I watched Blade Runner again last night - seems to be a season of catching up on older movies. It was listed as the 'Final Cut' and certainly, even though it's quite a few years since I first saw the film, there were scenes that didn't seem familiar at all. Whether that was just memory or alteration I'm not sure.
The story, when you think about it, can be summed up very easily. Four baddies on the loose. Kill them. The Harrison Ford character, Deckard, changes very little from the beginning to the end - if anything, he's even less enamoured of the job than he was at the beginning (we're not given any indication as to why he should have to go ahead with his particular job, since he's 'retired'). He has a sort of relationship with a girl, who is a 'replicant' - or human-like robot of the most sophisticated kind - and it kind of goes somewhere, but really has to struggle to hold its own with the violent episodes that are required to dispose of the four nasty replicants who are on the loose and shouldn't be.
The hunting down of the four replicants is pretty haphazard when you think about it. Deckard somehow finds a bit of reptile skin which he knows is synthetic, and this somehow leads him to the first of the replicants, a woman (Joanna Cassidy) doing some kind of sleazy act with the synthetic, but very lifelike snake. (Fortunately we don't get to see the act.) She cottons onto his cheesy performance as some kind of pervert inspector, and lands him a couple of solid blows to the neck (I think). But Deckard is a Dick Francis type of hero: you can mutilate him to within an inch of his life and he'll be back on his feet in minutes. He chases her and shoots her. Hmm, not much detective work there. The second replicant then finds him, and again practically kills him, and is shot in turn by the 'good' replicant girlfriend. Seems she can do anything if she's programmed for it, even things she didn't know she could do, like playing the piano.
The last two nasties, played by Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer (whose English varies between clear and incomprehensible) are the strangest of the lot. Hannah's character is plain oddball, and, if I got it right, a kind of killing machine. Hauer has a bit of a poet's heart, but isn't averse to doing the nastiest murder in the film. Hannah meets a frenetic, screaming end - and boy are we glad to see the end of her. She's just creepy.
Hauer is perhaps creepier, sometimes seeming to have popped over from the set of some horror movie, like the Friday the 13th series, but winds up, in the version I saw last night, dying quietly in the rain because his time has run out. (The replicants only get four years of 'life' - a rather short period of time, considering how superbly constructed they are.)
The film is full of oddball characters: William Sanderson as J F Sebastian, a genetic something-or-other who makes human-like toys; and Joe Turkel as the father/creator of the replicants, to name just a couple. Sanderson plays the most endearing character in the movie, but comes to a probably nasty, but thankfully unseen, end.
The thing that makes the movie most striking, perhaps, is the film noir approach: most of it takes place in a kind of perpetual night, with searchlights flicking across the screen for no apparent reason, and lots of neon lighting, and a kind of endless drizzle, (and sometimes it's pelting down). Chinese seems to be the prime language (though not for any of the main characters) and apart from advertising (Budweiser and Coca Cola in full view) most of the signage is in Chinese, and most of the food being served on the usual best fat burner from the street stalls is Chinese - and most of the lesser characters are Asian. It's a crowded noisy world, obviously unpleasant to live in, but taken for granted by the characters.
It's set in 2019, which isn't that far away now (the film was made in 1982), and while we have the usual flying cars and video phones and a few other clever futuristic things, the Internet is noticeably missing - to viewers in 2009. Barely thought of at that time, of course, and perhaps almost inconceivable.
There's one odd scene with a unicorn in the middle of the movie: perhaps Deckard is having a dream of some sort, but its pastoral tone comes out of nowhere, and vanishes almost as quickly. What was that about? And why does Darryl Hannay spray black stuff across her eyes (not a particularly healthy thing to do, I'd think) at one point? There are quite a few unanswered questions here...
Plainly the various versions of the film have had to be reassessed by reviewers: Roger Ebert has four reviews on imdb.com, the Guardian two, and BBCi films three. One or other of them might give me a clue as to the various shape-shifting this film has had.
PS. Here's what the Guardian has to say about the various versions of this movie:
You've probably seen Blade Runner: in 1982, on the release of the International Cut, or, if you happened to be in North America, the Domestic Cut. Then there was the Director's Cut, which actually had very little to do with the director. The one he did approve is called the Final Cut, which is the newest version - although it's not as new as the Workprint, which is the earliest one of all.
Confused? Warner Brothers feels your pain. As well as a new two-disc DVD of the Final Cut, they have issued a five-disc box set that includes every incarnation of Ridley Scott's film known to man, plus a multitude of extras. But why did we end up with so many versions? And is it worth shelling out for what sceptics may suspect is, essentially, the same film five times over?
This review is worth checking out if you want to have some idea which version is worth watching - I don't think it's really the one I saw last night.