Jonathan White’s review published on Letterboxd:
I can’t believe that I’m writing an off-the-cuff review for my second favourite sci-fi, and one of my all-time favourite films. I think it’s because if I don’t dash off this tiny observation, I’ll keep putting off reviewing this masterpiece forever.
It’s been a while since I last watched, and tonight’s viewing was a bit of a surprise.. my wife suggested watching it. Even though, embarrassingly, we don’t own the Blu, and could easily acquire it within a couple of days, I wasn’t going to risk her hankering fading after a month long onslaught of international films for March Around The World. No, the moment had to be seized. She even suggested we invite the neighbours because of the significance of the film ( did I mention how much I love her ).
I got to pick the version, and chose The Final Cut primarily because it’s the version I’ve seen the least. I tend to prefer the Directors Cut because I don’t like the idea of a version that primarily corrects technical flaws as its only real attribute. I like flaws. I also have to state that I love the Theatrical Cut just as much as the others, as it was the first version of the film I saw back when it was originally released. I feel the narration adds to the noir, gumshoe, feel of the film rather than detract from it. It’s absence in the later versions gives the film a more polished, harder sci-fi mantle at the expense of some warmth. I also don’t feel that the Theatrical ‘happy ending’ is really so much different than the ending of the later versions. The later versions just imply what the earlier show, well, maybe with a bit more emphasis that it will never work out. I also was never comfortable with Scott deciding to make concrete what I felt was better left abstract. When I questioned my wife and our neighbours about it after the film, everyone had missed the Unicorn reference, so, perhaps it still is ambiguous enough. Lise interpreted it as Gaff’s way of saying I could have retired you, but I’m giving you a pass. ( the ‘retired’ reference mine ).
My simple observation about Blade Runner on this watch is that it’s successful because it sticks closely to P.K. Dick’s original vision, but pares it down to a short story. Some opening titles give the necessary backstory without the need to incorporate it into the body of the film. Entirely excised is the ‘Mercerism’ religion aspect of the story. This was a brilliant move, as it allowed a laser focus on the primary issue, how we regard artificial life, and what rights we afford them. This is a hard sci-fi staple, showing up in films as diverse as 2001 to Never Let Me Go. Even Star Trek The Next Generation tackled it in the episode The Measure of a Man. What’s chilling is that we’re just on the precipice of this becoming an issue in our society. Cloning and AI will both present these moral dilemmas, possibly within our lifetime. Scott was astute singling out this central question.
Now, when you pare everything down to a short story, you’re left with a lot of screen time to fill. Many films made from actual shorts usually misstep by either expanding the authors vision with their own sub-plots, or, more often than not these days, add endless car chases, fights, etc. to make up the running time. Not here. Scott fills the void with atmosphere. Blade Runner is filled to the brim with atmospheric visual poetry.
Scott wasn’t concerned with imbibing the visual poetry with subtext, as Kubrick did with 2001, but rather letting it stand alone as an element within the story that helps the audience understand characters and the world they live in. Life is bleak. If anything, it owes more to 1984 and Mike Hammer than 2001 in how the unhurried filmscapes of a near-future San Francisco impacts on our emotional resonance with the story.
For me, like 2001, Blade Runner is always a welcome re-watch. You can just sit back and enjoy its splendor, and you can shed a small tear at Batty’s final soliloquy, knowing that, unfortunately, this is how things are probably going to turn out in real life.