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In this episode: Blade Runner | My Recent Lack of Reviews
BLADE RUNNER
The No-Longer Mysterious Version of Wonder

PREFACE: The always-informed David Melito has told me that he has an article describing the seven various versions of Blade Runner that were shown at one time or another. He promised to show this article to me, but he's in Texas right now working on some kind of movie, probably with Christopher Walken or Brad Dourif or someone like that. Whenever I get the article, I'll let you know which version I saw.

PREFACE ADDENDUM: David sent me the article, and I think the version we saw was either the 70mm work print used during editing, or another very similar to it that was found in the vaults (I guess at Warner Bros.). Both prints have been shown in L.A. before to very good business. If they'd advertised this showing as such, I'll bet even more people would have come to see it. Anyway, both I and Dick Van Dyke of Diagnosis Murder pronounce this mystery solved!

I went to see Blade Runner at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood last night. It was advertised as the Director's Cut in 70mm. Well, it wasn't. Not at all. It was something much more bizarre and surprising and RARE.

First of all, if you don't live in L.A. and you're not a Blade Runner fan, this may not interest you and you can toss it in the trash can with the House's articles of impeachment. But if you do live here and you like Blade Runner enough to see something not very many people have seen before you, then march right over to the Dome and see this before it vanishes (I think it's only there through Thursday). [NOTE: It is now long gone. Sorry, bub.] Or if you don't live in L.A. but still like Blade Runner, this information may be interesting to you.

I think that covers the relevant bases.

The print that's showing at the Dome is the film festival/audience preview print. This thing dates back to at least 1982, before the movie ever came out. Now, I can not vouch 100% that this was what I saw, but a guy after the show, seeing my baffled face, explained that this was what we had just seen. And it fits. First of all, there were very minimal opening titles. Second of all, there were no end credits. And third of all, about half the Vangelis music was not there; these moments were filled instead with cheesy needle drop music. (Needle drop music is a term for music that you take off a collection to use for whatever you want, sort of like clip art CD-ROMs. The collections are specifically meant for this; you buy the collection, you buy the right to use the music. When the music and/or sound effects came on record oh so long ago, there was one system where you pay for each piece of music you use. You pay for each needle drop.)

At first, I thought we were being treated to a trailer. The Ladd Company tree was black on a white background. Then huge, silly red titles invaded the screen: HARRISON dropped from the top, then FORD rose from the bottom. Same deal with BLADE and RUNNER. Then, instead of the scrolling prologue, a definition comes up defining "replicant," credited at the bottom to the New American Dictionary, 2016. Then you get the usual music and LOS ANGELES, 2019 title. Shot-wise, the opening sequence is close, but not quite the same as the Director's Cut. Most noticeably missing is the CU of the eye. I wondered if this trailer was going to show the whole opening like this, then move on to the usual trailer stuff. But then the movie kept going, so it obviously wasn't any kind of trailer. All I could come up with then was that we were watching some European version of the movie.

Since there were many, many tiny things different in this version, I'll just mention some I think are more interesting and spare you the second-by-second analysis.

One noticeable thing to me was the sound. First of all, there was no voice over, like the original release version had. When that narration was taken out for the Director's Cut several years back, gaping holes were left in the sound, so they were filled with ambient sound that doesn't quite match. This is very noticeable in two places: when we first see Deckard and that metallic blimp thing, and when Deckard is in the Spinner with Gaff for the first time. In the first case, the blimp's booming voice sort of goes away, and a woman's voice comes in saying something about "this message is brought to you by the [insert Japanese-sounding company name here] corporation." But in the version last night, the sound flowed very nicely. The blimp announcer's voice continues right over where Harrison's VO was added in later. You get to hear the whole message. In the Gaff/spinner case, I always thought it was strange to have just the music and not hear at all what Gaff is saying to Deckard. You see Gaff speaking, but no words come out. Again, this is because the voice over had been removed and the hole just filled with the music. In the funky version last night, we did indeed get words. They were quiet under the audio mix and unintelligible (it's that weird language Gaff speaks), but at least it was there.

Strangely, this version also had some "dumbing down" moments. The whole original release was a dumbing down--that intrusive and annoying-in-retrospect narration--so I find it weird that the following didn't stay in the movie. When Deckard is examining that 3-D photo in his 3-D photo examining super-techy miracle machine, he zooms in for a close-up of the man. In this version, he said, "Hello, Roy." Then, after getting his printout of the woman, Deckard's voice floated in with, "But is this Pris or Zhora?" Thank you very much for not leaving that in either of the final versions.

There was some very cool though brief footage I've never seen before. In Taffy Lewis's club, before Deckard gets there, we were treated to a shot of some scantily-clad dancers in a tube, boogieing (boogying?) to some music that I don't recall was in the movie before (needle drop?). Then there was a shot of Deckard talking to a cop outside the front of the club, gesturing as if he's asking if he's in the right place. Cool.

Now let me tell you about the power of music. In this version, there are two points especially where the needle drop music was a poor substitute for Vangelis' score. The first is when Deckard forces Rachel to kiss him, and the second is the entire final sequence, when Deckard fights Pris and Roy at Sebastian's moist digs. The temporary music in this version was dramatic music! Music to fight by! No synthesizers here, just real instruments and stuff! Well, it sucked. In the final sequence, there was little power to the chase, especially when Roy rescues Deckard and gives his final speech. The silly music sapped it all away. So I can now appreciate Vangelis' music even more than I did before. It creates the perfect haunting mood. It fits with the rain and the darkness. The needle drop stuff was painful to listen to, and it was painful to see how it destroyed the film.

Two more things about the last sequence. As Roy is dying, we suddenly got a voice over from Deckard. It was not the same one from the original release, though. This one talked about how he sat there "all night and watched him die." He said something about it taking a long time and how Roy fought it but also went gracefully, whatever that means. It is interesting to know that the death took a while instead of just happening instantly, as is implied in the other two versions, but this VO was still obtrusive and dumb. The second thing: in the original and Director's Cut versions, there is a slow-mo shot of Roy dead, with the rain coming down, and subtly in the background you see the lights of a police spinner rising (obviously Gaff arriving). (You can barely see this in the pan-and-scan version, if I remember correctly.) Instead of that, this preview version gave us a long shot, with Deckard and Roy sitting in the rain, and the spinner rising between the buildings on the left. Not very subtle, but interesting to see.

Finally, in the end, when Deckard returns to get Rachel, several alternate takes were used. The takes here were quicker. Deckard moved more swiftly. It pushed the pacing up a notch. The movie did end here with the elevator door closing, just as in the Director's Cut, but here it was more final, the closing door louder and more booming. The Director's Cut door slamming sound is sort of echoed out, diminished, and the music does a quick fade-in. I think again this is because the sound was remixed as cheaply as possible by just snipping out the former happy ending and mixing the Blade Runner music in quickly to smear the edit. I like the booming door better.

As I said, there were numerous other tidbits of change, but I will stop here.

One thing that I thought weird was the print. It was fantastic. Maybe it's been well-stored for 17 years and so was able to be shown like this, or maybe this print was struck somehow for a showing like this. I have no idea what's up with that. The colors were definitely faded, which made some of the special effects look bad, but the print was free of major scratches and dust and other signs of wear. I'm hoping somehow, somewhere, I'll find out why the print was so good. I also hope I can find out why this and not the Director's Cut was being shown at the Dome. There is a 70mm Director's Cut out there because it was part of the Warner Bros. anniversary festival last year.

There you have it. Blade Runner people, go see this if you can. You may never get to again!

[NOTE: Once again, I say "Sorry! Ees gone!"]




A quick word about my lack of reviews lately... I haven't seen any movies! I haven't seen a movie in the theater in over a month. Blade Runner broke that dry spell last night. I did see three movies a while back that I never got around to reviewing: A Simple Plan, The Thin Red Line, and You've Got Mail. Yes, You've Got Mail. I saw it with my mom. You know parents: anything to please them in their waning years! (It's a joke, mom.) (I did like the movie, though!) Since The Thin Red Line is up for Best Picture this year, I will try to get a review out for that one.

I do have a website, as some of you know, and my goal is to put all my reviews there, but I am new to HTML and so I have a few things to read up on first. If you want to test drive the site, it's at http://homepages.go.com/~lekowicz. A word of warning: the Go Network seems to be having some technical problems, so some people have had trouble accessing the site. If you get some kind of error or you get some non-Lekowiczian page, something's gone wrong. Try again later.

So my silence is sort of due to progress. It's also due to my sister's wedding (congrats, sis!) and some other personal tragedies and tribulations. But the future is here and time marches on and time waits for no man and a stitch in time saves nine and time flies, so be on the lookout for more reviews soon.



--Steve

2/11/99

 

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©1999 Steven Lekowicz