Friday, October 19, 2007


It's raining like a bitch here right now, a biblical, post-apocalyptic kind of rain. Naturally, this reminded me of the classic sci-fi movie "Blade Runner". It rains constantly in Ridley Scott's bleak vision of Los Angeles in 2019, a grim world made even more bleak while watching, and listening to, the glorious 25th anniversary edition of "Blade Runner: The Final Cut", which I had the privilege to see at the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan this week.

I first saw "Blade Runner" when I was 12 in a tiny 300 seat theater with one speaker in the middle of the screen accompanied by a typically flaky second-run 35MM print. After being weaned on sci-fi as a young lad through "Alien" and "Star Wars", and being a huge fan of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", I enjoyed this movie, intrigued by its dark vision and meticulously crafted world. But this viewing for the movie's 25th anniversary was an entirely eye-opening, and eye-gouging, experience.

One of the first major films to get the "director's cut" treatment (back in 1992), this current version is allegedly the final "definitive" version, to be released in several DVD editions in December. It was worth the wait, as the digital restoration of this 1982 movie is stellar; if it weren't for the fact that Harrison Ford looked like he was 19, I would have sworn it was made yesterday. The special effects and production design stood out where it seemed muted and muddy before. Additionally, the remastered sound was simply stunning, from the throbbing Vangelis score to the soaking downpours, which the enormous, red velvet ensconced, 1100+ seat theater's speaker system was able to reproduce with aplomb. This was how the movie deserved to be seen and heard, but alas, it wasn't initially given the chance.

Early test audiences were confused by the plot, and a spoonfed narration by the main protagonist, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was added (read purposely badly hoping it would be rejected during post-production--it wasn't). Additionally, an ending was tacked on featuring the happy couple literally driving off into the sunset, in one of the silliest and cliched Hollywood endings ever concocted. It was almost like the edited for seniors version of "Gone With The Wind" from The Simpsons: "Frankly Scarlet, I love you! Let's remarry." ("Didn't that movie have used to have a war in it?")

Although the "fixed" version did fairly well in its first weekend ($6.1 million, which would be considered a failure in today's economy), it soon became apparent that moviegoers were expecting more feel-good fun popcorn fare like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "E.T", and it lost money in the end (which I'm sure Mr. Scott has made back with DVD sales and $11 tickets).

SPOILER ALERT! Deckert is a replicant, a skinjob, an android who may or may not dream of electric sheep. Not only did the new anti-uplifting "unicorn" ending make it clear, but Mr. Scott said as much in a recent NY Times article, in case there was ever any speculation. This wasn't so apparent in the first edit, which makes Janet Maslin's statement in the original 1982 NY Times review commenting about Sean Young's replicant love interest, "the icy poised Rachel . . .seems a lot more expressive than Deckard", appear quaintly inaccurate, though who could blame her.

The first time I heard this theory was back in 1990 from an enthusiastic film geek who worked at LaserLand in Paoli, PA, from which we rented the Laserdisc for a college movie night at Villanova. He excitedly pointed out to us that Deckard was a "fake", and put the disc into one of their players, showing us Deckard's gleaming eyes in a freeze-frame pointing to it as the director's subtle hint. The guy may have been a little creepy (I also recall him preferring the saying that the term "letterbox" was created by those who had their "panties on too tight") but he turned out to be correct.

Overall, more than a few things seemed dated in the movie, but they were not without their charm, especially the boxy DeLorean-inspired flying cars and the giant-pixeled computer readouts. (To further suspend your disbelief, I guess you could just assume that the chosen few took the good technology with them to the Off-World colonies.) Several things you couldn't get away with today, particularly the minimalist opening credits (white letters on a black background) and the deliberate pacing. Rutger Hauer's performance as android Roy Batty seemed even larger than life on the big screen; punctuated by great facial expressions and reactions, he was ironically the most lifelike character in the movie.

Thankfully, we have a long way to go to get L.A. that screwed up; however, one future vision that they did get right: there are giant pervasive advertisements everywhere, something that's bound to get worse as we approach 2019. My biggest gripe is with the advances in technology featured that didn't seem impossible 25 years ago, but are laughable now; we've been spending all of our time and energy working on consumer technology to create bigger and better flat panel TVs to keep us dumb and stupid, when all this time we really should have been working on those flying cars.


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