Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: DVD Review: Blade Runner: The Final Cut - Neo-Noir Lost in Translation?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

DVD Review: Blade Runner: The Final Cut - Neo-Noir Lost in Translation?

by Tony Dayoub

Blade Runner: The Five Disc Ultimate Edition was released on DVD in December 2007. Produced by Charles de Laurizika (producer of Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition), it is the culmination of 7 years of hard work to restore this film to Ridley Scott's definitive version.

In 1992, Blade Runner: The Director's Cut debuted nationwide to sold out audiences in theaters, a decade after its original cut had premiered. This release led to a dubious distinction well known among film buffs. On DVD the idea of a director's cut, or special edition, was oft-imitated to less spectacular results, as evidenced by the trend of releasing endless versions of movies , i.e. Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Terminator 2: Judgement Day - The Ultimate Edition, Terminator 2: Judgement Day - Extreme DVD, etc. Many a great film was subjected to multiple cuts unnecessarily, an example of the law of diminishing returns.

Arguably, the decision behind the release of Scott's revisionist Director's Cut was born out of a loftier motive. He hoped to reinstate his original story intent, revise the ending, and eliminate what he and star Harrison Ford believed to be an extraneous, distracting narration. But did this actually help the narrative? And how necessary was it to create a 2007 cut dubbed The Final Cut?

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a blade runner, a cop assigned to "retire," or kill, runaway androids. The Nexus 6 series of androids acquire human emotions and therefore, life. Too bad there is a built-in safety: they have a four year life span. Sean Young plays Rachel, an android "geisha" Deckard falls for, who may be an even more advanced model than the Nexus. Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leads the Nexus androids (including future star, Daryl Hannah), seeking to find out how long they have to left to live.

A major difference in both the 1992 and 2007 cuts, is a dream sequence which quietly infers that Deckard may be an android himself. Despite the inclusion of said sequence, the inference is weak at best. Another difference in both newer cuts is the exclusion of the narration. Ford gave a lackluster reading of the narration believing it felt a little too on-the-nose. Director Scott, known for his visual economy, also felt it unnecessary, preferring the cinematography to tell his story.

Admittedly, his vision is now fully realized in this 2007 cut in a way that even his 1992 could not achieve. The 2007 cut fixes many minor but important mistakes (the climactic shot of the dove's release being one of them) known to fans. Famously, actress Joanna Cassidy (android Zhora) was conspicuously replaced by a stunt double in one sequence. Either due to lack of time, or lack of budget, no effort was ever made to hide that the stunt double was a man dressed in a wig and bikini. The sound and picture has also been remastered without resorting to the flashy revisionism that Lucas' Star Wars movies fell prey to.

Still it is telling that it is the original cut that is on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 films of all time. While the film has its cult following because of its still mesmerizing dystopic vision of the future, its underpinnings are rooted in the film noir of the 1940s. Film Noir is a genre with very specific qualities:
  • There is traditionally a femme fatale, a woman the protagonist gets involved with to his detriment in the overall plot, as in Double Indemnity (1944). In this story it is obviously Rachel, but Zhora talks the hard-boiled talk of a traditional femme fatale in her one speaking scene.
  • The protagonist moves the story forward, but he is hardly heroic. Usually a detective, he is rarely aware of the larger picture and clumsily drives the story forward through a series of reversals, as in Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Deckard is often one step behind Batty and his crew, generally piecing the puzzle together after getting beat up. In one case, he is facing certain death when he is saved by Rachel, a far less experienced character.
  • The setting is usually one of urban decay where rain slicked neon-lit city streets are the norm, as in The Killers (1946). Much of 2019 Los Angeles appears like this in the movie. By the way, most film noirs take place in... you guessed it, Los Angeles.
  • The characters are often dressed iconically in trenchcoats, just as Deckard, Batty, and most of the other males are, as in Out Of The Past (1947). Rachel's fashion is influenced heavily by 40s haute couture most evocative when she appears in silhouette.
But the number one thing that evokes the Chandleresque world of noir in films [Murder My Sweet (1944)] is the first-person narration of the main character. And Ford's laconic hard-boiled delivery, whether intentional or not, perfectly captures the feel of film noir. So to eliminate it is to gut the film tonally. And no visual is enough to overcome that feeling that the heart of the film is now missing.

So while the 2007 cut is a sight to behold in high definition, it is fortunate that this new DVD release includes the far superior 1982 cut. The original has not only influenced science fiction films since its release. It is a benchmark of the emerging neo-noir movement of the late 80s and 90s.

No comments: