Perhaps due to Philip K. Dick’s long exposure to Southern California, the writer’s futurism, his world of elaborate contraptions and spatial design, was also somehow cheap, gaudy, and one step from the scrapheap. His characters, whether they were heroes, villains, or pharmacists with one line of dialogue, teemed with feverish dreams and energies, to be undercut or undone by their pathetic fallibility. It’s a wonder that any movies were made from his work, given the fact that movie convention, when it comes to science fiction, dictates that futuristic visions only come in two styles: gritty and sexy. For the perpetual oddball Dick, it was never that simple.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was my first Dick novel and, given that my acquaintance with the film adaptation preceded it by many years, it was hard not to picture Harrison Ford wearing multi-colored pajamas while he does his morning jumping jacks, and having a row with his wife, an emotional cripple who’s addicted to a Cronenbergian, feelings-on-demand contraption. The dying Earth of the novel reeks of pathos, dust, and decay, but it seems functional—beset by entropy, but functional all the same. The grunge and rot of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, by contrast, owes a sizable debt to the legacies of film noir and steampunk: a future defined by overdevelopment, underregulation, hubris, and greed. With an army of set builders and special effects wizards, as well as Scott’s own predilection for casting sodium lights through fog and cigarette smoke, Blade Runner at least conceptually realizes Hollywood’s dream of sci-fi: sex, action, and spectacle.
Despite its radical enhancements and augmentations, some Dick remains in the film, namely in the person of J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson). The name has changed from J.F. Isidore, as has his affliction (premature aging instead of mild retardation), but with his childlike vulnerability, J.F. still serves as the catalyst that will allow us to write off the inhuman replicants. He’s our horrified bystander.
Character detail mattered enormously to Dick; his people radiated inner life, whether in mundane or ecstatic states. Scott’s film, not so much, but that’s because it has other things in mind. Blade Runner is fuelled by iconography: icons that don’t always need to point outside the text, but half a self-sustaining power of their own. That’s why Roy (Rutger Hauer) is the titanic antihero, whose sheer magnitude as a synthetic being embarrasses the ineffectual Deckard, the ex-flatfoot whose character arc is a slender thread of fuck-ups and accidental victories. Nearly a minor character in the book, almost on the level of some expendable Dragnet hoodlum, Roy is transformed into the film’s evil superhuman, a universal adaptor capable of being fixed with any major philosophical lens (Nietzsche, Kant, Descartes, etc.). He’s a great man—terrible, psychotic, but great in scale and spirit—in the same way Lev Andreyev called the disgraced general “great” in Joseph von Sternberg’s The Last Command.
I tear up when I read certain passages in Do Androids; I can’t say the same for Blade Runner. Then again, no one mourns in the film, except in a stolen moment (when Roy discovers the defeated Pris), and Scott uses a reliable surrogate for tears to pay respects, on our behalf, when Roy’s spirit finally takes flight. Tears in the rain, indeed.
Frankly, this is the best we're going to get, short of a theatrical presentation or that vague, future date when we can play uncompressed 8K movies in our living rooms. Each iteration of the film is rich with atmosphere, smoke, rot, and shadows, but the outstanding Warner transfers also respect the distinctive 1982 character of Blade Runner's celluloid. It's unclear why only the Workprint disc has a DTS track, but the Dolby 5.1 English tracks, especially the TrueHD one that appears with the Final Cut, do their duty.
If the home-video production company is the cinephile version of the pusher, why do they keep asking for one more chance, like the junkie trying to get straight? In a bid to encompass and outclass all prior versions, the 30th Anniversary Edition simply includes them all: The Expendables for fans of Scott's visionary epic. This gang's all here, on four discs (three Blu-rays, one DVD): the theatrical version, with the (unfairly) much-pilloried Harrison Ford narration, the international theatrical version, the 1991 director's cut that inspired many critics to revise their earlier, mixed reactions, and the 2007 "Final Cut" that remains, in some ways, the movie's counterpart to the Comprehensive Version of Orson Welles's Mr. Arkadin (i.e., a fairly respectable composite of the faces of its ancestors).
As expected, the set is rich with supplements and goodies. Digital extras are on the third disc and include a virtual library for Blade Runner aficionados, or enough of an education to turn a newbie into an aficionado: There's the "Workprint Cut," the "Dangerous Days" documentary, and a picture gallery with over 1,000 archival images. Non-digital extras include a toy version of Deckard's hovercar (it has small parts, so keep it away from the little ones), and a hardcover book with loads of behind-the-scenes artwork, sketches, and storyboards.
A brick of a set clearly trying to out-super-duper all previous models. A little overkill? Why resist? Blade Runner: 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition really is the ultimate home-video version of Ridley Scott's finest film.