I know that every reader of this blog, upon reading my incredibly insightful and brilliant review of Blade Runner, immediately wanted to run out and watch it, even if she's already seen it, because I'm just that good. "But Carl Eusebius" I hear you asking, "there are lots of versions of Blade Runner. Which one should I watch?"
Well, if you're truly committed to art, as I am, you'll watch all of them for the sake of comparison. But since I know none of you can aspire to my own greatness, I'll help you choose the best version, the one that is truly one of the greatest films of our time.
Because major film studios were once even more convinced we're all morons, Blade Runner
exists in three versions. (Actually there are more, but most people only have easy access to three.) The first is the version released
to theatres in 1982. It adds completely unnecessary narration* to tell us things we don't need to know--things the film
establishes visually or through context or dialogue, things we don't
care to know because they aren't important, and things the film
leaves ambiguous--but apparently we gibbering baboons in the audience
need to have everything spelled out for us. Needless to say, this version removes
several indicators that Deckard is a replicant. Its worst sin of all is
replacing the original ambiguous ending with a bullshit "happy" ending that's as
tacked on as the flamboyantly gay character in every sitcom made in the '90s.
original "Director's Cut" of Blade Runner, released in 1992, is the primary impetus for
the current plague of "director's cuts" for films that appear to have
been directed by computers and exist solely as an excuse to get fans to buy two versions on DVD. In Blade Runner this wasn't the case, since there were significant differences between the theatrical version and director Ridley Scott's original vision. Fan edits--composed of footage available from foreign and television versions and
from the bootlegged "workprint" version--had attempted to restore Scott's original vision for a decade, and so it was finally decided to undertake an "official" restoration of Scott's Blade Runner. This version isn't a
director's cut in the strictest sense, as Scott was busy with other
projects and at the time didn't have time to supervise the cut directly.
Instead, he sent notes to the people in charge of it explaining what he'd meant to do ten years ago. This version
removes the godawful voice-over and restores both the original ending and the "unicorn"
sequence that implies Deckard is a replicant. This version is the most
ambiguous, partly because Scott, probably working from memory, missed a
number of small changes, and partly because Scott's busyness prevented
him from fucking up his own film.
The "Final Cut",
released in 2007, was under Ridley Scott's control, is generally
considered his true director's cut, and is such a horrible abomination of humankind that it had me praying for death by the time it was over. It clarifies a number of murky areas
in earlier versions, primarily by correcting errors. For instance,
in every previous cut, Deckard's boss says there were originally six replicants, with one being
killed before they reached Earth. Yet only four replicants are dealt
with in the film, creating a "missing replicant" that was the subject of
fan discussion for 25 years. (The script originally called for five
replicants in the movie, but budget constraints forced the producers to
cut one.) Now he says two were killed, removing the missing replicant.
Other continuity and special effects issues are cleared up, which is all
well and good...but then Scott goes on to show that he's lost some
trust in his audience over the years.
Old Ridley he doesn't think we can, like, figure stuff out with clues provided by the film, but must have everything clearly spelled out for us. For instance, villain Roy Batty and a
human companion ride the elevator up to the top floor of a massive
office building, where they meet with a man that Batty eventually murders.
Going back down the elevator, Batty is alone. Now because my brain isn't
made of Roquefort cheese, I sussed out the fate of Batty's companion,
but Scott has to add a line to make sure we "get" that Batty killed the
The most egregious change is what was done to the sequence implying
Deckard is a replicant. In the "Final Cut", the implication is much
stronger, reflecting Old Ridley's utterly mistaken and ludicrous
belief that Deckard is a replicant. While the film stops short of having a flashing sign over Deckard's head announcing that he isn't human (I expect Scott's associates talked him out of adding this sign), it just barely stops short of such a clumsy device.
So which cut is the one to watch? If you've been paying attention, you know the answer: The Director's Cut. That is, the 1992 cut-that-isn't-a-director's-cut-but-is-called-director's-cut, not the 2007 cut-that-is-a-director's-cut-but-is-called-final-cut. The reason for this is simple: The 1992 version is the cut that most resembles what Young Ridley wanted to do. This is the Ridley Scott of Alien, not the Ridley Scott of Prometheus. In 1992, only 10 years after the release of Blade Runner, Scott sent the editors a list of things that he remembered he wanted to do with the film but were denied him for one reason or another. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't even watch the film again but relied entirely on his memory of what rankled him about studio meddling. That's why we get a great film. That's where there's ambiguity, because Young Ridley could be ambiguous. Ridley Scott wasn't quite so Old in 1992. He still remembered Young Ridley, and he was really trying to restore Young Ridley's film as best he could. In 2007, he was truly Old Ridley. Not 10 years later, but 25 years. This was the man who gave us Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. He didn't know who Young Ridley was, and wouldn't have cared if he had. Instead, he painstakingly went through Young Ridley's film and fixed it. He removed the ambiguity. Deckard is now clearly a replicant. He even changes Rutger Hauer's amazing delivery of the line "I want more life, father!" Or is it "fucker"? In the Director's Cut, it's unclear, and every time I watch it I hear it differently. This reflects Batty's conflicting relationship with his father and, really, the confusing relationship every son has with his father.
But Old Ridley doesn't like ambiguity. Old Ridley has to spell it out for us. So Old Ridley substitutes a take in which Hauer clearly says "father", so that we cretins in the audience won't have our puzzlers start a-hurtin'.
Ridley Scott, your Final Cut of Blade Runner is bad and you should feel bad.
* There is a persistent legend that Harrison Ford, openly against the narration, intentionally tanked it during recording because he was so unhappy with it. Ford denies this, claiming he gave it his best and it sounds terrible in the movie because, well, it was terrible. I hate to gainsay Ford, and his explanation is a good one (because the narration truly is terrible), but man, his reading of it is horrendous.