It’s difficult not to watch this latest version of Blade Runner with a deep and abiding feeling of nostalgia. Not for a time when it was possible to make a big budget visionary sci-fi like this within the Hollywood system (the film, after all, was for a long time one of the most notorious victims of studio meddling), not even for when Ridley Scott seemed like he might be an interesting director, rather than just another glossy craftsman and borderline hack (despite the good reviews, I’m not of the opinion that American Gangster brings anything new to the table).
No, what I was left with was total bafflement as to what the hell happened to Harrison Ford. Remember when he was a star, when he was interesting? Remember when he was actually cool? It’s been so long that I’d forgotten myself. Yes, he was always laconic, but it’s been a good twenty years since I’ve been convinced that he was actually awake onscreen, let alone sold on the notion of him as the President of the United States or a homicidal husband or simply anything resembling a living, breathing human being.
Of course, Ford was famously never a fan of Blade Runner (or of Ridley Scott, for that matter). That just goes to show why actors should not necessarily be listened to unless someone else is supplying the dialogue. But whether or not they were his inspiration or Scott’s, the little offbeat touches he brings to his performance as Deckard suggest an actor who’s still paying attention, rather than merely paying the bills.
But what of the film itself? Of course, Blade Runner’s classic status is assured, and barely worth quibbling with now. Like it or not, it’s seminal, massively influential. It hardly seems fair to blame it for the legion of UK hack directors that it seemed to single-handedly inspire (I’m looking at you, Paul W S Anderson). So whilst I’m tempted to, I won’t.
And despite the accusations of style over substance, it has a brain, which is normally the first thing that most Philip K. Dick adaptations toss out (the conundrum of why Hollywood keeps adapting his idea-driven stories when they’re usually scared of ideas that can’t be expressed in a single syllable consistently baffles me). But do we really need another version? Or is this going to be some Lucas-esque CGI evisceration of something that worked perfectly well in the first place?
Many of the changes here are minor, and largely invisible. Even the reported tweaks that had me worried before going in (the CG doctoring of Zhora’s ‘retirement’, for instance) were seamless. I’ll admit to reservations about some of the new dialogue looping that’s been done, but it’s not a major flaw. Slightly anal control-freakery perhaps, but we’re not talking Greedo shooting first.
By and large, this is simply a buffed-up version of the same film, a lovingly restored classic. When George Lucas tells you that the Star Wars special editions were the way he always intended the films to be, the only possible answer is “Well, George, if you’re right, then I’m glad I’m wrong.” But the changes here are serving the film, not the maniacal ego of someone who’s lost touch with reality. When Ridley Scott says this is the definitive Final Cut, I’m inclined to believe him.
But Harrison. Oh, Harrison. Treasure the memories this release conjures up of him, before they’re lost (like tears in rain). At least this restoration ensures we’ll always have Blade Runner to remind us of what he once was, rather than the replicant he became.
Martin lists some of the changes in Blade Runner: The Final Cut in detail in his column this week.