Blade Runner—One Film. So many choices.
In 1982, my dad took me to the big new science fiction movie in theaters. It was stunning, confusing, and mind-blowing all at once. Based on the Phillip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was said to be un-filmable, Ridley Scott had managed to put together something quite unique. Allegedly, it was even approved by Phillip K. Dick before he died. Hot on the heels of two Star Wars films that had revolutionized the industry, Blade Runner promised to be a film fit for the sleek new ‘80s. It opened to mixed reviews and was considered a failure. However, my dad knew right away Blade Runner was a most unusual film. Though the lackluster box office delayed its cult status, it would eventually spawn more than five different cuts in the coming decades and serve as a leading example in the realm of science fiction films.
The movie is rich in visual artistry and music. Ridley Scott had already proved his command of such elements with Alien—billed as a “horror movie in space,” it had broken all expectations in its marriage of horror and science fiction pulp, just as Blade Runner would do for the detective noir and science fiction genres. But the studio was concerned about its accessibility by general audiences. They felt it was too esoteric. Against the wish of the director, and even more so, the star, Harrison Ford, an explanatory commentary track was created. A happy ending was tacked on, and mysteriously, a key sequence was “accidentally” edited out. This is what the general audiences saw back in the original theatrical release.
A few years after this, the original “work print” that was used for a test audience surfaced. This print began to circulate to repertoire film theaters and festivals, building a devoted fan base. It was darker, but more importantly it did not contain the maligned recorded narrative that was present throughout the original release. The audio track in the original had lent itself to the 1940’s detective novel flare, but took away from the visuals. With this narrative now gone, the viewer was able to not just follow the main character as he described events, but actually see the slow-moving spectacle presentations showcasing the grand visuals of a dilapidated city. The fans’ enthusiasm of this version eventually led to two more edits.
Today you can find the Blu-ray quality release of Blade Runner on the Kaleidescape Store. Notice how there are actually five versions of the film on this set! It can become quite confusing which version to watch. Below, I have tried to define what is unique about each version. Hopefully this will help you choose which cut of Blade Runner you want to watch with confidence. Happy viewing!
The Final Cut (2007)
This is the only version of the film that Ridley Scott had complete artistic control of. There are many different edits, the effects are fully processed and the film print is beautiful. This is the definitive version of the film – the way the director truly wanted it to be. If you are going to watch any version, this would be the one to watch.
U.S. Theatrical Cut (1982)
Original release in the US. It includes the narrative by Harrison Ford, and is missing the defining “unicorn” dream sequence. A happy ending is included and a major plot point is left unclear about our main character, Deckard.
International Theatrical Cut (1982)
This version is almost identical to the theatrical version above, but has a few extended action sequences and a little more focus on gore. It runs only a minute longer than the original cut and has a few minor edits.
Director’s Cut (1992)
With the success of the work print being screened, Ridley Scott requested that it be recalled and have its editing finished and the unicorn sequence reinstated. However, through miscommunications and scheduling issues, the “director” was not actually part of this Director’s Cut. It was created from Ridley Scott’s notes and did include the fabled unicorn sequence. Though the special effects are not quite as polished in this version, it’s a well-made work in progress largely for the curious and nostalgic.
Shown only as an audience test preview and occasionally at film festivals, this version was distributed in 1991, as a “Director’s Cut” without Scott’s approval.