For a film that defined what it meant to be a “director’s cut” for the masses, “Blade Runner” has waited 25 years to receive a proper one.
On Dec. 18, Warner will release “Blade Runner: The Final Cut,” the definitive version of director Ridley Scott’s fusion of film noir and science fiction, which has become a cult classic since its initial failure at the box office in 1982. One of Warner’s most popular titles today, the film will be available in both HD formats and in three different DVD editions, with the final cut also receiving select theatrical playdates in New York, Los Angeles and the Venice Film Fest.
So why revisit the movie after all this time? Maligned and misunderstood in its day, “Blade Runner” actually established much of the aesthetic that defines cinematic sci-fi, from the movie’s wet-streets, neon-and-steam look to the grim, pessimistic tone gleaned from Philip K. Dick’s dystopian novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
“When they were test screening the film, the response was pretty confused and negative,” explains Charles de Lauzirika, who produced the final cut. “The people who saw the film back then didn’t really get it.” The movie was too dark, too downbeat and ultimately too different from Harrison Ford’s “Star Wars”-style screen persona for auds.
The trouble started when, during the film’s post-production, the completion bond locked Scott out of the editing room and the studio released its own version of the film with narration from Ford and a “happy ending” that showed Ford and co-star Sean Young riding off into the sunset.
Though Scott’s gritty vision of the future eventually won over fans on homevideo, the director didn’t get a chance to change “Blade Runner” until 1991, when Warner Bros. accidentally sent Scott’s darker “workprint” version of the film to a repertory screening. The cut became a word-of-mouth sensation, so Warner invited Scott to return and re-edit the film, but the helmer was busy finishing “Thelma & Louise” and prepping his next project, the Christopher Columbus epic “1492.”
As a result, Scott and the studio agreed to hire then-Warner film preservation director Michael Arick to work with Scott on a version that would have “no narration, no happy ending, but add the unicorn dream” — referring to a controversial sequence that suggests Deckard is a replicant.
“It wasn’t really Ridley’s true stamp on it,” says de Lauzirika. “They had to cobble something together that approximated his wishes.”
But de Lauzirika wouldn’t let it go. “Blade Runner” is his favorite movie. “It’s the whole reason I wanted to work with Ridley,” says the USC grad who joined Scott’s company as an intern fresh out of film school in 1994. In the 15 years since the so-called “director’s cut” was released, de Lauzirika has produced numerous special-edition DVDs for Scott, from the first “Alien” disc to last year’s ambitious four-disc “Kingdom of Heaven” set.
In 2000, he met with Warner to discuss releasing a definitive version of “Blade Runner” (at the time, co-executive producers Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio still held the rights). Originally conceived as a two-DVD set with seamless branching of additional scenes and separate audio tracks for Ford’s narration, the project has taken on near-mythological levels, requiring de Lauzirika to sort through 977 boxes of negative and even supervising a day of reshoots involving Joanna Cassidy and Harrison Ford’s son Ben, who synched up a scene at Abdul Al-Assan’s snake shop that has long irritated fans.
The unicorn dream is back, although its meaning is intended to be ambiguous, de Lauzirika insists.
“I think Ridley thinks the clues are obvious, but it’s never overtly stated, so it’s really up to you,” he says. “It’s just meant to be something to consider. Even in the new version, it’s not clarified any further. The new unicorn dream stylistically just makes it more of a dream sequence.”
Now, Scott finally has a version that won’t irritate him. Although fans of the film have been divided over which cut they prefer — Christopher Nolan famously screened the original version at UCLA in 2003, though many give the edge to the 1992 cut — all can agree with Blade Zone site manager Gary Willoughby when he says, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”
The final set arrives in a briefcase containing five different versions of the film (including the workprint that started it all) and a three-hour documentary, giving fans license to choose their favorite take. Other DVD releases have provided before-and-after comparisons, such as the recent “Star Wars” discs that feature George Lucas’ original pre-CG versions or the Criterion Collection’s three-disc “Brazil” release, but “Blade Runner” takes it to another level.
“That’s the idea of including the five versions: to see where it started and where it ended up,” de Lauzirika says.