of the year 2019; a perpetually dark and stormy place where artificially-engineered lifeforms known as replicants are able to walk amongst humans unnoticed. Replicants are used off-world as slave labour, performing all of the tasks deemed too menial or dangerous for human beings to undertake. After a bloody revolt replicants, or 'skin jobs', have been declared illegal on Earth and a special police department has been created to deal with any troublesome specimens - they are the Blade Runners. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is one such Blade Runner who has been pulled out of retirement and charged with hunting down and 'retiring' a group of advanced 'Nexus-6' replicants. The replicants, Roy (Rutger Hauer), Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), Leon (Brion James) and Pris (Daryl Hannah), have returned to Earth in search of a way to extend their limited four-year lifespans (a fail-safe device installed by their creators). During the course of his investigation Deckard meets and falls in love with a replicant named Rachael and beings to question what it truly means to be 'human'.

Research reveals that there have been no less than seven different versions of Blade Runner to date. Of those I have previously seen/owned both the original theatrical cut on VHS and the 1992 Directors Cut on DVD. I haven't watched either for some time, but my strongest memories of the theatrical version are the emotionless Harrison Ford voice-over and the 'happy' ending. Personally I've always preferred the Director's Cut, which I find considerably more atmospheric due to the removal of the voice-over and slightly more challenging because of the ambiguity surrounding the character of Deckard. This Final Cut further refines the Director's Cut with a number of subtle (and not so subtle) changes, which are summarised below:

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
  • The shot of Deckard waiting to eat at the White Dragon has been shortened due to the removal of the voice-over
  • All previously deleted violent scenes have been restored
  • When Bryant and Deckard are looking at the Nexus-6 profiles, Bryant describes Leon's job
  • Bryant's line is changed to 'Two of them got fried running through an electrical field', eliminating the 'sixth replicant' plot hole
  • When Gaff and Deckard first arrive at Leon's apartment, the landlord says 'Kowalski'
  • When we are first introduced to Batty the background has been changed to match the rest of the scene (he now appears as if he is in a phone booth when Leon finds him)
  • Deckard's conversation with the snake merchant Abdul Ben Hassan has been fixed so that the dialogue is no longer out of sync
  • Numerous crowd shots have been restored, such as two strippers wearing hockey masks and a shot of Deckard talking to another police officer
  • The original full-length version of the unicorn dream sequence has been restored
  • During Deckard's pursuit of Zhora, Joanna Cassidy's face has been digitally superimposed over that of the stunt double
  • A scar on Deckard's face after the 'retirement' of Zhora has been removed for continuity reasons
  • When Batty confronts Tyrell he now says 'I want more life, father' (rather than the more common 'I want more life, fucker')
  • After killing Tyrell, Batty says the lines 'I'm sorry Sebastian. Come. Come.'
  • When Batty releases the dove, the skyline now matches that of 2019 L.A.

I found this to be the most complete and satisfying version of the film yet, but whether that will be the case for others could depend largely on their preferred version of the film. Because I've always favoured the Director's Cut I welcomed the various trims and continuity fixes, which tighten things up without radically altering the plot. Scott is to be commended not only for bringing his preferred version of the film to the screen, but for allowing the other versions to be released simultaneously to stand on their own merits.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Video


Last year I bought the remastered standard definition release of Blade Runner on DVD but never actually got around to watching it. This means that my last viewing of the film was back in 2001 with Warner's original DVD release, which had more in common with VHS than DVD. Because of this it's safe to say that the 2.40:1 1080/24p VC-1 encoded transfer found on this HD DVD release was a revelation.

Scott and his creative team crafted a stunning vision of a neon-bathed dystopian future, which is brought to life in a way never-before-seen on home screens. The level of detail in the image far surpasses any previous release and it's now possible to pick out individual drops of rain, the blood vessels in the eye seen in the opening sequence and even the fly on Leon's chin during the VK test. The image now has real depth to it, appearing almost three-dimensional at times. Obviously this sort of clarity is something you would expect from a high definition release, but it is not the only improvement. Colour rendition is also far superior to previous releases, with even last year's remastered edition put firmly in the shade by the vibrancy of the new high-definition transfer.

Shadow detail - critical for such a dark film - is much better than previous releases as a result of improved brightness and contrast. The image is also free from digital compression artefacts and the edge enhancement that plagued the first release is nowhere in sight. If I had to make one criticism it would be that the print used wasn't completely free from film artefacts, so there are still a number of nicks and scratches on show, but they aren't particularly obtrusive and I had to look hard to spot them. However, given the age and history of the film this is still a remarkable restoration effort and a fine transfer.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Audio


For its HD DVD début Blade Runner arrives with an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. The cover erroneously lists the presence of an English Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack, but in reality there are only French, German, Italian and Spanish variants. A brief comparison between the tracks reveals a definite advantage to the TrueHD track, which is sharper, richer and more satisfying than the Plus tracks. Whether this is due to the fact that the other tracks are dubs and therefore subject to some sort of reduction in levels is a possibility, but without the presence of an English Plus track I can't be certain.

I found the Dolby 2.0 Surround track on the previous releases of Blade Runner functional if unspectacular. While atmospheric in places it was limited by a lack of directionality to the effects and had a rather dull, flat sound overall. This is not the case with the Final Cut, which for the first time ever features a myriad of discrete effects - thunder claps, rain falls and futuristic spinners are placed around the soundstage with pinpoint accuracy. While not the most dynamic of soundtracks bass is powerful when necessary, one of the best examples of which is when Deckard fires his gun at the fleeing Zhora with a satisfying boom.

However, the real star of the the soundtrack is the brilliant Vangelis score, which is responsible for most of the picture's atmosphere. It literally fills the room, often intentionally eclipsing all effects and dialogue, sweeping the viewer away on a wave of aural excellence. However, the soundtrack is not without its problems. While the rest of the mix sounds fresh and crisp, dialogue sounds like it comes straight out of a movie released in 1982, often sounding muffled and muted. Some of the looping work is also fairly ropey, especially during the re-recorded conversation with snake merchant Abdul Ben Hassan. While the dialogue now matches the actors' lips, it is very indistinct. At first I thought this might be a problem with my set-up, because dialogue as a whole had been fairly quiet up until that point, but when I switched to the foreign dubs the dialogue was much clearer.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
The change from 'fucker' to 'father' when Batty addresses Tyrell is also very jarring, as the 'father' line apparently comes from the workprint. The most recent comparable release I can think of is the 2004 edition of A New Hope, in which the quality of dialogue frequently fluctuated. Blade Runner is at least more consistent, so I wasn't constantly distracted by the changing audio, but there's still room for improvement. Even with all of that said this is still a very solid soundtrack and undoubtedly the best the picture has ever sounded on a home entertainment format.

Extras


Sometimes reviewing can be a fairly daunting task, especially when you're handed a disc with three commentary tracks and a three-and-a-half hour documentary! Most people will probably be interested in the first commentary track, which is a solo effort by director Ridley Scott. Alien aside, I've never really listened to a Ridley Scott commentary track for any great length of time, but this Blade Runner track is engaging throughout with few periods of dead air. It's definitely the first port of call if you're looking for a greater understanding of the film as a whole, especially because Scott gives some very definite opinions on the whole 'is he or isn't he' issue surrounding Deckard.

The second commentary features co-screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, along with producer Michael Deeley and production executive Katherine Haber. The commentators were recorded in pairs—Fancher and Peoples, Deeley and Haber—and the track flips back and forth between them throughout. Obviously the production staff talk about the more technical aspects of the film making process, but I was more interested in the interaction between the screenwriters. They get along fairly well considering Peoples was essentially brought in to replace Fancher, who was instrumental in getting the project off of the ground in the first place.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
The third and final track features visual futurist Syd Mead, production designer Lawrence G. Paul, art director David L. Snyder and special photographic effects supervisors Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer. Unsurprisingly this track tends to focus more on the design and effects side of things, which will be of great interest to people who enjoy hearing about such things. The commentary was obviously recorded at some point before the Final Cut was completed, because the participants are still talking about continuity errors in the Zhora scene and how they might be fixed with the aid of new digital effects techniques.

The second disc is a standard DVD devoted entirely to the documentary 'Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner'. We've already established that the slipcase contains a number of inaccuracies, so I wasn't particularly surprised to find that, contrary to the information given, the documentary is actually presented at 576i (not 480i/480p as suggested). While it would have been nice to have a full 1080p version of the documentary, at least having a standard definition DVD afforded me the flexibility to watch in different rooms of the house.

Basically this is the most comprehensive documentary I've yet seen on DVD, even surpassing the benchmark set by the Alien Quadrilogy boxed set. There's little point in trying to write about everything that's covered in the documentary, because it really needs to be seen to be appreciated, so I'll just provide a brief overview of things. As with most documentaries of its type, 'Dangerous Days' is split into a number of chapters (eight) that deal with every aspect of production. We begin with the genesis of the project and move through pre-production, casting, the production itself, art design, special effects, critical reception and more.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut
The documentary includes interviews, both new and old, with virtually everyone involved in the production of the film, along with several authors and and celebrity admirers (including Guillermo del Toro and Final Cut producer Charles de Lauzirika). Before viewing I was familiar with some of the woes that befell the production, but 'Dangerous Days' really fills in the back-story and elaborates on the specifics. However, I would have liked a more thorough exploration of the legal limbo that saw the film languish on the shelf for many years prior to this release. It is briefly touched upon, but no one ever really comes out and says 'this person was being a dick'. Oh, before I forget, there's also a short introduction to the Final Cut from Ridley Scott himself. It doesn't provide any information that can't be found elsewhere, but it's nice to have it on the disc all the same.

Overall


It is regrettable that I was unable to view the alternate versions of the film and the additional bonus material found in the Ultimate Edition, but unfortunately UK consumers have not been offered a choice between this two-disc set and the five-disc set available in the US. Had the Ultimate Edition been available on this side of the pond I would no doubt be awarding full marks in the extras category, but as things stand this HD DVD release is still impressive. Some minor film artefacts aside, the transfer takes an already gorgeous film and makes it look better than ever, while the Dolby TrueHD track thoroughly immerses the viewer in Ridley Scott's futuristic world and only just loses out on a higher score due to some minor dialogue issues. Add to that a bunch of interesting commentary tracks and an outstanding feature-length documentary, and the end result is a must-have HD DVD release.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the HD DVD edition.


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