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Blade Runner (1982,USA)

27/06/2011

Director: Ridley Scott        Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer

Not content with setting a new standard for science fiction cinema with 1979’s Alien, Ridley Scott went on to do it again three years later with Blade Runner, a neon-noir, cyberpunk affair based on a novel by Philip K. Dick which paints a bleak picture for the not too distant future of mankind. Brutalised by studio interference when it was initially released resulting in an explain-it-as-you-go voice over and crappy Hollywood ending it has reappeared over the years in several versions, most recently with the Scott supervised “Final Cut” in 2007, the only version the director endorses as a genuine Director’s Cut, despite earlier versions of the film being released under this banner.

Set in 2019 in Los Angeles we are introduced to Deckard (Ford) in the sprawling urban decay of a virtually unrecognisable, smog bound LA. Deckard is a Blade Runner, a specialist in “retiring” rogue Replicants – biomechanical androids bred into slavery, exploited as workers in off world colonies and outlawed on Earth due to their propensity for killing people. When six of the latest Nexus 6 Replicants pitch up in LA, Deckard is brought out of retirement to track down and eliminate the rogue ‘droids.

Scott marries his gloriously realised cyberpunk universe with the sensibilities of gumshoe noir as Deckard tracks down his prey, following the clues the Replicants have left behind and slowly but surely working his way through the group to their leader, Roy (Hauer). In the tradition of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, Deckard spends as much time nursing a bruised jaw and a shot of bourbon as he does on the case and has to deal with the distraction of femme fatale Rachel (Young), an employee of the Tyrell Corporation, designers of the Replicants, who brings an element to the investigation that Deckard hadn’t counted on. Ford certainly looks the part of the slightly dishevelled, quietly focused Deckard, scouring the filthy streets of LA in his equally grubby brown raincoat looking every inch the world weary detective.

The same attention to detail has been observed in the production design here as it was in Alien. A lot of effort has been put into the tiniest detail, even the stuff that was obviously never going to make it onto the screen, in order to create a convincing and complete representation of a cyberpunk LA. Specific credit is given to comic book artist Moebius for providing inspiration for the designs on show (he was asked to work on the film but declined to work on the superb Les Maitres Du Temps instead) but personally I see a lot of similarities between this and the architecture and vehicles of Mega City One from the Judge Dredd comics. Whatever the influences, Scott’s vision of 21st century Los Angeles is a bleak one, with overcrowding, heavy pollution lit by the plumes of flame from oil refineries and fortress like skyscrapers blinking in the smog. It’s entirely convincing and sets the tone perfectly. Some of the grander effects shots are really quite spectacular, especially when you remember this is pre CGI cinema so all of the work is done with matt paintings and models. For the 2007 cut, Scott went back to original archive prints and scanned them at high resolution meaning this is not only the most definitive cut of the film but the best looking. Although I was watching the DVD version (which looked amazing anyway) I have seen this in HD and it is very beautiful indeed.

In this remastered version, time has been taken to neaten up some of the inconsistencies and inadequacies of the prior versions of the film. This is most notable during one of the “retirement” scenes where one of the Replicants is blasted through plate glass windows by Deckard’s hand cannon. In previous versions it was quite clearly the actor’s stunt double who went for a tumble through the splintering glass but with some computer trickery they have digitally (and seamlessly) replaced the stunt double’s face with that of the actor. It’s a neat touch, especially in a scene that is so beautifully shot, the splinters of glass reflecting and refracting the harsh neon backdrop. It must be nice to be able to return to a piece of work you love and tweak the tiny little things that have bugged you about it. You get the sense that there have been more touch up jobs like this elsewhere, but without knowing about them you will probably never notice.

Thematically it’s just as dark as it’s futuristic back drop. Questioning the morality of creating Replicants as slaves and the nature of life itself it doesn’t assume the Replicants are evil. Quite the contrary in fact. Their underdeveloped emotions result in childlike tantrums and immature responses to the world. The humans that created them and then abandoned them to fend for themselves are as much to blame, if not more so, as they are for the carnage they cause. Even the euphemistic term “retiring” used to describe the killing of a Replicant suggests the discomfort the humans have with the notion that they have created living beings rather than mere machines, designed to do their bidding.

It really is an amazing film and a massively influential one, establishing a new vision of the future and cementing the cyberpunk concept that would be developed shortly afterwards by the likes of William Gibson. This definitive cut is a joy to behold and lives up to its name – the box set I have contains a total of five versions of the film, two of which I have seen before and the other two I may well watch out of curiosity but I doubt either will provide any more insight or entertainment than this most recent update. It stands as a genuine science fiction classic as well as an example of how to create an immersive and complete viewing experience and as such should be seen by everyone.

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