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About halfway through “Blade Runner,” Harrison Ford sits down on a couch with a glass of liquor and inserts a photograph into a machine that looks like the bastard child of a dishwasher and a used VCR. It’s called an “Esper.” Its purpose? To vividly zoom in on any given portion of a photo, revealing clues to those who seek them. If there’s a metaphor for the experience of watching “Blade Runner,” this scene is it.
“Enhance 224 to 176,” Ford mumbles to the machine, gazing unblinkingly at the screen that displays the photo. Like all the rusted machinery of Ridley Scott’s dystopian Los Angeles, the Esper clicks and whistles, zooming in on a shadow of someone’s arm. But our protagonist is not satisfied. “Enhance,” he says again.
“Blade Runner” fans are never satisfied. “Enhance! Enhance!” they have cried since the film’s debut in 1982. New cuts and formats of the film have come out over the ensuing 25 years, constantly feeding the notion that one day, we would have a “final cut” with all the details and clues we seek. According to Scott, we now have it.
The good news is that it’s perfect. The bad news is that it’s final.
First, let’s address the good news. The “Final Cut” is in a limited theatrical run, in anticipation of a Christmastime DVD release, and the big screen offers the ideal environment for both devotees and newbies to experience the film.
All of the elements that made the 1992 “Director’s Cut” a flawless film still exist. The plot remains the same: Rick Deckard (Ford) is an exhausted cop in the year 2019, where anyone with wealth or common sense has gone “off-world.” A corporation has developed genetically-engineered quasi-robots called “replicants” for work off-world, and they look, think, and feel exactly like humans—“more human than human,” according to the company’s CEO. A handful of replicants have escaped to Earth, and Deckard is assigned to hunt them down and “retire” them. Along the way, he falls in love with one (Sean Young) who was raised to believe she was human.
But the plot has always been secondary to the questions it raises and the world in which it takes place.
Given how much ink has been spilled over the movie in the 25 years since its initial release (including two books of academic essays, a thick tome about the war between Scott, Ford, and Warner Bros., and a monograph from the British Film Institute), it seems all too obvious to point out that “Blade Runner” is one of the most visually astonishing films of all time.
Nevertheless, the point about visuals bears repeating, especially for the uninitiated who have yet to experience the grimy grandeur of Scott’s imagined world.
The movie can be incredibly disorienting if one tries, on a first viewing, to parse out all of the hidden themes or to follow exactly what’s happening at any given moment.
Which is not to say that a deeper understanding is not worth pursuing. Nothing in this cut has altered the troubling notion that replicants, with their passions and loyalties, might actually be more human than human. Nothing, thankfully, has altered the question of whether Deckard himself is or is not a replicant (though Scott had insinuated in recent interviews that the Final Cut would give a definitive answer). Nothing has altered the mind-boggling idea of literally meeting one’s maker, and nothing has explained just what replicant leader Roy (Rutger Hauer) is trying to say in his final soliloquy.
But on a first glance—or a 12th or 47th glance—just open your eyes and take in Scott’s Los Angeles.
Here is where the Final Cut truly shines. The print has been restored with precision clarity, and unlike the “Star Wars” re-releases, no effects have been changed. We just get a film that is, improbably, even more beautiful than it was before.
Watch the scenes of flight over the skyline—announcements on metallic blimps, animated Coke ads on building edifices, and plumes of fire spitting out of mysterious towers. Watch the deep orange sunset that makes rooms of the future look like something out of Ancient Egypt. Watch the crowd scenes, full of extras so diverse (Who are those Asians on the bicycles? Is that a Hasidic Jew? Where do those punks hang out at night?) that the city feels more like a fully fleshed-out parallel universe than a prediction of the future.
Nevertheless, the bad news is for the fanatics. Sure, one important word gets changed in a climactic scene (I won’t tell you which one), but that’s it. There are no new details to zoom in on. This document is final.
And so, it’s back to the Esper. Deckard finds the clue he needs in his photograph, but we’ll never find exactly what we’re looking for. The true final cut, in which we can actually live inside Scott’s world, exists only in our mind’s eye.
But that’s the nature of the beast, and the joy of the obsession—forever mumbling, “enhance, enhance” to ourselves, alone in our rooms.
—Staff writer Abe J. Riesman can be reached at email@example.com.
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