"All those moments will be lost, like, uh, tears in rain..."
Actor Rutger Hauer's nervously offered addition to
what was on the page at the script read through.
Not now, they won't be. All those moments have not been lost (and I do mean 'all'). They have been very carefully wrapped, ribboned and neatly labeled just for people like me. Let's appreciate the timing (commercially minded no doubt). What I wished for in my and Slarek's original appreciation of this seminal movie was, by assumption, a Blade Runner free of glaring mistakes and – oh... a copy of the score unencumbered by the dialogue that the big V saw fit to mix into the release a few years back. The Blade Runner Trilogy (odd title) of 3 CDs of music is here at last. But it's been wrapped up and sent away to a deserving, albeit familiar fan. My copy arrives tomorrow – I bloody hope.
It did indeed and to sound the only duff note in this rather lengthy stroll around one of my favourite films, I must say I'm a little underwhelmed. I believed that the triple CD was the score without any dialogue over 3 discs. I was wrong. The first disc – infuriatingly – is simply that bloody soundtrack with all the dialogue mixed in, a soundtrack that seemed to have scuppered a proper music only release. The second disc is music written for and sometimes included in the film – and some of it is gorgeous and unreleased (tick, VG). But the third – music inspired by Blade Runner... Oh, dear.
Gripe over. Let's get to the main event.
So, just in time for Christmas – not that the Blade Runner cognoscenti care about such trivial timing – comes a 5 DVD box set of such sumptuous quality that I am in a fair amount of awe. This surprises me. I didn't think Scott's masterpiece had anything left for me to scrape off its bones. I was utterly and wonderfully wrong. Dreams, even contentious ones with unicorns in them, sometimes do come true. The now sadly defunct genre magazine Cinefantastique, (available online but it just isn't the same), devoted half a double issue (uh, that would be one whole issue, then) to Blade Runner in 1982. This 5 DVD Box set is that terrific series of articles (by 'Future Noir' author Paul M. Sammon) made shiny times five. There is nothing about this box set that doesn't scream quality. Devoted restorers have corrected almost all the glaring faults (known as "beloved mistakes") and produced the best Blade Runner I have ever seen or heard on the small screen. If this slavering review doesn't convince you to buy this astonishing box set, then you cannot possibly be an admirer of Rick's existential rummage for the replicants... I'm going to assume that anyone reading this far is trying to decide if the box set is worth buying (oh, yeah!) having been a fan of the film for some time. If you've never seen Blade Runner, well. I won't be providing a synopsis. I'm here to say "It's all terrific!" as loudly as a site can.
I have decided to review the contents by simply going through the entire thing in order. I am poised at the start of a holiday in Ridleyville. I'll pack an umbrella...
Disc 1 – Blade Runner: The Final Cut (2007)
1 hour, 57 mins
Scott's definitive new version of his science-fiction masterpiece includes added & extended scenes, added lines and new and cleaner special effects not to mention a complete re-mix (oh, joy unconfined)!
I'm in heaven.
This is as close to the perfect Blade Runner as it is humanly (or replicantly) possible to be. The glaring errors have been CG'cly removed (sorry, couldn't resist) and in ways that one can scarcely believe. I mean, whose idea was it to hire Harrison Ford's son to provide the mouth and lip sync performance to the worst out of sync scene of any Hollywood film in living memory (a stroke of inspired and glowing genius)? The Abdul Hassan Snake Man "Look, my friend..." now makes visual sense. The seamless artistry on show here is faultless (which is why it needs several documentaries to show you why it's so faultless).
But Blade Runner aficionados (and you, dear reader, if you are not one but want to know what all the fuss is about) will want to know why this version is so superior. For a start, Blade Runner is a profound film in the best sense of the word. It has depth, is open to multiple interpretations and contains detail to confound one's 20th viewing. I estimated that my viewing of the Final Cut was approximately my 30th but still it rewarded in ways I hadn't dreamt possible. Let's take this slowly. On a standard definition TV, the Final Cut manages to show more detail and more sharpness than any other version. Forget any other version. How about 'than any other movie I have ever seen on a TV'? It has been graded with state of the art grading technology (Scott was able to select areas, mask off others and apply much more specific colour gradation, brightness and shading). The reason I know this is because I've just done the same process with a film I directed with a post production supervisor who really knows his onions. The Final Cut is very much removed from all other versions of the film on offer on other discs. Please see frame grabs below for comparison. It's as if the grading is the one thing that differentiates the Final Cut across the board.
Scott has also availed himself of computer technology unavailable at the time and if this were Star Wars I'd be screaming bloody murder. But Blade Runner receives this technically loving makeover with good grace and merely becomes a better film for the technicians' lavish attentions. You will not find CG this and CG that. You will be rewarded with CG refinements – shadows of cameramen removed, Spinner wires now gone, an obvious stunt woman's face replaced by the actress' own (and bless Joanna Cassidy for reprising Zhora), the snake handler's scene now mysteriously in sync and a nudge here and a nudge there. It's a loving digital push into near perfection while Star Wars and its ilk were digitally gang raped into Lucasian kiddie-friendly submission.
Let's get the points of contention out of the way: Blade Runner (each of the various versions) concerns itself with subtle tweaks of these changes/alterations. Any and all of the versions on offer have a heady cocktail of a presence or an absence of the following:
- Deckard's Voiceover – in, out or vastly different?
- Holden Hospital Scene – in or out?
- Tyrell's thumb on Batty's shoulder (at last removed!)
- Unicorn Dream Sequence – in or out and exactly where does it belong?
- Dancing Girls at Taffy Lewis' club – in or out?
- Added violence – Tyrell's eyes squished out, the nail through Batty's palm and Pris abusing Deckard's nose – in or out?
- The dove flies to heaven – or is it just past the Star Wars stage at Elstree?
- The Ending – a lift door closes or Deckard and Rachael skipping through the sunlight in love driving over the horizon?
- So is Deckard a replicant? You decide.
The Final Cut (well named because it really feels definitive) takes all 9 of those 'decisions' and makes each and every corrected inclusion or exclusion right with the exception of just one. The dove (now flying to heaven amid a suitably Blade Runnery milieu) looks a little too much like CG but then seeing the 'real thing' again makes me think that the real thing looked too much like CG. Those poor mouse-bound artists cannot bloody win.
But where this version of Blade Runner scores most highly is not in the visual nip and tucks it has gratefully received turning out a stunning new look. It's (of course) the completely re-mastered and re-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Los Angeles 2019 reverberates with just the right about of throbbing bass and the surround effects are unobtrusive but hugely effective. It feels like the cotton wool has finally been removed from fans' ears. The sound is, in short, an unqualified triumph. It's 'our' Blade Runner but it's also retro-fitted by people that adored the movie and so lavished attention on it like no mere professional could. I watched it with a fellow fan (the afore mentioned post production supervisor) and he knows more than most on the subject and both of us were still "oooh!"ing and "aaah!"ing every five minutes like giddy schoolboys. The differences stand out because we know the film so well but they don't 'stand out' stand out. They feel integral to the whole.
There's an additional line after Batty kills Tyrell – and I cannot think for the life of me why it was mixed out after the Sneak Previews (more about that version, 'the Workprint', when we get there). Batty says over a wide shot "I'm sorry, Sebastian..." Just those three words after a murder and preceding another adds so much more to Batty's character, makes him even more profound as his ersatz 'human' nature inches him over into radiating genuine pathos. You have to remember, Batty and the replicants are fewer than four years old...
Seriously, the Final Cut of Blade Runner is the fiercest full stop on any makeover of any movie in history. They simply got it all right – and watching it makes all one's Blade Runner "I Wish!" list dreams come true. The Final Cut is what I wished The Director's Cut was at the London Film Festival in 1992. Glad to know that we all got there in the end... Marvelous.
|special features (of disc 1)
1. Introduction: Director, Ridley Scott
A stamp of authorial approval from a simple introduction – In his own words, this is Scott's preferred version of his masterpiece.
2. Commentary: Director, Ridley Scott
Ridley Scott is a northern English visual stylist and so comes across as a no nonsense "I knew what I was doing," chap who lays gentle waste to the Californian ethos of laid back laconic and staunch unionism. The man knows what he wants and feels that after Alien's success, he had earned the right to be able to get what he wanted without time-consuming explanation. Alas, Hollywood did and does not work that way. Explanation is the enemy of invention on a tight budget (essentially). What is refreshing about this commentary is the fact that you are receiving information from the horse's mouth. He dismisses long held beliefs about Blade Runner's post production, ideas that had been swirling around and debated ad nauseum. In short, you get a strong impression from the 'auteur' that this movie was a bastard to shoot but he obviously feels that 25 years on, if we are all still talking about it, the pain was worth it. He has a point. His endearing habit of saying "Right?" at the end of each pronouncement, inviting you to simply agree with him, becomes quite noticeable but it's a Ridley thing and as such, doesn't detract at all.
3. Commentary: Writers, Hampton Francher and David Peoples, Producer Michael Deeley and Production Executive Katherine Haber
This is an edited commentary. Yes, it's clear the participants are reacting to the images presented to them but it's a mash between both pairs of people, given equal screen time. Both pairs come out well with a nod to the writers whose good natured sarcastic attacks and sentimentality lift their contributions above what's usual. In short, Hampton Francher saw Dick's source material as a commercial proposition, wrote as many rewrites as Ridley Scott could handle and then David Peoples came in – as Francher says "pimping for Ridley..." The writers are definitely the comedy double act here while Deeley and Haber share drier reminiscences and have the real air of authority but this is not to say their memories (implanted?) are not sincere and entertaining.
It's a very good mix of commentary participants. Highlights: Dustin Hoffman was approached for Deckard (can you imagine?): Depending whose version you accept but the crew night shot for either 11 or 16 weeks (author Paul Sammon, probably right, says it was between 51 and 55 nights) – either and all are hell on a normal human body and I've only had to do about three night shoots in a row: The truth of the T shirt war after Ridley's interview with The Guardian: The writers pouring acidic scorn on the 'happy ending'. The less cerebral of the two, David Peoples, says to the original writer, Hampton Francher, after the latter waxed rhapsodic about Vangelis' contribution, "Real writers don't need to be supported by the music!" And the reply? "But movies do!"
Halfway through this commentary I got the very specific impression that the commentators were not seeing the Final Cut at all. No mention was made of the superb changes made by the restoration team. But then in the final commentary, some of the FX specialists refer to "Oh, look a new shot!" which meant he must have been seeing the new version and yet another of the FX group talks about what he hopes will happen to the dove release shot – clearly he was not seeing the Final Cut – an odd hic-cough. Was it in various stages of post-restoration that each participant was seeing a different version?
4. Commentary: Visual Futurist Syd Mead, Production Designer Lawrence Paull, Art Director David L. Snyder, Special Photographic Effects Supervisors Doug Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer.
Once again, all these guys could not have been at a single recording session so it's an edit. No matter. Only Douglas Trumbull's voice is familiar to me so forgive me if I do not credit any one of this fine group of technicians and artists with the quoted bon mot. There is a palpable sense of admiration for the movie throughout their memories and they also emphasize how unusual a movie it was and that if one supervisor had known what was involved from the very start, "I would have blown my brains out..." But like most climbed mountains, there's a huge sense of pride once you're at the summit – or in this case, 25 years away from the pain! I know a fair bit about Blade Runner (although Sammon's excellent book on the production, Future Noir, is not completely memorised) but there were a number of wonderful surprises not least the top of the police building (the circular roof the Spinner descends on to) was featured as a main part of the interior mothership of Spielberg's Special Edition of Close Encounters (the review of that one coming to this site as soon as I'm finished in wet downtown L.A.).
Ridley Scott got a great deal of kudos from the art department because he, like the technicians, was a trained draughtsman. He could 'get it' when other directors could not. When they delivered perfect work, Scott rejected it. He wanted those little mistakes in the designs to give them some independent life. Joanna Cassidy's hair dryer had to be tested by Production Executive Katharine Haber (see previous commentary) because Cassidy was nervous of the machine and the effects team wanted to make sure "It wouldn't suck her head off!" And the tale of a hard night's shoot, shooting mattes on 65mm only to have a new, inexperienced lab technician open the film can up in daylight – on Blade Runner! It hardly seems believable. What did the poor schmuck think it was? An extra thick pizza?
When action über producer hired the Blade Runner art department for one of his kinetic romps, he would walk the set shouting "Where's Blade Runner? Where's Blade Runner?" The artists then had to admit that Blade Runner really is Ridley's genius. There are only 90 FX shots in the entire movie (which surprised me) but it just goes to show how good a movie can be when you try and get as much in camera as possible. Made today, the Spinners would be CG and look, well, maybe OK... Another slight piece of contention. Some of the FX guys seemed to think that Rutger Hauer wrote all of his death speech when it is inferred in the documentary that Hauer added the last (still great) line at a script reading. I'll go for the latter.
I'll give Douglas Trumbull the last word on Disc 1 (FX artist and supervisor on 2001, Close Encounters and Blade Runner – I bow and scrape at a CV like that); at the time he realized that he was working on something "important with a big capital 'I'" – and that from the guy who worked on 2001...
No sub-titles on the commentary tracks but that's sort of to be expected, no?
"Wow!" and "Wow!!!" just about covers it (2.40:1 anamorphic picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 Mix). I cannot enthuse enough. Such detail, such clarity, such devotion to a project. It's breathtaking.
NOTE: for completists. The following conventions apply throughout the 5 disc box set (this is to spare you stacks of repeated information):
35mm original film materials: Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
35mm original film materials intended for TV use: Aspect Ratio 4:3
Restoration Documentaries and new Featurettes: Aspect ratio 16:9
Try this lot (and weirdly, these options change per Disc and version of the film).
There are four spoken language tracks, English, German, Spanish and Polish
(logically written in German, Spanish and Polish which threw me for a loop there which is a very bad pun so let's get to the sub-titles):
English/English for hearing impaired, German/German for hearing impaired (or logically 'für hörgesschadigte'),
...and now I'm going to cheat and look it up in English because it's all in the original languages offered. Here you go:
Spanish, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovenian, Swedish and Turkish.