Warner Bros. // 1982 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 26th, 2012
A Futuristic Vision Perfected
At a certain point, Blade Runner became famous for being famous. Sure, there's a wonderful movie buried in one of the five versions that currently circulate, but even before the film's initial flop, it had attention that had little to do with its merits. Journalists noted the grueling schedule of the production and director Ridley's Scott's attention to detail. So prodigious was the production that a 450-page book, Future Noir was written to document the process. That book was only released after the film had been reevaluated in the wake of a discovery of a different, voiceover-less print that made the film popular and respected again on its 10th anniversary. Again, that "director's cut" (as it was erroneously called) is a fine film, but the ink spilled about it had more to do with the film's rediscovery than with the merits of the new Blade Runner itself. Since that cut wasn't a true "director's cut," Ridley Scott offered to produce one, but as usual with Blade Runner, nothing went smoothly and the project languished. Conveniently, it all came together on the film's 25th anniversary, giving film fans one of the most complete and beautiful home video releases of all time, the 4 or 5 disc collector's set (available in DVD, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray flavors). Between the 25th anniversary and this, Blade Runner: 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition (Blu-ray), consumers could also purchase various single and double disc editions that included the final cut of the film. Now fans can pony up again for a slight increase in bonus materials, though yet again the film is overshadowed by outside forces.
Blade Runner has a slightly different plot in all five of the versions of the film presented here, but they all boil down to a few basics: In the future, robotics has progressed to the point where robots, or replicants as they're known, are almost indistinguishable from humans. This makes them dangerous, and they're no longer allowed on Earth. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) is a cop whose job it is to hunt and "retire" replicants. He's tasked with taking out a group of replicants, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer, Batman Begins), who hope to find their maker and change their fate.
I won't say too much about the film itself (because, quite frankly, it still speaks compellingly for itself), but I was struck in returning to the film for this review. Having watched the numerous cuts multiple times (my least-seen version is probably a tie between the "work print" and "international," with only two viewings apiece), I still have trouble keeping them straight. I know that the theatrical cut has the voiceover, but other than that, I'm always thinking about what's missing from any particular cut in my head, which leads to the strange feeling like I constantly have some alternate version of Blade Runner in my head just waiting to get out. That makes watching any one particular version an odd experience as it's hard to feel like you're watching a complete film.
Seriously, if you haven't seen Blade Runner, then you owe it to yourself to at least view the final cut, and if you've seen the film then you don't need my recommendation. Instead, here's what you'll get through the four discs of this 30th Annviersary Edition:
This Blu-ray disc includes the final cut of the film. This is, at least for Ridley Scott, the final word on the film. For extras, we get three audio commentaries. The first features Ridley Scott; the second includes the film's co-screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, producer Michael Deely and exec Katherine Haber; and the third is with "futurist" Syd Mead, designer Lawrence Paull, art director David Synder, and the special effects team of Douglass Trumbull, Richard Yuricich, and David Dryer. Between the three of them we get a complete view of the film, from its initial genesis in Philip K. Dick's novel to how individual shots were conceived and composed.
This Blu-ray disc offers the theatrical, international, and '92 director's cut of the film. The disc's lone extra is an introduction by Ridley Scott describing the various versions.
This Blu-ray disc houses the vast majority of the set's extras. Things kick off with the work print version of the film. Here we get another introduction from Scott, and an audio commentary by Paul M. Sammon (who wrote Future Noir). Another work print-focused extra is a 30-minute featurette that shows how the various versions of the film came to be. The real treasure, though, is Dangerous Days, a three hour exploration of the film and its production, reception, and continuing legacy. We also get another two-and-a-half hours of featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, and promotional material, and info on Philip K. Dick. Finally, the set's new disc-based extra is an archive of 1,000+ images from the production presented in hi-def.
A DVD version of the final cut. An insert for an Ultraviolet copy of the film is also included.
These four discs are housed in a Blu-ray sized case (that features the famous Unicorn origami statue on the cover). This case is housed inside a larger cardboard case that also houses a small "Spinner" replica (and the flying car from the film), a small art book with photos from the production, and a lenticular print that shows a spinner flying in front of the iconic billboard in the film. It's a handsome package.
Unsurprisingly, all five versions of the film look amazing. With the exception of the work print, these are the same 2.40:1/1080p VC-1 encoded transfers from the 2007 releases. The film doesn't look as sharp as current productions, but it retains a surprisingly filmlike appearance. There's a weight to the image that's impressive, and despite the sometimes-odd lighting choices by Scott and his cinematographer the transfer handles things perfectly. Though the work print is the roughest of the cuts, its AVC encoding doesn't appear to have helped or hurt the presentation. Each of the films also gets the same Dolby TrueHD soundtracks from the previous release. Vangelis' score sounds fantastic, and dialogue is perfectly balanced in each case. The exception is again the work print, which receives a lossless DTS-HD track.
So, what's there to complain about? Certainly not the film. However, this isn't quite the definitive edition that hardcore fans will want. The first thing you'll notice is that only the work print has been re-encoded with the slightly more common AVC codec. It would probably take a microscope to notice significant differences between a VC-1 and an AVC encode, but this is precisely the kind of film that will be pored over in that manner. Similarly, the discs sound fine as they are, but some will still desire DTS-HD lossless tracks in place of the Dolby TrueHD tracks here. More damning, though, is the fact that Dangerous Days hasn't been upgraded to hi-def. This film is a monumental achievement in many respects, and the standard-def presentation on the third disc simply doesn't do it justice.
The bottom line is this: the only new things this edition offers is an impressive collection of hi-def production photos, a toy car, a small art book, and a lenticular print. If that sounds like enough to upgrade, then go for it, as this set will sit handsomely on your shelf. If, however, you're looking for a substantial upgrade and don't care about non-disc extras, then this set is not for you. In either case, if you've never seen Blade Runner, get this set and marvel at a modern masterpiece.
Though you may not want to "retire" your old edition, this one is
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Cuts
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes
* Screen Tests
* Image Gallery
* Trailers / TV Spots
* Art Book
* Collectible Car
* DVD Copy
* UltraViolet Download