Over the years many films have stirred up more than a little controversy. Usually, they are concerned with politics or religion or perhaps contain content that is sexually explicit. On rare occasions, the fans give rise to these discussions not so much because of content but which cut of the film represents the true story. It may sound confusing and perhaps even petty for such heated debate to come from the editing of the film, but there are a few cases. The most famous is with the ‘Star Wars’ films. Fans will get into arguments over who shot first; Hans Solo or Greedo. If you don’t know what that means take a moment to ask a fan and then sit down, there is a lot of details that will follow. The version of a film is particularly of concern to the legion of science fiction fans. They are so caught up in the details, backstories and character development that it matters to them. Perhaps I should say ‘we’ since I count myself in that group. If you go to any Sci-Fi convention, there is a long-standing debate that is still the source of many a disagreement. It revolves around a 1982 Sci-Fi movie ‘Blade Runner.’ To date, there are several versions out there including the theatrical release, the director’s cut, workprint copy and one called the final cut. True devotees of the film will be readily able to detail the differences large and small in the different versions as well as defend their particular favorite. The controversy extended to the DVD releases of this film. Initially, only the director’s cut was on the disc. Then the Criterion Collection released the international version. What fans demanded was a comprehensive box set with as many versions as possible. Warner Brothers did step up to the plate with a four and five-disc DVD, set. If you are a fan of this more, and there are many of us out there, this needs to be in your home.
The story for the film came from the prolific science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick in the form of one of his novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ the story was primarily concerned with the ethical questions of creating artificial humans commonly referred to as androids. It is such an intriguing concept that many filmmakers were interested, but it took many years for the completion of
negotiations and a film scheduled. Many of Dick’s works became the basis of
films, but historically few have ever come close to the themes and quality his writing provided. Assuming the position of screenwriter was Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples. This was the first feature film script for both men although Peoples did have a documentary before ‘Blade Runner.’ It is difficult enough to write that first screenplay, but when you take into consideration that Dick’s works are so well known and beloved by the target audience, the level of difficulty becomes astronomical. Any deviation from the novel is certain to infuriate the many fans of the author. It is almost impossible to fully consider the script without placing it in context with the specific version of the movie. While the fundamental story is the same, the addition or removal of small elements drastically alters what the audience will take away from the story.
The plot is set in Los Angels in the future, 2020. By this time urban sprawl has become rampant with LA becoming an overly populated place where millions are in the streets at all times. The city has also become very cosmopolitan with a heavy influence of the Asian cultures. At this time mankind has begun to move out to the stars. For the most dangerous jobs required in these off-world sites, scientists have created artificial humans called replicants. They are stronger and faster than humans, but there is a safety feature built in; they have a four-year lifespan. It is illegal for a replicant to come to earth. The punishment is swift and deadly; termination at the hands of a part of the police force called Blade Runners. They are empowered to kill on sight. When six newer models of replicants rebel and come to earth the authorities look to the best Blade Runner they ever had, the now-retired Deckard (Harrison Ford). Reluctantly he comes back to take care of this new problem. Deckard has to ‘retire’ the four remaining replicants that are loose in LA. The best way to be sure someone is a replicant is to administer a Voight-Kampff test consisting of a series of questions and monitoring the physiological responses. The replicants lead by a Nexus-6 model named Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) are determined to break into the Tyrol corporation and force the genius behind their manufacture, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) to extend their life expectancy. Along with Roy are laborer Leon (Brion James), death squad member Zhora (Joanna Cassidy) and the equally deadly and beautiful pleasure model Pris (Daryl Hannah). During Deckard’s investigations, he discovers that Tyrol’s daughter Rachel (Sean Young) is a very advanced new replicant model. A key plot device is the replicants are typically given false memories to make them behave in a more human-like fashion. The story has Deckard doubting his memories.
Directing the film was Ridley Scott. This was the third feature film in his career; the first being the historical epic ‘The Duelist’ and then his groundbreaking science fiction film ‘Alien.’ Scott is well known as a director with a unique style that personalizes the characters and situations no matter how remote they may be from the experience of the audience. Whether he is directing a film about ancient Rome or two women running from their lives, Scott is an extremely powerful and visual storyteller. The setting here is dark and foreboding. The city is almost always in the midst of a rainstorm providing a consistent dark and stormy night as the backdrop for the action. The last showdown between Deckard and Roy set in the famous Bradbury building which previously served as the location in one of the darkest episodes of the original ‘Outer Limits,’ ‘Demon with a Glass Hand.’ Scott has stated that he doesn’t like the voice over in the theatrical release done by Ford. It was included at the request of the studio to help explain the complicated backstory. This is one case where a lot of fans disagree with the director. Many, myself included, regard the voice over as adding the feel of an old forties film noir to the movie. It heightens the suspense and harkens back to an age when a lone detective was the pinnacle of the rugged man image.
The film represents some of the best science fiction has to offer. The story looks at topics such as what it means to be human and whether if we become capable of creating a new type of life are we responsible for helping that life form become independent. The conclusion of the story is extremely dependent on which if the versions you are watching. In the four-disc set several are included; theatrical cut, the director’s cut, international cut and the final cut. The ultimate collector’s edition packaged in a Voight-Kampff case also has the workprint edition. Both of the sets contain a large variety of extras, commentaries, and featurettes to add to your enjoyment and never-ending discussion of this pivotal work of science fiction.
Posted 12/08/08 Posted 07/27/2018