There's a reason Ridley Scott keeps tinkering with his 1982 sci-fi classic, Blade Runner. He must realize that even though Oscar glory came for Gladiator, even though Alien was a bigger hit with more enduring appeal, and even if American Gangster is the one that finally lands him a best director Oscar, Blade Runner is his masterpiece, the movie that is the synthesis that everything this onetime TV-commercial director knows about design and tone.
He just can't leave well enough alone.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut features more tweaking from Scott. For a 1991 re-release, he shed the movie's voice-over narration, the thing that most connected this story of a veteran hunter of bio-engineered clones, "replicants," to the classic film noir detective movies of the past. That's when Scott also discarded the "happy ending" epilogue -- both elements a studio imposed on him, he has always said.
The Final Cut, opening today at the Enzian (and out on DVD, as well), is a digital makeover for the film -- digitally augmented replicant eye-glint, blood digitally added to a couple of death scenes. A movie famous for its great looks is greater-looking than ever.
But shiny and new, stripped of that authoritative, hard-bitten narration, Harrison Ford's Deckard seems even less like "the best" (his onetime boss, M. Emmet Walsh labels him that) at his business. He's good at closing in on the murderous replicants who have made it from the off-world colonies back to Earth. But the first he tracks down (Joanna Cassidy, in nude snake-dancing glory) gets away from him. The second, Leon (Brion James, cloddishly efficient), gets the drop on him. A third ( Daryl Hannah) kicks him around at will. And the fourth, Roy Batty ( Rutger Hauer, magnificent) toys with him and tries to teach him something about humanity.
"Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it means to be a slave."
Ford's character is more iconic than performed, something that stands out all the more without the tough-guy narration. The script is cryptic and understated, never more so than when Edward James Olmos, in the cop role that would launch him into Miami Vice, utters some incomprehensible line in not-quite-English.
Sean Young's inhuman perfection as Rachael is frosty, striking and vulnerable, even if newly polished close-ups reveal tiny blemishes. Goofy character actor William Sanderson still seems miscast as a genius designer. Joe Turkel, long a favorite of Stanley Kubrick, is as icily on the mark as ever as the mogul who made the manufacture, export and enslavement of short-life-span replicants his business. And Hauer, a combat replicant who has realized that life is short, and he wants more of it, remains the film's heart and soul.
The future-scape, a Los Angeles of 2019 that Scott and his team correctly imagined would be polyglot-Asian/Latino, and incorrectly figured would be a vast, lonely city of smoke, darkness, perpetual rain and flying cars, is what Blade Runner's reputation rests upon. Scenes play out in quiet, underlit and cavernously empty rooms. Real estate seems plentiful. Where are the crowds? For that matter, where is the media? It's a world of tiny, never-on TV screens, no radio, no newspapers, no Internet.
We will probably still "Enjoy Coca-Cola" in 2019, but product placement for TDK, best-known as a tape-manufacturer from the pre-digital '80s, seems downright quaint.
Scott, like others who fret over their "legacy," must appreciate that fiddling with Alien and Black Hawk Down and Thelma & Louise is unnecessary and trying to polish Someone to Watch Over Me, 1492, White Squall, Legend, G.I. Jane and A Good Year is pointless. But there is no fan base like the one that champions science fiction. On the Internet, at least, it dominates the conversation on film. Blade Runner only grows in reputation there.
And Scott probably knows this, too. Citizen Kane didn't become known as the "greatest movie ever made" until 20 years after it was released. Blade Runner just turned 25.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times