Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Side By Side: BLADE RUNNER - From Workprint to Final Cut

Welcome to Side By Side, a segment where we take a look at two comparable movies, be it remakes/reboots, sequels, reimagenings, or, in the case of today's subject, different versions of the same movie. Today, I'll be following up on my previous post about Blade Runner, which was more of a review, with this overview and thoughts on the many different cuts of this sci-fi classic.

Blade Runner is one of those unique specimen, along with films like Watchmen, Brazil, and Alexander, to not only have an alternate cut, but to have multiple. Depending on how you're counting, Blade Runner has as many as seven cuts that have been shown at various times, though a few of these have rarely ever been seen, such as the version shown in San Diego previews in 1982. For the 2007 Ultimate Collection, released to coincide with Blade Runner: The Final Cut, five distinct versions of the movie are included, those being the original 1982 Theatrical Cut, the International Theatrical Cut, a Workprint from early test screenings, the 1992 Director's Cut, and the 2007 Final Cut. For the purposes of this comparison, we'll be mostly touching on the Theatrical, Workprint, Director's, and Final Cuts. The International Cut is similar enough to the U.S. Theatrical Cut that it's differences are negligible, and show up elsewhere.

As I stated in my initial Why Haven't I Seen That segment, the first version I watched was the Theatrical Cut, which was on Netflix. One of the first things that really rears its head in this cut (after the beautiful opening sequence) is the narration provided by Harrison Ford. Famously, director, Ridley Scott, and Ford both hated the narration, something mandated by the studio, as they thought that audiences would be confused. The narrations, especially the early ones, are incredibly jarring, though they do eventually become a bit more naturalistic as time went on. The film isn't permeated in them, fortunately, and they do have their charm. It's probably the most blatant piece of classic film noir in the film, one that most versions would excise completely. The only other time we'd see narration in one of the other three cuts was in the Workprint, the early version shown for test screeners. However, the Workprint only had one instance of narration, at the very end just after the death of Roy Batty. More on that scene later, and the scene that precedes it, later, but the narration itself work surprisingly well, It's not featured at all in the Theatrical Version, despite that version being filled with other narration, and is fairly poignant, and unlike the Theatrical narration, isn't overly hammy or melodramatic.

The Workprint itself is fairly interesting as an artifact, but minus the aformentioned narration at the end, there isn't much else that the Workprint does that isn't done better in another version. The film itself, as one would expect, looks fairly grainy. The introduction to the Workprint states that it's been restored basically as much as humanly possible, but it's still a somewhat dirty picture. Certain lines from later cuts are missing, such as the police chief's line "I need the old Blade Runner. I need your magic," The Workprint also features no opening credits, no ending credits, and probably most jarring of all, doesn't even have a completed score. The apartment fight between Deckard and Batty uses temp music taken from Planet of the Apes, while the famous final monologue given by Batty, accompanied by the beautiful subtle score in the background in other cuts, is without music entirely. The movie doesn't even end with the famous Blade Runner theme that the other cuts end with. For all intents in purposes, the Workprint, while historically interesting, is probably the worst of the four cuts, which is sorta to be expected given that it's technically an incomplete product.

The 1992 Director's Cut is where things start getting interesting. After the Workprint was uncovered in 1990 and screened as an unofficial "director's cut", Ridley Scott convinced the studio to properly make a Director's Cut with his involvement, at least partially. Scott was, at the time, busy with another film, so most of his input was via notes he gave to his editor. From those notes, the Director's Cut did a few key things. First, it completely removed any and all narration, both the Workprint's sole narration and the Theatrical Cut's litany of narration, creating a more subtle movie. Second, it removed the studio mandated "happy ending" from the theatrical version, the one part of the theatrical version I haven't mentioned yet. It's a scene that feels very awkward where it is, and it's sunshine, the sappy nature of the narration, and the footage (reused from left over helicopter shots from the Shining) just didn't work int he context of the cyberpunk neo-noir. In the Director's Cut, the movie ends at the elevator door closing, leaving the futures of Deckard and Racheal uncertain, but compellingly so.

The last major change is probably the most important one, that being the restoration, at least in part, of the original Unicorn dream sequence that Scott had always wanted to include. The scene in it's entirety would eventually be fully restored in the later Final Cut. This is easily the most fascinating difference because it allows us to properly ask one of the most interesting questions: Is Rick Deckard a replicant himself? As people who've seen the movie know, when Deckard finds Graff's oragami unicorn that Graff left for Deckard to find, it implies that Graff somehow knows about Deckard's Unicorn dream, implying that Deckard's memories and thought, like Racheals, may be fakes implanted so that Deckard thinks he's human. Does that mean that Deckard is for sure a replicant? Not exactly, but the possibility is there, and that's the brilliance of the Unicorn dream, that it offers the possibility but doesn't definitively give a clear answer. Whether or not you side with Ridley Scott, who says Deckard is a replicant, or with writer Hampton Francher and star Harrison Ford, who say human, the addition of that scene gives a whole new layer to an already dense movie. It's why the Director's Cut and Final Cut are, in my opinion, the superior cuts.

To cap this all off, the Final Cut itself is essentially a polished and more complete Director's Cut. It's the only version of the film that Ridley Scott had complete control over. As mentioned before, the entirety of the Unicorn dream has been added back into the film, along with some scenes of more intense violence that were, until then, exclusive to the International Cut. Otherwise, the Final Cut is essentially putting a shine to the rest of the faults of Blade Runner, mostly consisting of improper lip syncing and flawed special effects. Most notably, the infamous effect of the dove flying into an incorrectly clear daytime sky was corrected. Most of the other alterations were carryovers from the Director's Cut, and for that reason, I hold the Final Cut to be the definitive version of the film, as most do. That being said, the Theatrical Cut and Director's Cut are still not bad ways of experiencing the film. The Workprint, I think is interesting, and holds up for the most part, but for what it's worth, is probably more useful as a historical item than as the way to watch the movie.

What does that leave us with? With all the cuts covered, there's only one more place for me to go with my journey with Blade Runner. Join me here again next time when I discuss my thoughts, hopes, and potential fears for the upcoming sequel, Blade Runner 2. I hope you join me for that. Until then, what do you think? Which cut of Blade Runner did you see first? Which do you prefer? Do you think Deckard is a replicant? Let me know in the comments below, and I hope you have a great day.

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