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On the Circuit: Blade Runner: The Final Cut

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On the Circuit: <em>Blade Runner: The Final Cut</em>

Is there anything more to see, anything left to say about Blade Runner? More to see, yes. That’s always the case with the great ones, and the fact that there isn’t much left to say about Ridley Scott’s sci-fi cult classic doesn’t contradict the first claim; it illuminates it. “More of the same” is a very good thing in this case.

The Final Cut is remastered from original 35mm elements and transferred to High Definition digital video at 4K (4096 horizontal pixel) resolution. Projected in HD at 24 frames a second for this year’s New York Film Festival, this Blade Runner has no visible grain, dirt or scratches, stuttering frames, reel-change “cigarette burns” or soft-focus moments when the film gets loose in the projector gate. Funny how I thought I’d miss all those things, their “organic” qualities, but this restoration gives us a pristine image without sacrificing warmth. The picture even fooled our editor, who at first thought he was looking at a 35mm projection. This Blade Runner removes every barrier to getting lost in Scott’s fire-and-rain Los Angeles short of presenting it as interactive theater.

Here are 10 images, sounds and ideas from Blade Runner that stand out in 2007 and/or HD:

10. The opening smash-cut shot of nocturnal future L.A. What used to induce instant, unsettling future shock is now so seamless and luminous that we get a pretty nice jolt of Close Encounters awe. In an age of murderous aerial drones, this film’s pretty flying cars are as precious as Model T’s.

9. The brief interlude of bicyclists pedaling through the drizzly, backlit night, to a dreamy Vangelis cue.

8. Outcast designer J.F. Sebastian’s (William Sanderson) home workshop full of biomechanical “toys”, which now looks even spookier and suggests even greater depths of loneliness.

7. The frantic play of neon and other reflections on both Joanna Cassidy’s see-through raincoat and the endless panes of glass she smashes through during her agonized death. The last time light itself screamed such bloody murder was during the climax of Scott’s Alien. Before that: the big murder scene in Touch of Evil.

6. Daryl Hannah’s kicking, screaming death scene. Now it looks for all the world like a stroboscopic wigout from David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire.

5. The rain.

4. Scott and his all-star design team correctly predicting Asian cultural dominance, but wrongly guessing Jumbotron images of Geisha on blimps instead of anime and wire-fu—or the hidden Japanese hands of Sony Corporation in Ho’wood. As for American brands: The electronic billboard for Coca-Cola is still appropriate, and the Atari logo that seemed an outdated joke ten years ago is now back on novelty T-shirts and video games.

3. Edward James Olmos’s handful of brief, tantalizing appearances as Gaff, sort of like Orson Welles in The Third Man, Richard Pryor in Silver Streak and Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back. Just enough to leave you licking your fingers. His final Dietrich-in-Touch of Evil bit of philosophy still haunts.

2. Tortured replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) now threatening his creator, Mr. Tyrell (Joe Turkel), with the line, “I want more life, Father!” “Father” instead of the original “fucker.” This one edit takes some of the intensity out of that deranged closeup and replaces it with a shade of empathy. Makes sense, though: We’d all be a little humble and familial before our maker, even if we were angry enough to kill him. (2a. Hauer’s climactic dance of death through the crumbling loft, which builds more despair than menace—even before he gets to his speech about “tears in the rain.” Those wolf howls are pure existential sorrow.)

1. Sean Young’s red lipstick.

FINAL NOTE: Across decades of theatrical, Laserdisc, VHS and DVD versions of Blade Runner, I’ve noticed only two significant alterations: Cutting the studio-imposed narration and including the unicorn memory?/dream?/flashback?. As usual, both creative decisions add mystery and gravity to the film by leaving certain questions deliciously unanswered.

Steven Boone is a New York-based critic and filmmaker, a contributor to Vinyl Is Heavy and the publisher of the pop culture blog Big Media Vandalism.