Before I saw the original 1982 “Blade Runner,” I walked the elegant floors of the Bradbury Building on a bit of a last-minute decision to celebrate local Art Deco architecture. When I first saw “Blade Runner” it was a butchered version for TV. According to Wikipedia, in all there are seven versions of the movie. Even during its original release there were two–an American theatrical release version and the international theatrical release version that contained more violence.
You can watch three versions on Amazon Video, but after watching two–the original 1982 theatrical release and the 2007 25th anniversary Final Cut, I’d choose the Final Cut.
Either way, you’ll get essentially the same story, but a slightly different ending. To set the scenario, the text tells us:
Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced robot evolution into the NEXUS phase – a being virtually identical to a human – known as a Replicant. The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them. Replicants were used Off-World as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets. After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-World colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death. Special police squads – BLADE RUNNER UNITS – had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant This was not called execution. It was called retirement.
The action begins in 2019, with an innocuous interview between a nervous engineer named Leon Kowalski (Brion James) and Blade Runner Dave Holden (Morgan Paull). NEXUS 6 Replicants are suspected of infiltrating the Tyrell Corporation and so all new employees are being given the Voight-Kampff test which looks for changed in the iris. When asked about his mother, Leon shoots Holden and escapes. Holden’s injury and failure open the way for another Blade Runner.
During this time Los Angeles is a dark urban nightmare, heavily influenced by Japanese culture. It’s the Tower of Babble, with many people speaking many different languages. Some cross-cultural communication is passive–listening to one language but replying in another. Former LAPD officer Rick Deckard is eating at a Japanese noodle joint when a LAPD good named Gaff (Edward James Olmos) arrests him while jabbering in Cityspeak–a mix of European and Asian languages. There’s no Miranda-ing here and Deckard is hauled in before his old boss, Harry Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh). Bryant wants to re-activate Deckard to the Blade Runner unit to hunt down six Replicants who have come to Earth hoping to extend their lives. NEXUS 6 units have a built-in termination date of four years.
Besides Leon, there are either four or three others, depending upon the version you watch one or two died running through the electrical field trying to gain access to the Tyrell Corporation. That leaves us with the A physical and A mental level leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), A physical and B mental level former murder squad member Zhora Salome (Joanna Cassidy) and A physical level and B mental level “basic pleasure model” Pris (Daryl Hannah).
Having been off the force, Deckard meets with Eldon Tyrell to familiarize himself with the NEXUS 6 model and administers the Voight-Kampff test on Tyrell’s beautiful (in a 1940s Joan Crawford-way) assistant, Rachael (Sean Young). Rachael seems a bit defensive, “It seems you feel our work is not a benefit to the public.”
Deckard replies, “Replicants are like any other machine – they’re either a benefit or a hazard. If they’re a benefit, it’s not my problem.” But instead of the normal 20-30 questions, after “more than a hundred,” Deckard determines that Rachael is a Replicant who is unaware that she isn’t really human. Tyrell explains that Rachael has been given false memories so that she believes she is real because “‘More human that human’ is our motto.”
Deckard searches Leon’s hotel room and find photos and an animal scale. Elsewhere in the city, Roy and Leon are at the lab that made their eyes and meet with Hannibal Chew (James Hong). Chew professes to know nothing about morphology, longevity or incept dates. Chew tells them the genetic designer is engineered by a J.F. Sebastian.
Deckard will, of course, reveal the truth to Rachael and fall in love with her. Roy and his girl Pris along with Zhora and Leon will continue to seek the means to change their fate. In the end, all will meet with Deckard but not all in fear. Roy tells Deckard, “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”
Under the direction of Ridley Scott, there is a nuanced, thriving world realized. The Japanese influence is clear, but instead of looking at 1980s Japanese fads and fashions to use as inspiration, the look of conical hats and other Asian-influenced wardrobe decisions seems to look backward to the past Orientalist versions of China and Japan.
The “Final Cut” is the only one that includes a full version of the unicorn dream–that doesn’t exist in the original theatrical release. And that ties into the origami creation that Gaff leaves for Deckard. In both versions, Deckard clearly understands what the Replicants are searching for, the same things that humans search for–answers to the questions: “Where did I come from? Where am I going? How long have I got? ”
In the ending of the original theatrical release, Rachael and Deckard drive north where there are still forests and snow-capped mountains. The Final Cut doesn’t give us that kind of relief from the urban nightmare yet that forests and greenery of the original release’s ending seem to vaguely connect to the mysterious yellow flower in the sequel.
If you’re prepping to see “Blade Runner 2049,” and only have time for one movie, go for the Final Cut. If you’re in Los Angeles, check out the Bradbury Building.