About the last line of Blade Runner…

Blade Runner is one of those films that divides people. Sarah falls into the "it's a masterpiece" camp. But, er, about the last line of The Final Cut...

Harrison Ford in Blade Runner

Watching Blade Runner: The Final Cut on Blu-ray, on a 50″ HDTV, is one hell of an experience. It’s a shockingly well-made film, particularly by modern standards where anyone who fancies themselves a director can pick up a Handicam and a cheap editing suite and sell their home movies to a distributor. There are a lot of films that don’t merit being upscaled onto a high-definition format, but, wow, Blade Runner really makes the most of it. I just have one niggle about it, which is really rather ungracious of me.

Without going on for too long about the ins and outs of the various releases of the movie, because most people know the whole story with Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott and test screenings and all the rest of it, suffice it to say that there have now been a lot of different cuts of this movie. According to that oh-so-accurate source of movie information, Wikipedia, there have been seven different versions shown to audiences. Yet The Final Cut is supposed to be THE edition, the fully sanctioned, everyone-involved-wants-this-one, ultimate version of the film, never to be bettered. So… why is the last line so awkward and amateurish?

In case you’ve not seen it recently, the final line in Blade Runner is a re-run of the line “It’s a shame she won’t live – but then again, who does?” as Deckard discovers a paper unicorn and the crushing realisation that he, too, is a replicant (but has been programmed to believe he is human) sets in. But, damn it all to hell, that line doesn’t need to be there! We heard it the first time! It wasn’t long ago! The unicorn is enough – it makes it clear that Deckard’s dreams aren’t his own, but have instead been programmed. Okay, in a post-Fight Club world, that’s not as huge a twist as it might otherwise have been, because modern audiences, weened on the work of M. Night Shyamalan, can spot it coming a mile off. But that realisation still works as an ending; it’s still great, and it’s only marred by that damn voice-over.

Lesser films than Blade Runner use that technique all the time. With most modern horror movies, or sci-fi movies, or any film where there’s a twist and you might need to recall information you were given earlier in order to process new information, you can still go out to the bathroom or for more popcorn without fear – the film will handily give you a flashback scene to explain everything when the time comes anyway. These are particularly irksome when the flashback is to something that literally just happened, mere minutes previously, but they’re always at least mildly irritating, because they work on the assumption that the audience can’t work anything out for themselves. Films need to credit their audiences with some modicum of intelligence; a twist or a conclusion is always much more satisfying when you’ve done some of the work for yourself.

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In films that aren’t very good, this lazy technique of reminding us what went before isn’t so annoying, because it means you can nap when it gets overly boring. But in Blade Runner, when the film has been cut and recut and argued over and meticulously planned and shot beautifully and edited perfectly, that line is painful. Painful. It ruins that final, stomach-dropping moment for me, because I’m distracted from it by the random voice-over. I want a version where Deckard finds the unicorn and there’s just… silence. A silent fade-out would be perfect. I know, I’m asking for version 8 of a film that already has more cuts than any film really needs, and this ending is a million times better than the ending on the original theatrical cut, but… I’m part of the instant gratification generation, and I’m demanding. I don’t want laziness in my Blade Runner.

And while I’m at it, if everyone else could just knock it off too, that’d be grand. Ta.