Blade Runner: The Final Cut at the Ziegfeld

Thursday, October 11, 2007 | 04:45 PM

I am going this evening to see my favorite sci-fi movie at my favorite movie theater with my favorite movie buddy.

I'll update this later . . .



Blade Runner Update October 10, 2007 10:42pm:

First the good news: The movie looks fantastic. As ahead of their time as the retro-future effects were back in 1982, they still look great today: They pop off the screen (and the Ziegfeld is a pretty big screen). The color is wonderful, the perception of depth, the visceral sense of living in an over-polluted, never stops raining dystopian Los Angeles works even better than before.

Whatever digital work that was done on the film print is just marvelous. Even the opening green tree logo that scans line by line looks fantastic. All in all, the technical work was tremendous.

Br_vangelis The Sound is also worth noting: Its crystal clear; the sound effects and the darkly gorgeous Vangelis soundtrack are wonderful -- beautiful, brilliantly rendered, dramatically enhancing the film. It also sounded as if additional Vangelis music was added here and there (short clips/segues). I have owned the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack for years, and its simply a must have.

Now for the not so good news: 

I first saw the movie while working in the campus cinema at Stony Brook as an undergrad; must have seen it 5 or 6 times the first weekend (showtimes: 7, 9:30 and 12) then another a few more times at a campus Sci-Fi festival. The version I fell in love with had the  hard boiled film noir Harrison Ford voice over -- and its not in the Final Cut.

As much as purists claim the film is better off without it, I have to disagree. First, it fills in some details that the complex narrative was otherwise missing. If you do not know the book, there is a complexity to the future world that the movie alludes to, but does not cleanly explain. Second, it creates a void -- there are long moments where the voice over is simply not there -- and needs to be. Lastly, it humanizes the main character, as he his struggles with himself as a Blade Runner.   

As to the ending . . . Not much of a spoiler alert, as this has been written about plenty -- but if you don't want to know, stop reading here.







Is Deckard a replicant?

Director Ridley Scott has always argued he was. The Unicorn scene, plus the origami at the end certainly implies as much.

I could give you dozens of arguments why Deckard isn't a replicant -- he gets the shit beat out of him constantly, the other replicants would recognize him as one, he quit his job, he's a drunk . . .

Rather than go down that road, its simply easier to say that Phillip K. Dick, author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, wrote him as a human. In the book, Deckard takes and passes the Voigt-Kampff test.

Between Ridley Scott, a director whose work looks beautiful, but has trouble telling a great story, and Dick, who was all about creating wildly compelling narratives, I have to go with PKD.

And as my friend Ralph argues so eloquently in the comments, the movie loses much of its appeal once the main character is no longer a person seeking redemption, trying to find his humanity. Instead, it becomes a story about the interaction of biorobotic devices.

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I've been looking forward to "BR:Final Cut" for some time, since its one of my favorite movies. But let's be clear... Ridley Scott has to be the most over-rated director of his generation. Over the last 30 years, he has turned out maybe 3 or 4 good to great films, and then went back and sabotaged his best one.

Scott started out as a set designer, and graduated to directing commercials in the 1960s-70s, so his style is exquisite in its sense of design and photography. But with regard to real storytelling, not so much.

His first feature, THE DUELLISTS (1977), was a dirge-like contemplation of honor during the Napoleanic era. Its sonorous tone overlies exquisite visuals.

But his next film ALIEN (1979), is the only unqualifiedly great movie on his resume. The quintessential "monster in the haunted house" movie dressed up as SF, it was both a huge critical and commercial success. This one gave him the clout to make, and then survive, his next project.

BLADE RUNNER (1982) was a bomb upon its initial release but has, over time, become a cult classic and is now considered one of the greatest and most influential films of the last 25 years. And it certainly is my personal farorite of all his movies. The Vangelis score is hauntingly beautiful.

The design is as influential as any movie ever made... until MATRIX, anyway. But most importantly, the themes of the story resonate in harmony with its images. What does it mean to be human? If you lack compassion, empathy, and emotional connection to others... are you really human? And if you have those things, does it matter what the origin of your biology is?

Phillip K. dick wrote DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP partly as a critique of the "I was only following orders" defense of WWII-era Germans. Dick told us that we are each responsible for our own humanity, and the day we let the least of us die out of our own disinterest or lack of courage, we have surrendered that humanity.
Of course, Scott completely sabotages this theme in the "Director's Cut" (and now again in the "final cut") by giving more evidence that Deckard is, himself, a Replicant, thereby rendering the entire point moot. Instead of a story of redemption, where a person reclaims his humanity by recognizing the humanity in others, Scott turns it into a story of a Replicant who learns to feel. Well, who cares if a non-existent fantasy construct called a "Replicant" learns to freakin' feel, Ridley? Why don't you say something about people, instead, you schmuck?!

The DIRECTOR'S CUT is actually worse than the theatrical release in other ways, too. In addition to adding the "Deckard is a replicant" theme, he has stripped out the voice-over narration, which furthered the movie's "film noir" style, and its absence resonates throughout this cut. And while the movie didn't need the "happy ending" the studio originally insisted on, the dark ending you are now left with instead is not at all satisfying, and it removes the final images of blue sky that rewarded and mirrored Deckard's emotional transformation. These changes just indicate how little Scott understood what was great about his movie in the first place.

After BLADE RUNNER flopped, Scott churned out 3 stylish misfires: LEGEND (1985), SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (1987) and BLACK RAIN (1989). LEGEND was a total flop, but SOMEONE and, to a lesser degree, BLACK RAIN were moderate commercial successes. These lead up to his getting hired on to direct THELMA & LOUISE (1991). T & L was both a commercial and critical success, and is an excellent film, but Scott was brought into this project fairly late in its development, and was just a director-for-hire on this one. Still, an excellent job, even if not entirely a "Ridley Scott" picture.

But he followed up T&L with 3 pieces of Scottian crap: 1492 (1992) ,WHITE SQUALL (1996) and G.I. JANE (1997). While JANE was a huge hit (echoing his themes of militaristic women from ALIEN and T&L), I found it relentlessly ridiculous and nearly unwatchable.

He hit the next one out of the park, though, with GLADIATOR (2000) ... a blockbuster/Oscar winner. But, despite its unmistakable grandeur and Russell Crowe's star-making performance, the film can be read as profoundly stupid and cynical (a view i share). Still, it remains one of his best works (which says all you need to know about Scott's career output).

HANNIBAL (2001) was a hit, too, based largely on its status as a long awaited sequel to the terrific SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. The critics lambasted it for the most part, and, while opulent, it is also repugnant and unengaging.

BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001) was next and joined SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, G.I. JANE and HANNIBAL into the group of glossy but inept hits from the witless Brit. Despite its box office performance and a generally positive critical reaction, too, BHD seems to me more akin to Scott's cinematic misfires like 1492 and WHITE SQUALL.
BHD is basically a Bruckheimer film, where handsome young men perform heroic deeds at great speed and high volume. It left me totally uninvolved, unmoved, and not particularly entertained. I was, however (like the goofy-looking soldier in the film), deafened by the din. Perhaps it could play on a triple bill with GI JANE and THE DUELLISTS as a meditation on the nature of martial honor... as told through a series of lovely photographs, narrated by a moron. Still, BHD has been Scott's last hit to date.

MATCHSTICK MEN (2003) is a poorly constructed "Sting" con-man movie with an extremely annoying performance by Nick Cage. It failed to find an audience.

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005), however, is pure Ridley, returning to the epic scale of GLADIATOR. Unfortunately, Orlando Bloom is no Russell Crowe, so it ends up an entertaining donut... yummy around the edges with a hole in the middle. Again, coherence is not his strongsuit, but this is probably Scott's best film since GLADIATOR. Yet it, too, couldn't make back its huge budget domestically (though it ultimately paid off internationally).

With A GOOD YEAR (2006), Ridley tried his hand at a romantic "dramedy"; watching Ridley Scott try to pull off this type of light entertainment is like watching a hippo trying to hula, which was not a sight anyone cared to see. A big flop.

Lastly, this year's AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007) is another of his "gun for hire" projects that has a mixed critical buzz going on before its November opening. It could be pure hack work or a return to respectability. We shall see.
Whatever Ridley Scott's multitudinous flaws, he is at least an artist with a point of view. He has themes that he explores in his films (with varying degrees of success), and his films have a personal quality to them, a "hand-crafted" quality, that bespeaks the presence of an artistic vision.

At this point, though, Ridley Scott seems to me an idiot savant... a total genius with a camera, but nearly incapable of creating anything approaching credible human drama, except only occasionally and only by accident.

Posted by: Ralph Sevush | Oct 11, 2007 4:46:31 PM

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