From bored to enlightened

Blade Runner - Polish Style!The Regent Theatre is the only theatrical venue in Toronto to catch Ridley Scott's definitive Blade Runner restoration before the film and its prior incarnations hit retail shelves December 18th in a multi-disc set on standard and high-def DVD.

When Blade Runner was originally released in 1982, it flew over my head not because of any complex plotting, inability to grasp film noir, or Vangelis’ synthetic music, but due to it being a Restricted film which, in Canada, meant no teen had a chance of seeing solo, let alone with an adult (unless they agreed to lie for you).

I didn’t know who Ridley Scott was at the time, but I did know about his prior film, Alien, because it was the film everyone was talking about because of the chest-bursting scene; in 1980 I was still in grade school, yet the whole class knew about the gory scene by the end of craft class because I wouldn’t shut up about it, even though I hadn’t seen it beyond the gory Heavy Metal graphic novel and Richard J. Anobile’s photo-novel that showed Yaphet Kotto’s tummy being pierced by one helluva proboscis; and when it debuted on home video, big mouth me was so terrified of seeing the reality that I watched the shock scenes on my friend’s dad’s Betamax tape in the reflection of my Timex. Total infantile scaredy-cat.

When Blade Runner debuted on pay TV (two movie channels named Super Channel and First Choice slugging it out before their eventual peace deal), I knew *of* the film because it had a teaser trailer featuring a bloody cloud in the title logo set to music by Robert Randles, one of the composers Scott allegedly kept in the wings in case Vangelis’ music didn’t fit the film according to plan.

(Scott had done a lot of tinkering with Jerry Goldsmith’s music on Alien, including appropriating cues from the composer’s much older score, Freud, a 1962 John Huston film which Universal tinkered with prior to its theatrical release. I wrote a long, long essay for Music from the Movies when Alien debuted on DVD with an isolated music track featuring all of Goldsmith’s used and unused cues. That score essay, comparing the composer’s and director’s intentions, will be uploaded to’s archives when the new 2-CD set of Alien from Intrada arrives, to tie-in with the CD review.)

Blade Runner’s blood clouded- logo was a very cool graphic, indeed. I did ultimately catch the movie on home video – the longer and more violent version – which I ultimately found boring (Vangelis’ music excepted).

I *was* familiar with film noir by then - bought a book, watched everything from Inferno (1953) to Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) – and argued the film’s value with several friends who either became colleagues, video gurus, or eccentrics (or all of the aforementioned). I found Blade Runner dull, the narration stunk, the pacing was slow, and Rutger Hauer’s decision to pierce his hand with a nail and taunt Harrison Ford in the finale made no sense, or seemed an excessive indulgence in onscreen violence.

I did buy the New American Orchestra LP which featured a handful of re-recorded cuts, as this was the only way to enjoy the score due to an alleged snit between director Scott and composer Vangelis, who apparently didn’t like the way his music was treated by the director in the film’s final editing and mixing.

Oh, and I could watch the head-crunching scene without a reflective device. Easy as pie.

It wasn’t until the first Director’s Cut (1992) that I developed a healthy appreciation for the film, now free of its monotone narration, and benefiting from serious visual and aural cleansing. The film looked gorgeous on the big screen, and was seen at Toronto’s once glorious Uptown Theatre at a midnight screening before the huge theatre was closed and razed in 2003 by its owners and developers wanting to plop another condo tower so more million dollar folks could live in a building – still un-built - bearing the name of a beloved edifice murdered by corporate and governmental greed and apathy. (Bitter? No…)

By 1994, Vangelis’ score had also been given a new CD release, featuring the original score recordings in its first (legal) commercial release beyond the two cues on the old Polydor Themes compilation CD; the new Blade Runner CD sounded great, and a number of fabulous cues were rescued from oblivion, but the dolt who produced the disc decided dialogue excerpts would improve upon the pure enjoyment of hearing a score unreleased for 12 years.

That of course validated the bootleggers’ efforts, who had already decided to release their own versions of the score, beginning with the infamous Off World CD (1993) – arguably prompting the aforementioned legal release from Warner Bros. - the Gongo disc (1995), and home jobs featuring every blurp and bleep necessary to relive the experience of seeing the movie without actually seeing it.

Scott’s new Director’s Cut seemed to restore all the missing bits the fans knew would made a more perfect film, and the incremental re-edits also marked a rare second time the director had tinkered with a film he’d directed.

Due to the now-standard and indulgently double-dipping trend of offering director’s cuts on DVD and releasing the same film twice or thrice outside of high-def, Ridley Scott has tweaked more than half of the films he’s directed, although of the affected batch, only Alien remains the most unnecessary, as he effectively ruined the slow pacing he and ace editor Terry Rawlings established in 1980 by integrating many scenes that were rightly deemed harmful to the film’s flow, and also quite redundant. (And Goldsmith’s Freud cues were still trapped in the finished mix.)

One aspect that really stands out in all Blade Runner editions is Scott’s pacing, which is very measured, and though kinetic during chase sequences and montages, it stays respectful of actors as they live out scenes, give natural, and believable performances in what’s effectively a futuristic film noir.

It may be that with each decade, Blade Runner will continue to ascend towards a top 10 or top 20 all-time classic status, which it rightly deserves, because the subtext, atmosphere, dialogue, visuals and music are for the performers and technicians, among the best things they ever created or achieved.

Blade Runner is less of a slow movie and more of a calculated genre hybrid, and while the whole Deckard-and-unicorn tie-in still feels like a rough concept that was never refined in the script or film to really resonate – the fact unicorn footage from Scott’s next film, Legend, pops up is still a clumsy, jarring affectation – the film just gets better with each viewing, and I’ve seen it a mere 3 or 4 times when it debuted on home video.

The new sound mix also rocks –the first skull crush as Batty kills papa Tyrell sounds like cracking boulder, but I *kept* watching – and Vangelis’ music is beautifully interwoven between source cues and an incredibly dense sound effects design; fans familiar with the underground CDs are aware of how much music was truncated for many scenes, but one can also assume Scott was trying to find the film’s pacing, and those long cues on the boutique CDs were safe insurance in case he decided to let a scene play out longer than planned.

Visually, the film looks great, and various fans and fan sites have focused on the new shots integrated into the film – namely the ‘fixed’ death of Zora. What’s more important, however, is how the scene remains a pivotal juncture where we understand why Deckard wanted to stay the hell away from retiring any more replicants: it’s a shitty job, and to the surrounding general public, he’s just an assassin spilling blood in their private places.

Zora’s death is tragic, foreshadows the end of her kin, and Vangelis scores the scene with such sadness that it becomes an elegy for a species hunted to extinction by government sanction; subjectively assessed subtext, for sure, but the scene on the big screen genuinely gets the eyes wet.

And while the sound and picture will be the main reason to see Blade Runner on the big screen, it’s the impact of such carefully constructed scenes that make the film so memorable. Scott’s use of close-ups and his eventual shift to extreme close-ups during the finale are intense portraits of agony in Panavision, with sweat, water, and grime dribbling from the actors’ faces as they battle around and atop the old Bradbury Building. So while you’ll probably pick up one of the many DVD editions – standard, ultimate, or high-def – try and catch it on the big screen. The Regent’s presentation is a digital projection, and it was very, very impressive.

And as for the upcoming 3-CD soundtrack set, well, it’s best to be cautious. The specs are detailed HERE at this exhaustive Vangelis site, and apparently Disc 1 is a reissue of the imperfect 1998 disc with dialogue cluttering up the cues. Disc 2 has unreleased music (which fans will undoubtedly compare with their Off World, Gongo, Esper, Deck Art and Deck Music boutique CDs), and Disc 3 is some oddity with the composer revisiting his themes anew, and “intriguing” verbal mutterings that will apparently include dialogue and/or words from Scott, plus filmmakers who have collaborated with Vangelis, including Oliver Stone (Alexander), and Roman Polanski (Bitter Moon).

Even from a cursory scan of track titles from Universal Music’s press release, one can see there’s no duplication of cues from CD1 on CD2, meaning any cues from the 1994 CD you hoped would be free of dialogue won’t, as CD2 clocks in at around 44 mins.

Blade Runner's original 2-week engagement at The Regent Theatre has been extended, of which more can be read HERE.


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