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The Tyrell motto: "More human than human"

November 30, 2007 | Page 9

Blade Runner: The Final Cut, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer. Visit bladerunnerthemovie.warnerbros.com for local screenings.

NICOLE COLSON looks at a new release of science fiction classic Blade Runner.

SCIENCE FICTION fans across the country are hoping Santa brings them one present this holiday season: the highly anticipated DVD release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut.

The Final Cut marks the 25th anniversary of the classic film directed by Ridley Scott, which helped set the standard for the science fiction film genre. Previous releases--there have been at least four other versions of the film--were either at odds with Scott's original vision or made incomplete updates.

This new release promises to, finally, give fans the complete film. Set in the Los Angeles of 2019, the movie tells the story of Deckard (Harrison Ford, then fresh from Raiders of the Lost Ark)--an ex-"Blade Runner" forced out of retirement to hunt down a group of escaped Nexus 6 replicants led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).

Created by the Tyrell Corporation, the Nexus 6 "models" are genetically engineered to be virtually identical to humans and to perform slave labor off of Earth. Stronger and more agile than ordinary humans, replicants are illegal on Earth. It is the job of Blade Runners to hunt down escaped replicants and summarily kill them--a process euphemistically referred to as "retirement."

As the movie opens, a groups of replicants have mutinied and returned to Earth, hoping to find their creator in a desperate bid to prolong their lives, which end after four years. Loosely based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner remains one of the most fully realized science fiction universes put on screen.

The dystopic LA of Blade Runner is a visual achievement, inspired by Scott's experiences in New York City and Hong Kong. Scott's vision of a future LA is of crumbling buildings that spit fire, alongside towering corporate pyramids.

The environment is in decay, and perpetual night and rain are punctuated only by enormous monuments to consumerism--giant video screens advertising Coca Cola, or blimps bleating announcements for off-world colonies that promise "a golden land of opportunity and adventure."

Combining elements of film noir and classic science fiction, the story that Scott created in Blade Runner receives a compelling update in The Final Cut. Two changes, which were included in a 1992 Director's Cut edition, are especially important: Scott has dropped the 1982 film's notoriously stupid, tacked-on "happy ending" and has eliminated a truly awful voice-over narration by Ford.

Both the ending and the voice-over were insisted on prior to the original's release by studio executives who were alarmed by negative audience reactions to the bleak original ending. With the film $7 million over budget, the producers took control and demanded Scott make the changes.

Ford later explained that he did a such a lackluster job with the voice-over narration because he despised it and thought it would ultimately be rejected. But he didn't count on the stupidity of movie industry executives, who insisted it stay. Shots of rolling hillsides were borrowed from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and spliced to create the out-of-place happy ending.

Scott reluctantly agreed to the changes, but as he explained to the New York Times, "I went along with the idea that we had to do certain things to get audiences interested. I later realized that once I adopted that line, I was selling my soul to the devil, inch by inch drifting from my original conception."

The changes didn't work. The film bombed at the box office, but went on to became a cult favorite. In 1990, when Warner Brothers briefly allowed an early "workprint" version of the film to be screened, the response was overwhelming--prompting the studio to release Blade Runner: The Director's Cut in 1992 that improved on the original but didn't fully restore Scott's vision.

Scott's original conception, as The Final Cut makes clear, is darker. In addition to restoring scenes, fixing continuity errors and improving some special effects, Scott has finally fully restored a dream sequence--partly present in The Director's Cut--that raises questions about the nature of Deckard's own humanity and whether he himself may be a replicant.

That tension improves the film, giving an added weight to the examination of the meaning of identity and humanity in a world of artificiality and hyper-capitalism. As Tyrell brags to Deckard, "Commerce is our goal here...More human than human is our motto." But what does it mean to be "human"?

Replicants are supposed to lack empathy, and yet Roy is far more eloquent in his rage, grief and fear than Deckard--an updated Frankenstein's monster who paraphrases the poet William Blake even as he fights for his life. Deckard, meanwhile, like other noir "heroes," doesn't seem to care about the morality of the job--hunting down and executing escaped slaves--even though it is clearly taking a physical and mental toll.

This tension adds an even sharper edge of desperation to the climactic physical confrontation between Deckard and Roy.

So, get your holiday lists ready: Blade Runner: The Final Cut is slated for release in December as a two-, four- or--for the completist--five-disc DVD set (that includes at least five full versions of the film plus dozens of extras). More importantly, The Final Cut is playing in select theaters across the country. Go see it on the big screen while you can.

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