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Blade Runner, The Final Cut (2007)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Warner Home Video
R rating
Commentary by Jon M. Sweeney

Many fans of Harrison Ford know nothing about this, his most intriguing, challenging and disturbing film. The precursor, both visually and conceptually, of a host of other similar films, Blade Runner’s influences are apparent in such movies as The Terminator, Matrix, Men in Black, and even Basic Instinct.

Originally released in 1982, Blade Runner is science fiction and fantasy set in Los Angeles in the year 2019, which, being only two U.S. presidents away, isn’t that far off from today

The film explored cloning and genetic engineering long before we saw how these things were truly possible. Human clones are called “replicants” in Blade Runner, and they are so much like their human models that they are easily mistaken for them. The telltale difference is that replicants are incapable of emotion. They are identified by their eyes, which are examined for signs of empathy while the suspect listens to a brief anecdote that illustrates pain or disappointment in human life—something that recalls, for me, TV depictions of investigators interviewing serial killers.

The plot begins with a group of replicants staging a brief but violent uprising on an outer colony far from earth, and then returning to earth against regulations. At this, the Big Daddy government decides to send “blade runners,” or assassins, to hunt them down and “retire” them. As replicants try their best to blend in with normal humans, the blade runner Deckard—Harrison Ford— tries desperately to find them. It isn’t exactly murder, or even wrong, to kill those who are not quite human—or is it?
This is very much an adult film. The violence is serious, especially toward the end, and there are brief moments of female nudity. But most of all, the entire mood of the film is intended to disturb.

The script was created from a story by the amazing science fiction novelist of the 1950s and 60s, Philip K. Dick. The Library of America has just begun reissuing Dick’s novels in their gorgeous and durable black dust-jacketed editions. Go and read them, and see how prescient this novelist was. Or, simply watch this film again, or for the first time. The issues of genetic engineering, what makes us human, the meaning of life, and the self-alienation so easily felt in postmodern society are all present here.

In this, the 25th year since Blade Runner’s release, director Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator) has created a new director’s cut of the film and released it to very select theaters across the U.S. Back in the summer of 1982, the big hit was Steven Spielberg’s E.T., another film about alien life, except a whole lot cuter.

I was able to view Blade Runner, The Final Cut in Manhattan’s enormous Ziegfeld Theater, in a room that looked like the old, lavish days of the Ziegfeld Follies. There, Blade Runner appeared wilder than ever before. The incessant rain and dreariness of the Los Angeles sky convey a disdain for life, whether human or replicant. The music, too, is dreary, composed by Vangelis, the artist who won the Academy Award for the soundtrack to Chariots of Fire the year before Blade Runner. There’s little hope in this movie, but the implications and questions that it prods are endless, and relevant.

Ridley Scott’s vision of the future appears to include diverse religions; Hare Krishnas and Orthodox Jews are visible in crowd scenes at night in rainy Los Angeles. At one point in the film, a replicant sarcastically says to Deckard, “I think, therefore I am!” Descartes’ mantra is intended to provoke the discussion, or beg the question, “Is deduction what makes us most human?” Translated into the context of spiritual conversation, this might better be, “Is our ability to empathize with our fellow humans the thing that defines us?”

If you are unable to see this Final Cut on the big screen, you can at least buy it in DVD or Blu-ray when it’s released this December. My only real complaint, seeing this film again after so many years, is that most of the actors in it are what we’d probably call B actors who have, since 1982, populated a lot of B movies—such as Tango and Cash, Ace Ventura Pet Detective, among others. But their performances don’t seem poor, so much as they seem bizarre, and I’m sure that is exactly what Ridley Scott had in mind. Once you see it, you may find yourself debating with friends, just as the men were in the men’s room at the Ziegfeld afterwards, “Was Deckard himself human or replicant? How would we know the difference?”

Copyright @ 2007 Jon M. Sweeney


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