Visually spectacular, intensely action-packed and powerfully prophetic since its debut, Blade Runner returns in Ridley Scott's definitive Final Cut, including extended scenes and never-before-seen special effects. In a signature role as 21st-century detective Rick Deckard, Harrison Ford brings his masculine-yet-vulnerable presence to this stylish noir thriller. In a future of high-tech possibility soured by urban and social decay, Deckard hunts for fugitive, murderous replicates - and is drawn to a mystery woman whose secrets may undermine his soul.
"A new life awaits you on the off-world colonies…"
In my review for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, I opened by discussing the difficulties of discussing a classic piece of cinema. I face that conundrum again with Ridley Scott's 1982 film, Blade Runner. Over the last 35 years, Blade Runner has run the gauntlet of being considered an expensive indulgent failure to being one of the highest-regarded films in science fiction filmmaking. In those years, audiences have been witness to multiple releases, various versions of the film, as well as a fairly definitive restoration effort. It's been discussed, dissected, and digested leaving little room for me to add anything to the conversation beyond what it has meant for me in developing my appreciation of film.
Blade Runner, alongside John Carpenter's The Thing, was a box office and critical bomb when it hit movie theaters a scant two weeks after the phenom that was E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. It was a movie that few people saw in theaters during its initial run and even fewer thought much about it afterward. Thankfully, home video switched that around. When Warner Brothers released what was to be dubbed the "Director's Cut," folks all of a sudden started giving this film another look and reassessing its position in the science-fiction genre. It's because of this Director's Cut release on VHS that I learned what Blade Runner even was, let alone come to appreciate it as one of my favorite films.
In the fall of 1992 after I'd turned 10 that summer, not long after the Director's Cut release on home video, my dad introduced me to Blade Runner. Not only this one but 2001: A Space Odyssey in the same night! I can't remember the circumstances that led to both my mom and my sister not being home on a Friday night, but it was just me and my dad, some pizza, a bunch of junk food, and a trip to our local VideoWatch (before they were bought by Hollywood Video). While I ran around looking at new releases and the shop's expansive horror movie collection, my dad got stuck in the science fiction section. Before I knew it, he had two tapes in his hand and the search for evening entertainment was over with the simple phrase "you're gonna love these."
Now, I honestly can't remember which one we watched first. Given the heady complicated stories and that it's been 25 years since that fateful evening, my first memories of both films are kind of a blur. Up to that point, I'd only seen Harrison Ford flying around space, cracking whips while punching Nazis, and help some friendly Amish people raise a barn. I'd never seen him as a jaded detective/assassin assigned to hunt and kill these very human-looking robots. There was action, but not like the kind I'd seen in my favorite Schwarzenegger movies - the violence had an outcome. The hero didn't crack wise like one would if they'd tossed a knife through a guy in the jungle. No, the hero here was a man who was very conflicted about what he did for a living. For one of the first memorable times in my life, I had to actually consider character motivation and the inner conflict of that individual.
I had seen Alien and that Blade Runner was also directed by Ridley Scott was part of the pitch my dad made in getting me to watch something I'd never heard of. Blade Runner wasn't scary. It wasn't set in space. It was set in this dark and ominous vision of a near future where humanity has all but abandoned the planet that spawned the species. The first time we meet the hero he's watching a giant blimp advertising a better life. It's heady stuff. While some criticize the film for being visually indulgent, style over substance, I would counter that those people just aren't really and honestly looking at the film. There's a lot of substance there, you just have to be paying attention. To that point, I can't watch this film distracted or allow it to be on with distractions around me. Cell phones down, lights off.
Given the circumstances of watching two of the greatest science-fiction films back to back at such a young age, my little 10-year-old brain was suitably blown. It was an insane experience digesting both movies together and as a result, I have a mutual appreciation for both. To this day I can't watch one without thinking about the other and then weighing the idea of watching both movies together. It's a nostalgic experience that I hold onto. Over the years I would discover the original theatrical cut - which isn't bad, just not my preferred version because I never felt the narration to be organic or necessary to the film.
I've gotten to see the theatrical, Director's Cut, and the Final Cut in the theater projected from actual film prints. I've owned the film on VHS, DVD, Laserdisc, and Blu-ray. Like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, it's a film I will always buy. It's etched in the wood. As long as the next release offers up a significant discernible upgrade in picture and audio quality, my hard-earned cash will be spent. Even if the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 ends up being a subpar sequel, nothing can diminish my love and appreciation for this film. It'll always be a true classic in my book.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD
Blade Runner The Final Cut arrives for the first time on 4K Ultra HD courtesy of Warner Brothers in a four-disc + Digital HD set. The 4K release is pressed onto a BD-66 disc while the other three discs are merely the same Disc 1, 2, and 4 (more on that in a bit), of the original 5-disc release of Blade Runner from 2007. The standard Blu-ray release has not been remastered for this release. All four discs are housed in a 2-disc black UHD case with an identical slip cover with two discs stacked on top of each other. The UHD disc opens directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. The included Digital HD slip redeems a 4K VUDU UHD with Dolby Vision & Dolby Atmos version (full review HERE!).
It's days like this one where I wish I had the technology to properly capture UHD images with HDR. I'm aching inside because I just can't do this review justice with images captured from the now ancient VC-1 Blu-ray of 2007. The visual improvement from that first Blu-ray release to this new 2160p 2.40:1 4K transfer is jaw dropping. That first shot of the dark and dreary Los Angeles left me wide-eyed. The amount of visual information and depth of feel was incredibly impactful. The first shot of those dark towered spewing flames with the obelisk Tyrell corporation buildings was stunning. As you get closer and closer to the practical models, you can see all of the little nooks and crannies with an appreciable amount of detail and depth. Then you meet Leon and his work clothes now have a notable crinkly plastic-like look like a cheap uniform on an old toy making him look even more artificial.
Considering that the 35mm elements were scanned in 4K and the 65mm effects shots were scanned at 8K with the restoration finished at 4K, this is absolutely the best Blade Runner The Final Cut has ever looked on home video - and likely will ever look without another incredibly expensive restoration effort. Details are exquisite, from fine facial features to the intricate cityscape model work, everything is on display for you to pick over and parcel through. Colors with HDR are bright, bold, and beautiful. Black levels are deep and inky without any contrast issues allowing each frame to enjoy a terrific sense of depth. If you've got any friends out there unsure about 4K or just don't "see the point," this transfer for Blade Runner The Final Cut should be the demo disc you use to wow them. I'm going to be running this disc again and again just to soak in all of the little things I never noticed before.
Considering Blade Runner The Final Cut was originally released with a rock solid audio mix, this new Atmos track breaks that mold. Turn it up. LOUD. From the first bursts of flames along the skyline to the flying spinners to the booming base tones of Vangelis' iconic score - it's an audio mix that joyfully pins you to the back of your seat. Considering the film was originally only in stereo, I honestly wasn't expecting much directionality, but it's really impressive how much atmosphere has been provided for the mix. The vertical and side surround channels create a terrific immersive experience courtesy of the constant rainfall and hustle and bustle of the city. It sucks you into the scene but never sounds overblown or processed - it just sounds natural and lifelike. Dialogue is clean and crystal clear throughout without any issues. Vangelis' score really pumps up the LFE tones and gives certain sequences an appreciable sense of dread. You're just going to have to take my word for it, this is a huge improvement in quality. I was already happy knowing that the film was getting a good and proper 4K image transfer, but this new Atmos mix is really something special and I feel it sets an important benchmark for audio presentations for classic movies - I'm looking at you Close Encounters of the Third Kind!
While the A/V presentation for this 4K UHD release is impeccable, I'm very sad to report that the ball was essentially dropped in terms of bonus features. Literally, the only new bonus feature to be had in the entire set is a new 4K trailer. That's it. Everything else was unfortunately recycled from the 2007 release. To that point, this isn't a complete set of bonus features and unfortunately is short sighted in that it doesn't do any pre-release promotion of the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. This would have been the perfect opportunity for some sort of behind the scenes retrospective with cast and crew interviews or even one of the new film's many trailers.
Now for the weirdness of this review. My package, as were all press screener copies, is an anomaly. The bonus features were only supposed to contain Disc 1, 2, and 4 from the 2007 Blu-ray release. For the record that's one Blu-ray and two DVD discs. However, some mixup occurred and reviewers were actually given Disc 1, 2, and the Blu-ray Disc 3 of that 2007 set that included the Theatrical Cut, International Cut, and the 1992 Director's Cut. That is a goof up that should be fixed for all retail copies come release day so the average consumer will only get the 4K disc, The Final Cut Blu-ray, and Disc 2 and Disc 4 of the 2007 set.
4K UHD Disc:
Audio Commentary Featuring Ridley Scott
Audio Commentary Featuring Hampton Fancher, David Peoples, Michael Deeley, and Katherine Haber
Audio Commentary Featuring Syd Mead, Lawrence G Paull, David Snyder, Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich, and David Dryer
For the rest of the bonus features found on Disc 2 and Disc 4, I will refer you back to our coverage of the previous 2007 Blu-ray release.
For my money, Blade Runner is an impeccable, near-flawless piece of science-fiction filmmaking. A true classic that only gets better with age and repeated viewings. It became an instant favorite of mine since I was 10 years old and has remained that way for the last 25 years. I'll never tire of it as there will always be something new to see and appreciate. It's just that good of a movie. Blade Runner The Final Cut makes its 4K debut courtesy of Warner Brothers. I'm overjoyed to say that the film has never looked and sounded better - and it's unlikely it'll get any better than this. For classic films on 4K, this is the new demo disc to flash at your pals who don't see the point in upgrading. However, this is not the definitive release fans were hoping for. The bonus features package is a huge missed opportunity as it merely recycles previous discs with most of those bonus features appearing only in SD on DVDs. That said, having the content in its current form is still better than not having it at all. It'd have been just as easy for none of these discs to be included. Not ideal, but not as terrible as it could have been. For the 4K fan who absolutely adores this film, this set is still a must own.