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  • English: Dolby Digital Surround
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    Blade Runner - Director's Cut

    Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 90 mins . G . PAL


    Right, this is the one: my favourite movie of all time. Since seeing BLADE RUNNER years ago, the narrative flaws have become more apparent and the visual magic all but rationalised by mountains of SFX exposition. Nowadays it feels less like a wondrous waking dream and more like a chance collision of factors that combined to create one of those all-too-rare freaks of the Hollywood system: a film that remained truer to its artistic aspirations than its commercial obligations.

    Imbued with the Midas touch after the success of ALIEN (1979), director Ridley Scott was able to wield enough control during the making of BLADE RUNNER to deliver something very special. Then again, one could argue, perhaps he had too much control. Obsessed with obtaining the perfect shot for every shot, Scott's production inevitably ran over budget, bringing additional financial pressures to bear on a crew growing more restless and moody with each passing week. Technical difficulties, friction between Scott and Harrison Ford, bad blood between the producers and writer Philip K. Dick, not to mention a lack of chemistry between Ford and leading lady Sean Young, helped matters not at all.

    Two years after getting the green light, BLADE RUNNER was finally previewed to test audiences. It fared poorly. Not realising that Scott's new movie was a far more subtle beast than ALIEN, requiring multiple viewings for an audience to comprehend and digest each level of the work, the producers contrived the now infamous changes to the first cut: the addition of Deckard's leaden narration and the incongruously happy coda.

    In a less-critical frame of mind these mutations did little to derail my fascination for the film, a sentiment shared by many critics who saw the past the deficiencies and distracting visuals to appreciate the positives, of which there are many.

    The idea that robots could feel human emotions and yet be unable to handle them, either through ignorance in Rachel's case, or a refusal to accept the truth as with Roy Batty's group, struck me as pure poetry. When I first saw the film I had just discovered computers for myself; BLADE RUNNER, or rather, the Philip K. Dickian examination of "what is human" that the movie portrays, hit me at the right time and at the right age, filling my veins do with the same brand of sentiment that keeps those legions of forever-young STAR WARS fans going.

    As the technology to create such a level of AI becomes more attainable, the themes that BLADE RUNNER dealt with way back in 1982, when the hottest gadgets around were Atari 2600s, VIC 20s and Tandy TRS 80s (or as one wit called them, "Trash 80s"), still fascinate me today. While those other computing artefacts have long since passed from popular culture, either morphing into their present-day equivalents or mercifully disappearing altogether, BLADE RUNNER and its moral concerns will remain relevant well into the next century.

    Taken as a straight SF yarn, which is how most people see the film, BLADE RUNNER is less successful. Scott's preference for non-verbal story telling, having Harrison Ford -- who as Indiana Jones was thought of by audiences as the loveable rogue -- constantly brutalised, the slow pace, the array of perplexing symbolism, and a dark, sludgy tone that only someone with clinical depression would relate to, all disqualify BLADE RUNNER from having a "wide audience appeal". To no one's surprise it bombed at the box-office, but over the years it has garnered a respectable cult following.

    Calls by fans for a director's cut restoration (which were fuelled by the exhibition of a work print containing extra scenes) and steady home video sales motivated Warner Bros. to look into the viablity of a theatrical re-release of Ridley Scott's original version. Alas, to cut a long story short, the restoration was botched. After two separate parties attempted the project, all work was frozen and reassigned to essentially one man.

    By this stage, however, the locked-in 1991 theatrical release date was only months away, necessitating a rush job. The time to restore every missing piece, such as Deckard visiting Holden in hospital (which had to be entirely relooped and scored) and MPAA decensoring, was simply not on hand. Instead, a short-list of corrections was assembled by Scott: the removal of the narration and the epilogue, and the reinstatement of Deckard's unicorn day-dream.

    For better or worse, this is the version now circulating on home video. While I can imagine a second attempt at the director's cut may be undertaken in the future, I would not want to bet any money on it -- as time marches on the original elements must be close to disintegrating. And with one director's cut already out there, such a venture would also be a marketing nightmare. The best we can hope for is a remastered special edition DVD of the current director's cut. [13/1/2000: It seems we will get the best of both! Scott and Warner are working on a special edition DVD which may feature about seven minutes of extra footage. -RW]


    The framing of this PAL edition of BLADE RUNNER is identical to Warner's CAV laserdisc and Region 1 DVD. On my TV it appears slightly windowboxed due to the minimal overscan on my Loewe Ergo. Incidentally, this happens to be the widest version put out so far; Deckard's finger can be seen on Rachel's shoulder after he says he won't hunt her, "but somebody would." The VHS rental sell-throughs were pan-and-scan.

    I compared the NTSC disc with ours and found that they are virtually identical except for the usual PAL/NTSC differences. The NTSC DVD seems to have more contrast, while the PAL disc has a shade more detail which required a touch more sharpness and contrast to yield the most noticable results on my 68 cm TV. The tiny lights on Tyrell's pyramid seem to be more stable on the NTSC version, but this could be explained by PAL/NTSC decoder anomalies in my TV.

    Shimmer is apparent in shots of venetian blinds (0:31:25, 1:45:13) and on the VidPhone Deckard uses to call Rachel from Taffey Lewis' bar (0:48:44).

    Even though a restoration of the same magnitude as the one performed for ALIEN would deliver a smashingly good image, the picture quality on this no-frills DVD is still pleasing overall. The main faults concerning excessive grain in some shots and limited shadow detail are easy for the casual viewer to overlook.


    Besides a video overhall, BLADE RUNNER desperately needs an audio upgrade. Distortion occurs frequently and the whole presentation sounds brittle and primative. Because most of the sound and music is subtle and muted these shortcomings don't ruin the experience, but one wonders what a full-on Dolby Digital 5.1 mix would taste like. THE WILD BUNCH gained a great deal from its Prologic to Dolby Digital refurbishment.


    No extras. The Region 1 DVD contains the pan-and-scan version on the other side of the disc, which is quite handy for examining various details close-up. I was pleased with the accuracy of the sub-titles.


    BLADE RUNNER is the proverbial flawed masterpiece. It is terrific news that Warner Brothers are releasing a special edition DVD; it seems that a poor showing at the box-office has not stigmatised the film; Scott's enthusiasm and the movie's cult following and critical accolades probably helped to get this project moving. For now we can enjoy a fairly good widescreen presentation of the almost-director's cut in PAL.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=225
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