'Blade Runner' Countdown, By Kurt Loder

Here comes everything.

Has there ever been a great movie with a more troubled genesis or a more turbulent history than Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, "Blade Runner"? Just weeks before Scott was scheduled to start shooting the film, financing for it fell through and other backers had to be found. Among these were producers Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio, who also became the movie's bond guarantors — meaning that if Scott went over budget in shooting the picture, they were contractually entitled to step in and take it over. As it happened, Scott did go over budget, and Yorkin and Perenchio did step in. (They control the the movie to this day.).

This led to some unfortunate alterations being made in the finished picture, much to the dismay of Scott and his star, Harrison Ford, who weren't getting along that well anyway. (Ford has recalled the making of "Blade Runner" as "a f---in' nightmare.") Since it was decided that no one would be able to follow the movie's outré story line, Ford was persuaded, under duress, to supply a '40s-style noir narration to be layered over the action; also grafted on was a truly sappy "happy ending." Finally, in the year of "E.T.," "Poltergeist," "The Road Warrior" and other more mainstream-friendly genre films, "Blade Runner" was released — and promptly bombed. (Author Philip K. Dick, on whose 1968 novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" the movie was based, was no doubt expecting a big payday from this first film adaptation of one of his works. Unfortunately, he died three months before it came out.)

"Blade Runner" may have tanked in theatres, but it became a cult favorite on cable and home video. Its richly atmospheric score — all heraldic brass and smoky saxophones — might have become at least a cult hit, too, on CD, were it not for the fact that its composer, the London-based Greek synthesizer virtuoso Vangelis, refused, for reasons known only to himself, to allow its release. (Instead, Vangelis recorded a sort of half-assed gloss on the original score and put that out, to universal contempt.)

In 1990, a 70mm film festival was held at the Fairfax Theatre in Los Angeles, and the organizers approached Warner Bros. about obtaining a print of the blown-up version of "Blade Runner," which was actually shot in 35mm. Warner rummaged around and found the 70mm version, and also found a radically different "workprint" version of the movie, featuring a different opening, altered dialogue and alternate music, none of it ever before screened publicly. By mistake, it was this workprint that the studio loaned out to the film festival, where it created a sensation among "Blade Runner" fanatics, whose numbers were now considerable.

Taken aback by this response to their unloved property (which they quickly snatched back), Warner execs approached Scott about putting together a "director's cut" of the movie, for which he would be allowed to finally dump the tacked-on narration and the dopey ending. Scott didn't have a lot of time to devote to this project, but he made some significant tweaks to the original picture — among other things, inserting a deleted "unicorn sequence" suggesting that Ford's character was himself an android (or "replicant," the term used in the movie). This version of "Blade Runner," released in 1992, supplanted the original theatrical version, which then became very hard to find, much to the dismay of many fans who'd grown oddly fond of it. And there things stood for the next eight years.

By 2000, Scott finally had time to take a much closer look at his 18-year-old movie, which by then had become one of the most highly esteemed sci-fi films in the history of the genre. He decided to take another pass at it, and he brought aboard a frequent collaborator, DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika. A "Blade Runner" nut himself, Lauzirika went burrowing into the movie's vast archive of obscure elements and came up with what he describes as "nearly a thousand boxes of original negatives" — more than enough to allow Scott to put together a "final cut" version of the film. Much more than enough, actually.

And so, next Friday, "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" will be launched with brief theatrical runs in New York and Los Angeles. How does it differ from the previous "Director's Cut"? Well, Lauzirika says there have been "hundreds of tweaks," among them a continuity fix in a scene in which Ford's ex-cop, Rick Deckard, is being filled in by his former chief, played by M. Emmet Walsh, about the four replicants who've escaped from an "off-world" colony and made their way to Earth. In previous versions of the film, Lauzirika notes, Walsh talked about a total of six replicants escaping and one getting killed, which of course doesn't add up. Now Walsh has been tweaked to say that a total of five replicants escaped.

Then there's the scene in which Deckard chases the replicant stripper Zhora, played by Joanna Cassidy, through a department store, shooting her in the back as she crashes through a couple of plate-glass windows. This scene was originally shot using an obvious body-double for Cassidy. To tidy it up for "The Final Cut," the actress came back in to reenact her movements in front of a green screen, and was then digitally inserted into the original scene.

On December 18, "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" will be released on DVD, in three different configurations. One will be a two-disc set pairing the newly restored film with a three-and-a-half-hour documentary, produced by Lauzirika, about the making of the original movie. This film, seven years in the making, will include more than 80 interviews with cast (Ford is back onboard) and crew members, plus an avalanche of previously unseen footage, photos and other stuff too geekishly complex to go into here.

A second, four-disc set will resurrect the original theatrical version of the film — with narration and numbskull ending intact — and will also include an unrated "international version" as well as the 1992 "Director's Cut." The third "Blade Runner" box — this one a five-disc set — will add in the fabled "workprint" version of the movie, and will come packaged in a briefcase much like the one Deckard carries on his way to replicant interrogations.

Is this all great, or what? Even Vangelis should be happy — his remastered score has never sounded more glorious. Will he now finally release it on CD? Looks like anything's possible.

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