There seem to be four different versions of Blade Runner that you can watch today. I ended up with the “Final Cut,” with no help at all from the dude at my local video rental store, who, incredibly, did not take the opportunity to mansplain the history of Blade Runner to me that I just handed him. Anyhow, from what I’ve gathered, this edition does not include Harrison Ford’s resentful VO narration (I can’t imagine anyone really wants that), or the “happy ending,” which is also just fine with me, as what I saw was the best ending I can imagine for this movie.
I am unsure what the consensus is on the picture quality, but the Blade Runner I watched was very, very beautiful. The very first shots are the lights of the city making a galaxy in the iris of someone’s eye, ringed in industrial flame. And then when we dip inside one of the buildings, the starry lens flare casts glimmers across our own eyes, just like the ones we saw. I could not have picked a more perfect follow-up to Metropolis if I tried, because in both theme and form, what Ridley Scott made is absolutely the visually striking, philosophically disquieting successor to what Lang started. I like that movies about humanity intersecting with technology are so concerned with being startlingly well-designed things in themselves.
Our main man here is Deckard, coming right out of whatever it was in the late 1970s / early ‘80s that was producing so many loner-cool cops. Because Harrison Ford is in many ways playing a sort of cyberpunk Max Rockatansky, a guy who’s going to take his noodles with him into the hover police-car because whatever, cop in the goldenrod waistcoat, whatya gonna do about it. Deckard is a Blade Runner, meaning he hunts down replicants gone rogue. Replicants are robots built to be nearly indistinguishable from humans, which does not sound like a smart idea, but clearly whatever got us into this terrible future was not a boon of Smart Ideas. Los Angeles is now forever dark and rainy — truly this is a dystopia. There’s not a speck of plant life to be seen, just endless warrens of gritty streets and gritty people, disorienting cluttered interiors and blue tendrils of cigarette smoke curling everywhere, a giant screen of a smiling woman holding a little red capsule floating over the city like their unspeaking god. The soundtrack is strange and silvery and occasionally seems like it might be half-diegetic. There are search lights casting about everywhere, though no one seems to be able to find what they’re looking for.
But Deckard is looking, looking for the dangerous replicants his shoddy police force believe to be on a havoc mission after breaking free from whatever off-world planet they had been working on. Enslaved on, rather, because god forbid we start with the good ideas now. So he quickly becomes the grim PI in our futuristic film noir, meets his mysterious femme fatale, and gets detecting. And we, in turn, begin to get to know his quarry: the replicants with the crystalline blue eyes. Unfortunately, they’re charming in their creepiness, so cold toward humans but so warm to each other. I’m sure we won’t end up with any conflicting feelings at all, watching this go down! No, we absolutely will.
And that’s the magic of Blade Runner: the way you can never quite tell what you want to happen, just like you can never quite tell where you are in this city. Personally, I may have flipped the most when I discovered that LA’s famous Bradbury building was playing itself, and was actually the Bradbury. Fantastic, the way all the pieces of what you think you know — space and robots, detective stories, post-apocalyptic wastelands, Prodigal Sons — all combine to make something you never actually expected. And when it comes to Roy’s final, haunting monologue…. well, legend goes that not even the screenwriters knew to expect that.