Blade Runner: 5-Disc Complete Collector's Edition (HD DVD)
Deckard is a Blade Runner. His job is to seek out and eliminate Replicants who….oh, never mind. If you need me to describe the plot of Blade Runner in detail then you must be new to the entire movie game. If you haven't seen it, you should discover it for yourself. And if your reaction is typical you'll likely be blown away by this new 5-disc HD DVD boxed set from Warner Brothers (also available on Blu-ray). (Much of this material is also available on a multi-disc DVD package, but be careful; the 4-disc standard DVD set omits the work print version of the film described below.)
If you have seen Blade Runner, and recall it negatively, this set could change your mind. Its style alone makes it one of the most influential films of the past 25 years, spilling over into everything from music videos to The Matrix.
I first saw this film during its initial theatrical run in 1982. I had two big issues with it. First, the voiceover narration that cluttered up the soundtrack, particularly the early exposition, was a major distraction. Second, the cheery, "Let the Sunshine In" conclusion seemed to be from another film. (And it was—as you'll learn from then extra features here, some of those landscape shots were outtakes from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining!)
Evidently I wasn't alone in those concerns. In 1990 a work print version made its way into special showings in several art houses around the country. Fans were stunned. The quality of the print was far from polished, and the sound included a mix of the final score and a temp track. But what they saw was, at last, a Blade Runner closer to the one that Director Ridley Scott had originally intended. The narration and Happy Days ending were gone.
Nervous studio chiefs and investors had demanded those tacked-on elements. They feared the public wasn't ready for a bleak, intellectually challenging, film noir vision of a possible future.
We'll never know if they were right, since even in its altered state the movie was a failure at the box office. But those 1990 fans were all over that work print version, and in 1992 a Director's cut, sans the narration and loopy conclusion, became a cult hit, particularly in a by-then thriving home video market that barely existed in 1982. Releases on tape, Laserdisc, and, ultimately, DVD, kept the interest in the film alive.
But now it's the end of 2007, and Warner Brothers has given fans the best holiday gift possible short of ending the HD DVD / Blu-ray format war. This 5-disc release features a new, definitive edit of the film—The Final Cut—and much more.
In addition to the modifications in that 1992 release, The Final Cut includes many other, smaller changes. I'm not going to describe them in detail here. You really should experience this new version for yourself, freed of the "gotcha" distraction of looking for those key moments. There's time enough to obsess over them later, if that's your thing.
I will tell you that most of those changes involve CGI, which was not available to filmmakers in 1982. But this is not Ridley Scott having a George Lucas moment. The CGI used here is subtle and serves the film. Even if you're looking for the alterations, you're unlikely to spot more than a couple of them on a first viewing.
The changes to the soundtrack are more significant—in a good way. The audio here does not sound at all dated. There aren't a lot of explosive sound effects, but the surrounds are far more active than before, the bass deeper, and the audio, overall, more dynamic and forceful. This is particularly true of the extremely clean and clear Dolby TrueHD track.
Vangelis score also sounds spectacular, and it's now more obvious than ever how it serves not just as background, but as vital punctuation to what's happening on screen. It's as much a character in the film as any of the actors.
The HD video quality on The Final Cut is superb. Yes, there are shots in the film that aren't as tightly focused as I might like. The crispness of its photography and video transfer aren't quite in the same league as The Matrix or even The Chronicles of Riddick. But there's so much going on that you rarely notice. Ridley Scott may know how to fill a frame better than any other living director.
The film is also very dark. With the possible exception of a unicorn dream scene (and the excised ending) there isn't a single shot in Blade Runner that takes place in sunlight. Black level and shadow details are very important to this film, and the transfer is impeccable in these areas. The quality you see will ultimately depend on your video display.
But this boxed set doesn't end with The Final Cut. Disc 3 contains three additional versions of the film: the original U.S. theatrical cut, the original international theatrical cut, and the 1992 Director's Cut, all laid down with seamless branching. And disc 5 contains that (in) famous work print that reinvorated the Blade Runner fan base.
While all of these additional versions of the film are billed as high definition, none of them look (or sound) nearly as good as The Final Cut on disc 1. I suspect they were made from less pristine source elements, and perhaps mastered to HD with a little less loving care—a good reminder that not all high definition is created equal. But of the four, only the work print looks genuinely mediocre, with uneven brightness levels and clearly inferior shadow detail. But all of the versions are watchable.
Discs 2 and 4 are packed with extra features. Disc 2, in particular, offers the feature length documentary, "Dangerous Days: The Making of Blade Runner." It spares no details about the film's adaptation from author Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, its problem-plagued production and post production, and its initial rejection by the critics and public alike.
While the documentary consists mostly of talking head interviews, it's loaded with interesting insights. There are a lot of shots here that never made it into the film, plus artists' concepts of scenes that were conceived but never actually filmed. The most intriguing for me was a plot point that was to show that Tyrell, the head of the company that manufactures the replicants, has long been dead and vacuum-preserved in a room high up in the Tyrell Corporation pyramid. The living Tyrell we see in the film is a replicant!
Disc 4 is loaded with additional, shorter features, including a remembrance of Philip K. Dick, deleted and alternate scenes, and trailers. And if that's not enough for you, there are three commentary tracks on disc, an additional one for the disc 5 work print, and a feature on disc 5 showing the genesis of the film's various versions including the creation of The Final Cut.
The special features on discs 2 and 4 are billed as standard definition, but while the film clips shown there are clearly that, some of the interview head shots could pass for high definition, even on a big screen.
Kudos to Warner Brothers not only for producing this set, but for keeping the price reasonable at $39.99 on either Blu-ray or HD DVD. A $99.98 5-disc Blu-ray or HD DVD gift set is also available, but apart from a fancy case and a variety of periphery like artwork and a model unicorn, it offers the exact same disc content.
And thanks to Warner's also for not cluttering up any of these discs with front-loaded trailers for other films and DVD releases—a practice that is not only annoying but also quickly dates collectors' sets. Apart from that ubiquitous FBI warning, you're shuttled directly to the main menus on all of these discs. First Class.
(Ratings apply only to The Final Cut)
Picture: 9.0 (out of 10)….Sound: 9.5…Film: 9.5
Reviewed on a Sony VPL-VW60 1080p projector and Stewart Studiotek 130, 78" wide, 16:9 screen, with the Toshiba GD-A35 HD DVD player, an Onkyo TX-SR875 Surround Sound Receiver (used as a pre-pro), an Anthem Statement P5 power amplifier, and an APC S15 power conditioner/UPS. Also B&W 683 (L/R front) and 685 (surround), Revel C12 (center) speakers and a Revel B15 subwoofer.