In the end, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner can be described easily as a movie about a man who comes to realize that Life is Sacred only after he’s killed Really Quite a Lot of People.
I revisited the picture last night after more time away from it than I care to think about — more than a quarter of a century — because a copy of what they call “The Final Cut” turned up for three bucks at my local stupor-market. The words “Final Cut” in this case make me snicker: who really knows if Ridley Scott is done dicking around with this movie? I don’t think heknows.
Scott was more or less vocal at the time about hating the release version of the picture: principally, its ending and the kind of Hammett-esque voice-over narration provided throughout by Harrison Ford. And true to that, really the main differences here between the release version and “The Final Cut” are centered on those two things. For the rest, Blade Runner is largely the same movie that it always was.
Thirty years of elapsed time may have clouded my memory here, but it seems to me that Ford has to chase Joanna Cassidy a while longer in “The Final Cut” before he successfully shoots her in the back, twice. It seems to me that the murder of Tyrell is somewhat grislier than it was in the release version; and it seems to me that there are some random insert shots of leather-clad dwarfs cavorting in the streets that were not in the release version. Except for the chase, these things have little or no impact on the movie and seem to have been tweaked with just so that Scott could say that he’d tweaked something.
The removal of the narration, though, is a Major Thing, and I must say that I think Scott was right: the picture is better off without it. Turns out (surprise, surprise) that the studio thought audiences are dumber than we are… the extra explanation of the storyline was simply not needed. Taking the narration out both reduces and improves Ford’s profile in the film.
The one change that I disagree with is the ending, and even there I don’t necessarily disagree… but the few little extra seconds at the end that the studio insisted on and that Scott removed as soon as he could do have significant impact on how the movie leaves us, its audience, feeling…
The original studio ending gave us the brightest single image in the entire picture, and left us in a state of feeling hope, of feeling better times were ahead for Deckard and Rachel. Scott’s preferred version stops well short of hope, with a smash cut that leaves us in the full knowledge that the couple face more hardships and potentially more tragedy down the road. And I’m going to say right here that Scott’s preferred ending is the better one… but it has a significant impact, leaves us literally in the dark, and without much hope for the future. Without those few seconds of sunlight at the end, Blade Runner is a significantly bleaker and more powerfully depressing movie.
Other thoughts not relating to the movie as a work skirt around in my head and add to the picture of sadness that I was left with last night. The movie is set in 2019… far in the future when it was released in 1977 and when I saw it, a year out of high school, but well within sight, just a short jaunt down the road a piece for us now. We still don’t have flying cars, but when it comes to the overall darkness of our current Popular Culture, Blade Runner was not just prescient but a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. If 2014 looks more like A Clockwork Orange than it does like Blade Runner, that in no way mitigates the horror that this decade fills me up with in so very many ways.
People that I cared about are gone and I’m now considerably older than Harrison Ford was when he made the picture. Ridley Scott, once the most promising of directors who made movies like The Duellists, Alien, Blade Runner and Thelma and Louise, has since become the worst kind of Hollywood Hack, churning out exactly the same kind of crap that the younger Ridley Scott would have hated. The world is a darker place and a worse place than it was… and it was never a great place to begin with.