How hard is this one to write? I mean, it’s not like I’m completely unfamiliar with Blade Runner, but I have to admit that up until last week, I’d only ever watched the film once, when I was in high school and the “Director’s Cut” version had come out on VHS. I remember liking it at the time, although couldn’t tell you much about any scene except for Rutger Hauer’s death at the end. So it didn’t have a profound impact–or any impact, for that matter–on me.
But sometime in the last decade or so, Ridley Scott put together what is called the “Final Cut” version of the film and that was slotted into my Netflix queue, buried deep among all of the various films I swore I’d get around to watching, even though I tend to go through that DVD queue at a glacial pace. Back at the beginning of February, I did my usual look at what movies on the queue were also available on my streaming services and since Blade Runner was there, I added it to the list.
Like I said, I have no real context for the different versions of the film, having never seen the theatrically released version with the Harrison Ford voice over that the studio attached to the movie after it took creative control away from Ridley Scott, and having only watched the Director’s Cut in 1992 or 1993. So for all intents and purposes, this was fresh viewing and I won’t be comparing versions. I don’t even know if the special effects were tweaked beyond a “digital remastering.” Are these what people saw in 1982 or did they Lucas the heck out of it?
Well, if this was just a quick tune-up to make the streaming look good in HD, I have to say that the film still looks amazing. I know I’m supposed to chuckle or something at the fact that it took place four or five months ago in real time (November 2019), but watching it on my large-screen TV, the picture was crisp and it felt as atmospheric as Scott obviously wanted it to. This could be 2019, 2049, or 2119 and it would feel like a lived-in futuristic world, one that sucks you into it and is very much able to hide its “strings.” Even the smaller, more intimate sets, such as Deckard’s apartment, are settings that I wanted to hit pause on and explore.
The performances are also excellent, which can be tough for an older movie. Yes, there are times when Ford is mumbling his way through scenes and where Hauer is chewing the scenery while looking like Sting’s evil twin, but the film does so well on selling every single bit of it that I just accepted any of those flaws. You watch it lean into what it is and are satisfied that it never winks at the camera, touts too much self-awareness, or takes itself too seriously.
This was Ridley Scott’s follow-up to Alien, one of the best mixes of science fiction and horror that’s ever been put to screen, and here he mixes sci-fi with classic film noir that makes me think of not only Logan’s Run or Star Trek: The Motion Picture but also Double Indemnity. He was pretty early in his feature directorial career (prior to Alien, he directed The Duelists and several television episodes) and after this he would go on to Legend, which I remember as being kind of a mixed bag, but would then hit a streak of venturing into other genres with the very underrated Black Rain and one of his best films, Thelma & Louise. He’s definitely the type of director who feels comfortable exploring different types of stories and seeing how they would work in different contexts.
Now, while I haven’t seen the theatrical cut of the film (and wouldn’t know where to find it if I wanted to), I do have the first issue of the two-part Marvel Comics adaptation. This reprinted what was a treasury-sized Super Special (something that Marvel did for a number of movies in the 1970s and 1980s, including Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, and The Last Starfighter. Here, we have Archie Goodwin adapting the screenplay with Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon on art. It’s done with the voice-over, which kind of works in the comic format, and while I think Williamson and Garzon do a great job illustrating both the likenesses of the characters and the scenes from the movie, it suffers from the same problems that their Return of the Jedi adaptation did, which is that it feels like I’m looking at storyboards or stills from the movie (funny enough, I don’t feel that way about their Empire Strikes Back adaptation). I think I paid 50 cents for this at a comic convention a few years ago and while I have never come across the second issue in the wild, I don’t think I’ll be actively seeking it, either.
The Film: Buy, Rent, or Skip?
The Comic: Keep, Sell, Donate, or Trash?