New cut of 'Blade Runner' is as provocative and befuddling as before

September 11, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Forget Sarajevo. Forget AIDS. Forget the campaign. On now to the only serious issue of the summer: Is Harrison Ford a replicant?

This disturbing rumor has circulated since 1982, when Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" was initially released to indifferent business from the masses but zealous adoration from a narrow band of zealots.

The hallucinatory, visionary movie, surely one of the most provocative and befuddling ever made, has been rereleased in a "director's cut," giving Scott the last word on his own story and a chance to clear up its meanings. Needless to say, it's a chance he fiendishly ignores.

For those who can't remember or don't know, the movie is set in 2019 A.D., in a Los Angeles that's a multicultural and multiclimate welter of punk and Japanese and Hispanic, all mulched together under constant rain and post-industrial decay, photographed through a prism of film-noir stylistics. It's the future imagined as the past, a 2019 that's also a 1947, where the streets are always wet, women are always dames and guys call each other "Pal."

Trouble arises in this retro-dystopia when "replicants" -- human clones, designed for dangerous "off-world" tasks, like mining or infantry duty -- arrive to find their birthright. Artificially doomed after four years, they've come to earth to expand their life spans; unfortunately, they kill whoever gets in the way.

Ford is Deckard, a "Blade Runner" -- i.e., a hard-boiled, tough-talking cop who specializes in tracking and retiring (blowing away) replicants. Put on the trail of the four, he's easily the worst manhunter in movies. He manages only to find and kill the two women, and then only with lucky shots. The men eat his lunch, and he manages to survive on the dumbest of luck. That's one of the strange strokes built into the story.

Or perhaps "story" is a misleading word. For an astonishing and influential picture, "Blade Runner" is also as empty as a coconut; it's full of muted chords of alienation and anxiety, all of it tTC seeming to add up but in fact adding up to nothing. This version, by the way, is no more coherent than the earlier one.

What's different? Scott has deleted a voice-over that the studio insisted upon, in which beat-up Deckard simply reiterated every point in mock-film noir rhetoric that the film had already made. You hardly noticed that it was there; you hardly notice that it is gone. Also, a final, "optimistic" sequence of images -- green hills -- which was made up of outtakes from another film, has been deleted. The ending, however, remains the same: Deckard escapes with a girl-replicant (Sean Young), knowing that she will die soon.

Or maybe he will. A friend who cares about such things reports that a line has been altered from "She'll die soon, but everybody dies" to "You'll die soon, but everybody dies," which, coupled with a dream sequence re-edited into the movie, proves by the strictest of Newtonian logic that the cop is a genetically engineered compubrain himself.

That would be a final jest, wouldn't it? One of our treasured movies turns out to be about a clock-radio with a gun and a Cuisinart with a hairdo living happily ever after for one year until their batteries fade? Thanks, but I'll choose Paris, where the Germans wore gray and you wore blue.

'Blade Runner: The Director's Cut'

Starring Harrison Ford and Sean Young.

Directed by Ridley Scott.

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R.

***

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