Blade Runner’s 25-Year Shoot Is Over

Lifelong Blade Runner devotee Martin on what's new in The Final Cut...

Look! No strings!

How much dedication can be demanded of a Geek in the cause of DoG? John Moore and I refused invitations to the inaugural digital press-screening of the Blade Runner restoration in order to attend the first Den Of Geek get-together last Thursday.

We toyed with a number of cowardly ideas at first, such as escaping the restaurant to go outside for a two-and-a-half-hour ‘smoke’ and various technical solutions straight out of Weird Science, but we did the decent thing in the end and had an excellent evening, finally getting to meet so many of the UK-based Geeks after all the emails and deadline rage, and we wouldn’t have missed it even for an all-clear on a Voigt-Kampff.

By way of compensation, the tin-edition of Blade Runner: The Final Cut landed on my desk this morning, complete with credit-card sized hologram of Deckard and an annoying dent in the metalwork. Finally, after 25 years, Ridley Scott can simply tell the following to anybody who bothers him any more about the missing pieces of his seminal science-fiction masterpiece: fuck off.

You’ve done a man’s job, Sir Ridley, and BR is as close to the definitive ‘good science-fiction film’ envisaged by Kubrick and Clarke for 2001 as it will ever get. And that’s pretty close.

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Doubtless someone else with more time will trawl through the voluminous extras on the five-disc set and write a review of BR: TFC special edition for Den Of Geek; as I don’t immediately have 632 minutes to spare in that cause, I will have to forego that honour or at least wait until I have waded through the whole gorgeously-packaged collection myself. For now I have just finished watching the Final Cut itself, the first of a brain-boggling five versions of Blade Runner packaged in this remarkable edition.

It’s not for me to break, Uther-like, the truce between Simon Brew and I and start saying that Blade Runner is a contemporary classic of science-fiction and film-noir, nor to admire its merits as a film, but I am at least able to report on the rudiments of what has changed in Final Cut – and nearly all the changes are for the better.

Firstly, and most importantly, the appallingly mismatched stunt-woman in Joanna Cassidy’s death scene has been digitally rewritten, with a seamless imposition of Cassidy’s CG face in certain shots, and a straight-forward re-shoot of the impressively-preserved actress (who can still fit into the revealing little plastic number after 27 years) in others. The genius stroke of the poignant Vangelis motif finally brings home the tragedy of Zhora’s brutal killing without you having to wonder why Pam Grier seems to have wandered into shot off the set of Friday Foster.

That said, Scott has left one or two hidden-face shots of the hopeless stunt double intact, complete with mad wig and lack of physical match for Cassidy’s body type, but it’s now in the acceptable range for a pre-CGI film, and on the whole the re-shoot/re-imagining of the death scene is an amazingly successful technical achievement.

The next most-absurd editing glitch – the mismatched dialogue in Deckard’s interrogation of Abdul Ben-Hassar- has been sensibly and seamlessly solved by having Harrison Ford’s son Benjamin re-synch the missing lines, avoiding the kind of vocal fiasco that occurred in the special edition of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, when a 70-something Clint Eastwood failed to even approximate his thirty-something voice in a much-belated reloop of soundless scenes restored to Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western (the only accurate re-loop in that whole edition was by the voice actor standing in for the late Lee Van Cleef).

Some very violent footage has been restored to Roy Batty’s patricidal head-crushing of Eldon Tyrell, with the replicant’s thumbs shown burrowing bloodily into a prosthetic Joe Turkel’s eye-sockets. Also, Hauer demands of Turkel ‘I want more life – Father!’, rather than using the word ‘fucker’, which was only ever before substituted in pre-watershed TV versions. This is a curious choice, and it’s hard to say what the original dialogue really was, despite the extreme close-up on Batty.

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Pris’s sexualised attack on Deckard has been augmented with a little nasal violence too, and a grisly prosthetic shot of the floorboard-nail poking through Roy Batty’s hand has been added to the ‘auto-crucifixion’ scene at the film’s finale. When Batty expires after saving Deckard’s life, having made an impromptu sci-fi speech now regarded as second only to Klaatu’s final words to Earth in The Day The Earth Stood Still, the dove flies away to a (presumably original) matte painting that matches the scene, rather than the grey and jarring ‘factory roof’ of all previous versions.

Those bloody wires have been digitally painted out of the Spinner shots, too, hurray! Only took twenty-five years.

A useful description of the prowess of Leon has been restored to the ‘briefing’ scene with Bryant and Deckard, and the not-that-naughty-anymore tube dancers outside Taffy Lewis’s sleazy nightclub have finally emerged from decades of obscurity, opening the whole hunting-Zhora section.

The soundtrack is now a masterpiece of clarity and balance, though with perhaps a few too-many Richard Lester-style chatter-frills added for atmosphere. However that’s the niggardly complaint of a pedant and Blade Runner obsessive who has burned every frame and waveform of the film into his DNA for 25 years; if I was watching it fresh, I sense these subtle atmospheric enhancements would seem very fitting.

Previously unheard sections of the Vangelis score occasionally emerge, with a Beauborg-style synth disharmony placed at the scene where Rachel approaches a wounded Deckard in his bathroom after having shot Leon to save his life – literally a note of artificiality that reinforces the popular notion that Deckard himself is a replicant.

The print has far more shadow-detail than any previous version, though I am not entirely convinced that it was necessary to add the lightning bolt and the industrial red horizon to the opening ‘Hades’ shots that sweep over San Angeles at the start of Blade Runner.

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Final Cut is no ‘ring-around-the-deathstar’ travesty. The film was laboured over initially with obsessive detail, and didn’t need a whole lot of tinkering to perfect. So while there are various other tweaks and twiddles, none detract from the central power of Philip K. Dick’s luminescent ideas, brought almost impossibly to life by Scott, Jordan Cronenweth, Vangelis, Douglas Trumbull and the numerous other creative geniuses behind one of the most influential films – in any genre – of the last thirty years.

Martin writes his (mostly) sci-fi column every Friday at Den Of Geek.