Released twenty-five years and five versions after the original theatrical run, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: The Final Cut still feels almost incomplete to me somehow, as if it’s still missing something essential — but is that simply me imposing my knowledge of the filmmaker and the number of times he’s tweaked the film onto it? It’s difficult to know for certain. We’ve been told so many times that the film isn’t “done” that it’s almost hard to accept Scott’s assertion that this time, the movie is exactly what he’d intended from the start.
(Please note that unlike most of my reviews, the Spoiler Light is flashing now — but really, the movie’s been out for twenty-seven years, so it’s hard to imagine I’m really going to spoil anything at this point. Still, you’ve been warned.)
One of the most significant alterations from the original version, of course, is the excision of Harrison Ford‘s atrocious narration (forced into the movie because the studio was afraid audience’s wouldn’t understand it), which undoubtedly improves the movie. As bad as that narration was, however, I do think that without it, we get little insight into the character of professional “blade runner” Rick Deckard. Ford plays Deckard as very reserved. The emotion we see from him most frequently and strongly, actually, is fear: Deckard gets thrashed regularly by the far faster and stronger replicants.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982/2007)
(out of a possible five)
A case could be made for saying Deckard is not, in fact, the protagonist of Blade Runner at all; rather, Roy Batty (the excellent Rutger Hauer) is. This story isn’t Deckard’s, but Roy’s. Roy is the one who wants something, the one who’s actively trying to attain a goal which means something to him personally: he wants a longer life for him and his “family.” Deckard doesn’t want anything, except perhaps for Rachael; even his hunt for the replicants is a job he’s ordered to do rather than something meaningful to him. (Well, perhaps the hunt is meaningful, but we can’t tell because Scott doesn’t let us inside Deckard’s head at all.) Deckard, while having far more screen time, acts much more as an antagonist for Roy than as the protagonist himself: Deckard hunts down and murders Roy’s friends and keeps him from accomplishing his goal. Roy, obsessed with what it means to be “good,” experiences growth and some acceptance of his fate, while Deckard doesn’t grow or change at all. Deckard’s less a character than a plot contrivance.
And all of that could well be why Scott removed the narration. Given only the brilliant visuals, the line between human and replicant becomes much, much fuzzier, which was surely one of Scott’s original intentions. The humans are almost entirely emotion-free, with the exception of poor Sebastian (William Sanderson), whose medical condition equates him much more strongly with the replicants, anyway. The replicants — Roy especially — act far more human than any of the humans in Blade Runner ever do.
Sean Young‘s performance as Rachael — a woman who finds out her entire life, all of her memories, were a complete lie — was subtle and done well; the problem, however, was that Young was too subtle in her mannerisms. Emotion played on her face and hinted at the turmoil in her head, but she’s never given a scene where she can let that emotion truly show — and given that Deckard, with whom she shares the most scenes, is equally repressed… that combination doesn’t exactly make for emotional fireworks. Or, honestly, much connection with the audience. Even the one scene which generated any sort of interpersonal friction felt…well, mechanical.
Hauer’s performance as Roy, on the other hand, is filled with barely in-check danger and a sort of mad glee at what he’s capable of — while Roy wants extended life, he surely does not want to be human. He and his fellow replicants are better than human and know it. Hauer’s Roy sparkles with life: his final scene with Ford, his rooftop monologue, incites far more of an emotion in the audience than any other scene in the movie. Given my theory that Roy is the real protagonist of Blade Runner, I’d have liked to have seen Hauer in the movie far more than he actually was.
Precious little in this movie indicates it was made almost thirty years ago. Apart from some of the imagined technology and the awful synthesizer-overload Vangelis score, Blade Runner holds up amazingly well. The art direction and special effects — both of which were nominated for Oscars in 1983 — were and are stunning to behold. The visual effects in this 2007 release were cleaned up but not substantially altered: Scott could have gone the George Lucas route and redone many of the effects digitally, but these effects truly didn’t need to be redone, and I’m glad Scott resisted the temptation. Few movies can truly be said to be “ahead of their time,” but Blade Runner damn sure was. I have no statistics to back up this claim, but I’d wager Blade Runner has influenced the look and feel of more movies since its release than almost any other film during that time.
 And no, by the way, I don’t buy into the theory that Deckard himself is a replicant — while we’re given one substantial clue that indeed he is, Deckard-as-replicant makes almost no sense to me in the larger context of the story. Yes, I know that Ridley Scott himself has said Deckard’s a replicant, but that doesn’t mean I believe him.