Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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happy birthday

For Charged by the System - Blade Runner synthesis article:
REPLICANT\rep'-li-cant\n. See also ROBOT (antique): ANDROID (obsolete): NEXUS (generic): Synthetic human, with paraphysical capabilities, having skin/flesh culture. Also: Rep, skin job (slang): Off-world use: Combat, high risk industrial deepspace probe. On-world use prohibited. Specifications and quantities ― information classified.
- New American Dictionary
Copyright © 2016

This legend opened one of the workprint versions of the cult classic Blade Runner, a film that just recently reached its quarter-century anniversary. It is those classified specifications that the film is about. “More human than human” is the motto of the monolithic Tyrell Corporation, which produces genetically enhanced androids for use on Earth colonies out in the solar system, something which is focused on in the film by having the Replicants be much more passionate, than their creator, Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel).

Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckart, a gumshoe who is a Blade Runner - one who finds and “retires” (kills) Replicants. Blade Runner is a detective story, film noir set in the future, with greater implications. Over the course of the film, he is forced not only to question whether or not the Replicants are human, but the central question of the film: what does it actually mean to be human?

The film stars Ford, but Rutger Hauer dominates the screen. His Roy Batty is strong, intelligent and extremely dangerous... but one never loses sight of the fact that he is a child. This has been intensified in "The Final Cut" with some of the additional lines from the workprint, but it has always been present in the film, and it is what allows us to understand his actions at the very end. In a sense, Roy's self-crucifixion makes us all the more sympathetic by not only focusing audience attention on his vulnerability, but also the sad truth that no hell or heaven that he can imagine would have room for him in it. At its core, Blade Runner is about Roy's existential nightmare. There aren’t really any villains; to refer to Roy as a "bad guy" is impossible. The questions Roy poses to his maker are simple, and the fact that Tyrell has no way to help him aggravates him, but in many ways is an interesting parallel to the role of faith in modern society.

While Ridley Scott's vistas of Los Angeles in November of 2019 are quite dazzling, one sees as one gets closer how grungy the city really is, and how your distance from the ground defines someone’s place on the social scale. Multi-billionaire Tyrell occupies a penthouse on his industrial palace, while Deckart lives in a nondescript apartment on the 97th floor. J.F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) lives in an old deserted building, equivalent to middle-class housing.

It is in the way that the film inverts its noir tropes that allow those science-fiction elements to flourish. Rachel (Sean Young) looks like a femme fatale, but her genuine vulnerability when she finds out that she isn't who she thought she was - that she isn't anybody, really - undercuts this. It is through her that Deckart begins to question his profession, and soon enough, himself.

It is understandable that even the most enthusiastic Blade Runner aficionado might view the titling of this 25th anniversary version "The Final Cut" with some ambivalence. There are, after all, a myriad of versions of this film that had been floating around already: American and European cuts from the original 1982 theatrical release, two workprint versions and the inaccurately named “Director’s Cut” released to coincide with the film’s tenth anniversary in 1992 - the irony of the latter being that is the only version of the film that Ridley Scott did not work on himself, although it was undertaken with his blessing.

Each version of the film was slightly different. The two theatrical versions were essentially the same but with a few extra moments of violence in the European version, and they both featured an ill-fitting “happy ending,” created after the film’s test screenings, which featured footage cribbed from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. They also had a controversial voice-over by Rick Deckart, the protagonist that hearkened back to the movie’s film noir roots, but unfortunately was marred by both redundancy with what was being viewed and a bored delivery from Harrison Ford. The “Director’s Cut” removed that voiceover, jettisoned the happy ending and revealed information about the Deckart that completely alters the film… but it was otherwise exactly the same as the American theatrical release.

Unlike the 1992 "Director's Cut" this isn't just another version of the film with slight changes, this is the successful integration of the different material. Several lines from the workprint versions that didn't appear in any other edition are now included... most strikingly, Roy's (Rutger Hauer) signature "I want more life, fucker" has reverted to the "I want more life, father" of the workprint (and television broadcasts). The latter line is, frankly, much more appropriate to the scene and the thematic concerns of the film. Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) also accounts for the missing Replicant (originally there was to be another android named Mary, but her scene was dropped before any of them were shot, but not before the police station scene had been filmed).

The extra violence from the European theatrical version, missing from the American and "Director's Cut" versions, has been reinstated, and while the moments are indeed quite nasty, the stigmata imagery towards the end is much more effective in undiluted form. The unicorn scene is different from the (very basic) one that appeared in the "Director's Cut." Some of the workprint edits are in evidence in both a few establishing shots (most noticeably of the Snake Pit) and in the shortening of a few shots that in the original American and European versions contained the voice-over, which improves over the sometimes lingering "Director's Cut," which stripped the voice-over but didn't compensate editorially. There is no longer a slight dead space to accommodate spoken lines which are no longer there, and as a result it doesn't feel as though the narration is 'missing,' as it were.

There are some shots that have been digitally altered, but the composition and story content have not been changed, only enhanced. For example, the shot of Batty looking up as Leon (Brion James) raps on the phone booth window was cribbed in all versions from the later scene in Tyrell's bedroom; the shot has been slightly zoomboxed, Tyrell's hand has been removed and the background now matches the shot that immediately follows. When Deckard (Harrison Ford) traces the scale he finds in Leon's bathtub to Abdul Ben Hassan (uncredited) the lip movements were altered to match the dialogue heard. Joanna Cassidy's stunt double was very apparent during the retirement of Zhora, but in "The Final Cut" this was corrected digitally. They also corrected the mismatch in wound patterns from one shot to the next. The sky behind the dove in the "Tears in Rain" scene now matches what you see throughout the rest of the movie. There are subtle changes like these throughout the film, but these alterations are cosmetic, and actually do work in the film's favor.

The “Final Cut” does not change the meaning of the “Director’s Cut;” it instead corrects the mistakes of the previous versions as well as focuses the story a bit better. The differences are subtle, but the overall effect is more potent for them. Blade Runner is not a perfect film, but this is as perfect a version of Blade Runner as you’re likely to get.

Ridley Scott’s current film is the gritty American Gangster, which he shoots in a style that is reminiscent of the urban thrillers of the 1970s; in fact, the original Mark Jacobson article that inspired the film was titled “The Return of Superfly.” The era the film is set in permeates the film and becomes a character as much as any of the on-screen actors. The real Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts served as consultants on this film, and it certainly achieves quite a lot of verisimilitude.

This is a film very much of its genre while also being of its time; Lucas (Denzel Washington) is shown to be successful but his success is not romanticized. The cost to his community and the lives ruined or ended by his actions are focused upon as much as any other element of his business, and the fact that his race made him invisible to the authorities is fully addressed in the film. Roberts (Russell Crowe) is indeed a straight cop, but he is also a complete mess of a man. The stars immerse themselves in their roles (Crowe apparently studied tape recordings of Roberts’ voice extensively in order to perfect his speech patterns) and are completely believable. They are also supported by top class talent operating at the top of their game, including Ruby Dee, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Josh Brolin, Ted Levine, Armand Assante and Jon Polito.

American Gangster isn’t as flashy as Scott’s other films, but such techniques wouldn’t work with this material. The film, much like David Fincher’s Zodiac earlier this year, instead is more of a police procedural, concentrating on the case itself (albeit from both sides) and so captures the viewer with the strength of its narrative rather than intimacy with the characters. Harris Savides’ photography and Marc Streitenfield’s score are both appropriately low-key. American Gangster works because it sticks to its guns and tells the story it sets out to tell.

Tags: birthday, blade runner, cinema, reviews
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