Open the champagne: "Blade Runner" is finally just the way Ridley Scott wanted it. And it only took 25 years.
"Blade Runner: The Final Cut" - that's what the title promises, anyway - opens today at the Coolidge on its way to a full-bore DVD release, and if you've loved this movie in any of its earlier incarnations, you should do it the honor of attending to it on the big screen one last time.
Certainly the 1982 film's influence has been wide and deep over the years, with its dour dystopian visions and harrowing future-shock design casting the shadow in which much of today's darkest sci-fi fantasies work. Could William Gibson's 1984 cyberpunk classic "Neuromancer" have been written without this movie (or were both informed by the groundbreaking '70s sci-fi magazine "Heavy Metal")? Would "The Matrix" exist? Discuss.
Anyway, why should we care? It's the same story, after all. None of the iterations over the years - the original US release, the ultra-violent European version, the legendary and rarely-screened rough cut, Scott's 1992 director's cut - have monkeyed with the narrative. The setting is still 2019, and investigator Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is still charged with locating and terminating four rebellious "replicants" - androids whose programming has rendered them more human than humans and who've returned to Earth from a distant mining colony quite literally hoping to meet their maker (Joe Turkel as uber-CEO Eldon Tyrell).
The Los Angeles of the future is still an M.C. Escher nightmare of neon ziggurats, hovercraft, and Hong Kong-overdrive squalor; it's always night and it's always raining. Sean Young still exudes a narcotized Gibson Girl/femme fatale sexuality as Rachael, the replicant with whom Deckard falls in illicit love. (The film ushered in cybersex a decade ahead of schedule.)
Deckard's leaden film-noir voiceover was already stripped away in earlier versions, and without Ford playing Bogart "Blade Runner" has an urgency that has little to do with retro. The movie inhabits its dank and busy world without apology.
What distinguishes "Final Cut" is a fresh smoothness. Scott has collated various bits from the previous versions - I'll leave it to the faithful to cite chapter and verse - but time and technology have allowed him to sand off the remaining rough edges. Newly shot footage of Joanna Cassidy, as the snake-charming replicant Zhora, has been digitally transposed onto that non-lookalike stunt-woman during the character's death scene. Even eerier, Ford's son Ben has been called in to play his father playing Deckard for one sequence (the interview with the snake dealer) in which the post-dubbing had always been notoriously iffy.
The movie now plays like a dream - a troubling dream, but still not quite a perfect one. "Blade Runner" stands as a triumph of production design and cinematic mood, and the only aspect that has seriously dated is Vangelis' "futuristic" score (well, that and Sean Young's career). It's a thing of glittering pieces, though, not bravura storytelling, and if the film is possibly the truest to its source of all the Philip K. Dick movie adaptations, it also hints at the limits of that talented, tortured writer's art.
Still, it's nice to see Ford looking so young again and LA so old; the clockwork-toy sequences shot in the city's Bradbury Building, with Daryl Hannah's Pris cartwheeling through the wreckage like a homicidal wind-up doll; Rutger Hauer's gleaming, tragic Roy Batty, an automaton so much better than the humans he serves - these are all welcome attendees at a 25th reunion. "Blade Runner" has become a chilly eulogy for a future that hasn't quite happened.