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Blade Runner Reviews

One of the cinema's most visually influential works, BLADE RUNNER -- which has been released to the paying public in at least four versions -- has a history as labyrinthine as any of its futuristic-film-noir sets. A fascinatingly contemplative if sometimes ponderous detective story about a world-weary android-killer and his renegade prey, its vagaries include two different theatrical "director's cuts"; an original domestic theatrical release long unavailable even on video or cable; an ongoing cult audience; and a hindsight appreciation of "visual futurist" designer Syd Mead's prescient and ahead-of-its-time look films -- all insuring that BLADE RUNNER retains a unique place in cinema. In the original domestic theatrical release, a dystopian Los Angeles, year 2019, is a crowded repository of neon and rain. Ubiquitous advertising has beckoned the wealthier populace to off-world colonies, leaving L.A. one giant Rick's American Cafe. At the massive Tyrell genetic-engineering corporation, Holden (Morgan Paull) questions new worker Leon (Brion James), using a "Voight-Kampff" test that helps uncover android "replicants": organic, not biomechanical, artificial-human slaves made by Tyrell and cursed with a four-year lifespan and self-conscious awareness. When the infiltrating Leon suspects he's been discovered, he shoots Holden and escapes. As hard-boiled narration begins, we meet cynical ex-cop Deckard (Harrison Ford) -- a retired "Blade Runner," or police-detective assassin of rogue replicants. Pressed back into service by his former boss, Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh), and the enigmatic, origami-making police detective Gaff (Edward James Olmos), Deckard learns that six of the physically superior Nexus-6 models have murdered more than two dozen people while stealing an off-world shuttle to escape to Earth. One replicant is dead, leaving Leon, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), Pris (Daryl Hannah) and the never-again-mentioned sixth. Deckard searches for leads at the Tyrell Corporation, where Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkell) rules like a benevolent pharaoh. There Deckard learns that Tyrell's aide, Rachael (Sean Young), is a next-generation replicant with implanted memories, who believes herself human. Elsewhere in the city, Batty and Leon force Tyrell eye-maker Chew (James Hong) to reveal that the best way of reaching Tyrell himself is through geneticist J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson). At the solemnly childlike Sebastian's faded-grand-dame abode, filled with robotic toy-like companions, Pris convinces Sebastian to take her in. Deckard, at his apartment analyzing a photo he removed from Leon's hotel room, uses an "Esper" computer to blow up and print out a background detail showing Zhora bedecked in sequins. Rachael comes by, insisting she's human, but Deckard recites two of her private childhood memories -- which, he informs here, are actually those of Tyrell's niece. Deckard quickly regrets his actions and claims them a joke, but Rachael leaves, devastated. Later, in the artificial-animal shopping district Animoid Row, Deckard learns another object he picked up at Leon's is a scale from a replicant snake. Microscopic markings lead him to the maker, Abdul Ben-Hassan (Ben Astar), who reveals it was bought by Taffey Lewis (Hy Pyke), owner of The Snake Pit nightclub. There Deckard finds Zhora, who beats him up and flees. Deckard follows and kills her with a pistol shot in the back, but then gets cornered by Leon -- whom Rachael shoots dead. Deckard and Rachel return to Deckard's apartment, winding up in a rough and marginally violent romantic embrace. Batty arrives at Sebastian's, where he and Pris tell Sebastian of their imminent, pre-programmed deaths, and insist he find a way to take Batty to Tyrell. Sebastian -- himself prematurely dying from Methuselah Syndrome, and fascinated by meeting two of his "children" -- agrees; they use a long-running chess game between Sebastian and Tyrell to gain access to Tyrell's bed-chambers. There, after Tyrell wistfully explains the scientific impossibility of extending an existing replicant's life, Batty remorsefully kisses Tyrell on the lips and then squeezes Tyrell's eyes and skull until he's dead. Sebastian fearfully runs off, but he, too, is later found murdered. Deckard, investigating, encounters Pris at Sebastian's home, and after she nearly kills him, he manages to shoot her dead. That leaves Batty, who arrives to find Pris' body. Determined to make Deckard suffer, he plays cat-and-mouse with the outclassed Blade Runner. Yet Batty realizes he's dying: His hand, which had previously cramped up, clawlike, now does so again, and he drives a nail through it to help keep it open. Deckard escapes to the roof, tries leaping to another, and finds himself hanging in pain and rain off the edge. Batty easily makes the leap -- and lifts Deckard to safety just as Deckard slips off. Then, with the cold dark approaching, Batty tells Deckard of the wonders he's seen -- moments that will be lost "like tears, in rain." He releases a dove, and dies. Gaff arrives at the scene , telling Deckard, regarding Rachael: "Too bad she won't live. But then again, who does?" Deckard rushes to his apartment, finds Rachael alive despite evidence Gaff has been there, and steals away with her to the elevator -- but not before Rachael's foot bumps an aluminum-foil origami unicorn on the floor. Deckard and Rachael escape to a pristine mountain panorama (outtakes from Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING), as the narration reveals Rachael was a special model Tyrell had built without a termination date. A critical and commercial flop in this initial, 115 minute domestic release, BLADE RUNNER came to videocassette a year later with a then-revolutionary, now-standard gimmick to boost interest: an unrated version with additional footage not seen in theaters. This was the "international cut" shown theatrically overseas -- exactly the same film, but with 15 seconds of slightly more graphic violence, spread across four points in three scenes: Batty's thumbs gouging Tyrell's eyes; Pris driving two fingers up Deckard's nose to lift him off the floor; Pris' prolonged death throes, with Deckard firing a third shot into her; and two closeups showing the nail penetrating Batty's hand. In September 1989, Warner Bros. film preservationist Michael Arick stumbled across one of only two or three 70mm prints of BLADE RUNNER. Unknown to anyone at the time, however, this was not the domestic or international cut, but a workprint screened at audience-test sneak previews in Denver, Colo., and Dallas, Texas, in 1982. Remarkably, no one realized this until this print was screened at a May 1990 Los Angeles retrospective of 70mm movies, to which Arick had supplied what was presumed to be a regular cut of BLADE RUNNER. Though its general outlines remained the same, this version included a different title sequence, some differing dialog and specific shots (including hockey-masked geisha dancers and a street cop in a clear protective tube), and two major differences: Elimination of both the narration and the happy ending. After a subsequent museum screening in April 1991, Warner Bros., unbeknownst to Arick or to director Ridley Scott, made 35mm dupes for a "director's cut" theatrical release. Despite it being a workprint still evincing grease-pencil marks and the like, this "director's cut" played sold-out limited runs at two California theaters in 1992. Ridley, bristling at a "director's cut" on which he, the director, hadn't been consulted, was given the opportunity to do a new, official director's cut for theatrical release. Time pressures and missing film negatives prevented a thorough reworking, however, so the September 1992 theatrical release BLADE RUNNER: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT is based not on the workprint, but on the 1982 domestic theatrical release. Four significant changes were incorporated: No narration, no happy ending, a few words of advertising dialog as a bridge in an early shot of a blimp, and, most importantly, "the unicorn scene." This is a 12-second shot -- a drowsy or perhaps slightly drunken reverie while Deckard is noodling at a piano -- apropos of nothing but some innermost thought. The shot's importance becomes clear in the film's final moments, when Gaff's origami unicorn reveals to Deckard exactly what Deckard had revealed to Rachael, in telling her her private thoughts: That Deckard himself is a replicant. This version runs 116-minutes-6-seconds. In 2007, Scott returned to the film and produced BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT, which runs 117 minutes. This version is very similar to THE DIRECTOR'S CUT, but includes some alternate lines of dialogue and fixes several technical glitches that had always bothere Scott. They include poor dubbing in Deckard's coversation with Abdul Ben Hassan, a mismatched shot at the end of the "tears in the rain" sequence and a continuity error involving the cut on Deckard's face from his fight with Leon. Whatever the version, and for all its stylistic achievements and excesses, the "future noir" BLADE RUNNER contains performances as stunning as its look: Ford's pained, taciturn Deckard; Hauer's doomed, dangerous, tragic Batty; Sanderson's naive yet knowing Sebastian; Young's icily cool yet terrified Rachael; and Olmos' arrogant, gravel-voiced Gaff -- a fascinating character despite highly unclear motivations and dimensions. With the narration removed, the occasionally stodgy pace offers moments of novelistic introspection. The music moodily evokes that of classic film noir without becoming caricature, and the pre-computer-animation special effects seem more lifelike than their sometimes sterile-looking counterparts in films made 15 years later. The story, adapted from Philip K. Dick's short novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), first attracted the interest of Martin Scorsese and future STRANGE DAYS writer Jay Cocks in 1969. They never optioned the novel, but producer Herb Jaffe did so in 1974; a script by his son Robert Jaffe was untenable, however, and the option lapsed in 1977. That year, actor-writer Hampton Fancher, who'd previously met with Dick, persuaded actor friend Brian Kelly (of TV's "Flipper") to option the novel. Fancher wrote a screenplay with the same title as Dick's book; subsequent drafts were titled "Android," "Mechanismo" and "Dangerous Days." (The title BLADE RUNNER came from a book by beat author William Burroughs, Blade Runner: (a movie); the producers later discovered an Alan E. Nourse book titled Blade Runner, and licensed both.) Actor Gregory Peck -- who read the script and, though not wanting to star, felt strongly about its themes -- provided a letter that helped open doors for producer Michael Deeley. This led to director Robert Mulligan and Universal Pictures becoming briefly attached; they and the producers soon agreed to part ways, and Scott, hot off ALIEN, signed on. Initial financing came from Filmways, which pulled out prior to principal photography. A hastily arranged marriage of The Ladd Company, Tandem Productions and financier Sir Run Run Shaw stepped in, with Warner Bros. to distribute. Behind-the-scenes during production, battles raged. Ford and Young never got along, and Scott's stubborn perfectionism often strained relationships both with crew-members and with Bud Yorkin of Tandem, who at one point threw him off the picture. Scott also had creative differences with Fancher, and -- with principal photography just two months away -- brought in David Peoples to rewrite Fancher's script. (It eventually became a hybrid of both men's, since Scott, Deeley and production executive Katherine Haber literally cut-and-pasted-together parts from various drafts.) The controversial narration had been an on-again-off-again part of the film since shortly after Scott came aboard. Ford, who strongly opposed narration, gamely recorded three versions; the last, used in the final picture, was a rewrite by television scripter Roland Kibbee. A version of the happy ending was also in the shooting script, but wasn't filmed due to time and budget constraints and to Scott's desire during editing for a more downbeat finale. The upbeat ending was shot and inserted in response to the Denver/Dallas test screenings. On other fronts: Barbara Hershey was one of three actresses screen-tested to play Rachael. An uncredited Leo Gorcey, Jr. (son of the famed "Dead End Kid") plays a bartender at The Snake Pit. The sixth replicant referred to early in the film was Mary, played by Stacey Nelkin; for script reasons, the character was dropped early during principal photography, and attempts to reloop Walsh's line to say that two replicants died instead of one reportedly resulted in unsuitable "lip flap." Zhora's Burmese python was Cassidy's own, named Darling. Hauer contributed the famous "tears in rain" line. Deckard's scene in Leon's bathroom was a pickup done after principal photography wrapped, with a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK stunt double, Vic Armstrong, as Deckard. The workprint included Susan Thee and Hiroko Kimuri as geishas, and Kai Wong and Kit Wong as Chinese men. And Dustin Hoffman, through two months of negotiations and related story changes before dropping out prior to contract, had been set to play Deckard. BLADE RUNNER stands as a tough, idiosyncratic, and highly original vision of the future that seems continually more real, while asking meaningful questions about the nature of being human. Despite its imperfections and occasional muddy plot points, BLADE RUNNER successfully combines and transcends the sci-fi and detective genres to forge a serious drama, and not the action cartoon of many of its popular genre brethren.