Some Thoughts on Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Blade RunnerThe 5-disc HD-DVD version of Blade Runner includes…

The original Workprint Cut
The 1982 Theatrical Cut
The 1982 International Cut
The 1992 Director’s Cut
The 2007 Final Cut

That’s a lottta cuts.

Last night, I watched the new “Final Cut” version of the film. This is an absolutely gorgeous transfer, so good it’s almost like seeing the film for the first time, really. Ridley Scott has gone back and cleaned up some of the old FX with digital FX–not “Star Wars” drastic, more like the DVD of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where the changes are inperceptible.

One of Scott’s intentions with the new cut was to settle the argument of whether or not Harrison Ford’s Deckard was a replicant himself. While this may have been Scott’s intention, there is no definite answer given within the film itself. Deckard dreams of a unicorn, and according to Scott, that’s supposed to indicate that Deckard is a replicant. How do we as an audience come to that conclusion without Scott specifically telling us so in the disc’s special features? Scott maintains that the unicorn origami that Gaff (Edward James Olmos) leaves behind on the floor of Deckard’s apartment, shows that Gaff has looked at Deckard’s file and knows that Deckard has implanted unicorn dreams. That’s a pretty big jump to make, and I think an audience’s natural response to that origami is to chalk it up to a nice little piece of artsy coincidence, not some grand reveal as to Deckard’s true nature.

On the one hand, if Scott says it is so, it is so. But if Scott thinks he’s made it blatantly obvious, well, it’s just simply not so. It doesn’t change things for me when I view it. It doesn’t really matter if Deckard is a replicant or not, because the film is mainly about how human these things are anyways. Deckard’s story is his struggle trying to make some kind of sense of the morality of killing manufactured people. Whether he’s a human or a replicant, his character’s arc remains exactly the same. The only question I would pose to Scott would be why all the replicants have super-human strength except for Deckard, if Deckard is indeed one himself?

As evidenced by a mountain of re-edits, this is not a wholly satisfying film. I know it’s not a popular opinion, but I find the film’s plot simplistic and deadly slow. Deckard has to dispose of four renegade replicants, and takes care of them one by one, until the film reaches its conclusion. Along the way we are treated to some fantastic visuals; amazing production design that has influenced countless films. But we are also treated to way too many scenes with synthesized saxophone music while people walk around in the rain. Anytime Deckard interacts with Sean Young the movie goes from slow to a dead stop. There’s no amount of chemistry between the two actors, and Young’s performance is so oddly mannered that in any scenes they have together it’s as if they were delivering all of their lines in slow motion at the bottom of a water tank. Add the “dreamy” Vangelis score and you have a pretty decent sleeping pill of a movie.

I think Scott keeps returning to Blade Runner to try and reconcile the genius of the look of the film with the overall weak script. It’s evident now, after so many versions, that he just can’t squeeze water from a stone. Blade Runner is what it is–an influential visual landmark in science fiction, that is also a fairly boring movie.

 –John

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>> Sweeney Todd (John’s Review, 8/10)

Sweeney ToddSome reviews are more difficult to write than others, and even though I saw Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street a couple of weeks ago, I’ve had a hard time finding an approach to a review for a movie that delivered pretty much exactly what I expected. From the moment the project was announced, it seemed like a good marriage of talent to material–a gothic, musical horror film with Tim Burton directing and Johnny Depp as the lead. That’s almost like the Tim Burton equivalent of a Martin Scorcese crime film. The words “gothic” and “Depp” are enough, but add the word “musical”, and you know you’re seeing something tailor-made for Burton. Burton enjoys dark corners, but he enjoys the theatrical and operatic (some might say campy) even more. Give him the opportunity to mix those interests, and you’re talking about the type of project that Burton could probably direct in his sleep.

Depp is of course the title character, Sweeney Todd, a barber once named Benjamin Barker convicted of an imaginary crime by the villainous Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). Turpin’s motivation to send Barker away is his own lust, not only for Barker’s angelic wife, but for Barker’s daughter as well. When Barker is released from prison, he adopts the identity of Sweeney Todd, and sets up shop above a repulsive meat pie stand (owned by Mrs. Lovett, played here by Helena Bonham Carter). Todd is almost hate personified, starting with the single-minded purpose of killing Judge Turpin and his filthy major domo Beadle (Timothy Spall), and then expanding his murderous hate under the influence of Mrs. Lovett, killing almost anyone that might sit in his barber’s chair.

The songs by Stephen Sondheim are nimble and wordy, a delight for those that enjoy dense, tricky lyrics over Broadway-style showstoppers. Everyone in the cast is a capable singer, more than ready to do what the part requires, but nobody’s voice is a revelation here. Everyone sings exactly how you would expect them to sing.

So, was there anything unexpected? Maybe the violence. Burton has no issues soaking the screen with arterial spray in the film. While it might make some squirm, this is a case where the gore really felt like a big part of the story. The splatter is part of the show, and the red bursts are intense against Burton’s mostly neutral-toned London. Not to sound like a blood-thirsty psycho, but it really was all part of the fun.

The fact that this dark revenge tale is fun is the trick that Burton has pulled off. Sweeney Todd is nasty, bloody, and morose, and, when examined against its individual parts, shouldn’t be declared a fun time at the movies, but there it is. Fun. Only Burton could create such light entertainment from such dark material.

8 on a 1 to 10 scale