Moriarty Soaks Up Two Showings Of BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT!
Published at: Oct. 13, 2007, 12:58 p.m. CST by Moriarty
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
Sitting in the screening room on the Warner lot a few weeks ago, watching the 4K projector that had been tweaked for that room, with the sound cranked... BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT played as something akin to a religious experience for me. I’ve been a fan of the film since it came out. I was twelve that summer. I read everything I could about the movie as it was in production, in STARLOG and FANTASTIC FILMS, and when the collector’s souvenir magazine came out, I bought one, and I read it cover to cover at least three times before I saw the film.
I also read DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? that summer, and doing so confused the living shit out of me. I had no idea how a book like that was going to become a movie starring Indiana Jones or Han Solo. I couldn’t imagine how there was anything about Philip K. Dick’s book that was “heroic” in any way. Keep in mind... at the age of twelve, I already had about five years of hardcore Harrison Ford fandom under my belt. I’d seen STAR WARS and EMPIRE and GRAFITTI and RAIDERS. I was ready to see Harrison Ford fight some robots.
That, of course, is not the film that Ridley Scott released, and that may go a long way to explaining the film’s failure at the box-office. I’m surprised in looking back, though, how soft BLADE RUNNER’s critical reputation was when it came out. There are people who call it overrated, but that seems impossible to me. It is undeniably one of the most visually influential films of the last quarter-century. BLADE RUNNER’s influence on production design for movies, TV shows, comic books, and pop culture in general is almost immeasurable. It was the film that really drove home for me the lesson that when all the departments on a movie really raise their game and work in synch, you can do something special. Something permanent. Something worth revisiting in a way that few films are.
And no, it’s not just visually that I think the film works. I think it goes deeper than that. The opening crawl sets a tone by doing something subtle and unusual. Next time you see the film, pay close attention to the last two lines of that title card:
“This was not called execution.
It was called retirement.”
To me, that reads like the film BLADE RUNNER was made at some point in the future after the events of the film took place, almost like it’s a MISSISSIPPI BURNING for replicants, a film looking back at a time when replicants were treated as slaves, as less than alive, and when they were summarily killed for the simple action of being alive. There’s a righteous anger to that opening title crawl, and right away, it indicates that this isn’t going to be a simple story of good guys and bad guys, the hero versus the robots. In fact, I’d argue that there are no “bad guys” in this film. There are awful things done by some of the characters, but they are understandable in the larger context of who these characters are and the world they live in. Roy Batty and the other replicants are children, emotionally speaking, barely able to keep themselves in check, desperate for answers and angry at whatever god abandoned them to their fates. They lash out, but never for reasons we can’t understand, and never just for the sake of lashing out. As a result, the cumulative effect is one of great sadness. This doesn’t work like an action film, and as detective stories go, it’s remarkably straightforward and doesn’t really feature much in the way of detective work. Taken simply as a narrative, BLADE RUNNER is a thin piece of work, and sort of falls apart as an adaptation. But this may be the ultimate case of style as substance, a film where the textures of sounds and the colors of the world and the smoke and the mood all combine to create this thing that plays out like a dream. I find myself lost in BLADE RUNNER when I watch it projected like this. It’s a sensory experience more than it’s a conventional story.
I went back to see BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT again on Tuesday at the Landmark in LA. I went because Quint was in town, and also because, frankly, I wanted to see it again. Seeing it in a screening room, even one as nice as the one on the Warner lot, still isn’t the same as theatrical. Seeing it with a crowd that is there because they are genuinely passionate about the movie and they want to have the best possible visual experience with it... that’s the experience you want to have. Our auditorium was maybe 1/3 full at 10:30, so there was plenty of room for all seven of us.
Afterwards, everyone seemed uniformly amazed by what they saw. I would add one caveat, though: after seeing the film on the Warner lot and then seeing it again at the Landmark, I would say that something’s wrong with the sound at the Landmark. That’s discouraging for a high-end theater that’s still as new as this one, and I hope they address the issue immediately. It was distracting in places, and definitely muted the effect of the film for me. Even so, the thing that really struck me both times I’ve seen it recently is that this new restoration, and seeing it in a theater, does something to me as a viewer: it forces me to actually watch the film, and not just put it on as background noise. When you’ve seen a film as many times as I have with this one, it’s easy to put it on and then do something else in the room, a comforting sound in the background with things that you look up to see from time to time. I’m sure a lot of you watch films the same way sometimes... as background noise. Seeing BLADE RUNNER like this, it was a sobering reminder of just how much a film can be diminished by home video, no matter how good a system you have. And it’s also a reminder of how much more I enjoy sharing a film with friends in a theater than anywhere else. I have a buddy who throws a movie night where we all get together to watch both good films and bad. We’ve screened THE MANITOU there as well as THE FOOT FIST WAY, to equal enthusiasm. But there are always conversations during the films, and people are able to walk in or out to get drinks or to have conversations, and it’s never the same as it is when you wrangle everyone and go to the theater and pay your respects to something by giving it your full attention for two uninterrupted hours. With BLADE RUNNER, the film works best if you hand yourself over for the full experience, and I found myself deeply emotional over the movie both times I’ve seen it recently. Rutger Hauer has every right to be bitter over the way Hollywood failed to figure him out, and his work here is so good, so alive, so strange and compelling, that I am still baffled as to why he isn’t a bigger movie star. I would argue that Daryl Hannah is at her best when she’s playing someone who isn’t quite human, like Madison in SPLASH or Pris in this film. Sean Young may or may not be a giant nutbar off-camera, but I’m fond of the work she did in the ‘80s. She nails Rachel. She’s like a baby deer, trying on the whole “being human” thing, gangly and uneasy with it, but determined, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s stunningly beautiful, all 1940s pin-up perfection.
And then there’s Harrison Ford. People accuse me of being too mean to him in the time I’ve been at AICN. Fans have written me virulent hate mail because I’ve beaten up on his work. And what I’ve told them repeatedly is that my dissatisfaction with Ford’s career comes from a place of pure fandom. I can honestly say that he was the first movie star I ever gave a shit about. He was the first actor who became a reason to see a movie for me. It’s impossible to overestimate the iconic impact that Han Solo and Indiana Jones had on me in my pre-teen years. Ford personified a certain kind of workman-like swagger, but seeing him in BLADE RUNNER convinced me that he was an actor, not just a movie star. Everything that Han and Indy are, Deckard isn’t. Here’s a guy who seems to be on the verge of implosion through most of the film, tight as a clenched fist, charged with tracking down false humans while barely registering as human himself. Forget all the talk about Ridley Scott’s thematic retrofitting of the movie and the “Is he or isn’t he?” square dance. Looking at Ford’s work, what impressed me on my first viewing has only grown more impressive over the years. Instead of just phoning in some post-modern nod and wink to the conventions of the noir detective genre, Ford takes the hard-boiled thing in a totally different direction. He plays Deckard as a guy who has already shut down as the film starts, and it’s the process of facing down these particular replicants that ironically kickstarts his own appreciation of life. That simple character arc is what makes the film so resonant for me. It’s as subversive a playing of the detective hero as Elliot Gould’s work for Altman in THE LONG GOODBYE, and it’s my third favorite performance of Ford’s overall.
The restoration that was supervised by Charles de Lauzirika (finally fulfilling a longtime dream) is a marvel. It’s the best bigscreen restoration of a film I’ve seen since 1989’s release of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. There are all sorts of clever little continuity-fixing tricks in the movie and digital band-aids, and they’re not just clever... they are artistically sound. They do nothing except clean up little rough edges. There’s no “fix,” no big change. It’s nothing drastic. This restoration makes the case for this as one of Ridley Scott’s most significant films. This film may have taken a while to find its audience, but twenty-five years after its release, it is miraculously more alive than ever.
Here’s hoping Warner Bros. takes those limited release numbers seriously and puts this film out theatrically for people all over the country to see. Strike a negative if you have to, but make prints of this and get it out there. People should have a chance to enjoy this, especially after all involved have obviously put heart and soul into making this presentation so great.