Plot: What’s it about?
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner may well be one of only three films that I can cite whose reliance on style over substance is actually a benefit rather than a problem. The other two I have in mind are Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Scott’s own later effort, the tragically overlooked Legend. All three films took years to be fully appreciated by audiences and critics. But of those three, in fact, I would argue that Legend – not Blade Runner – is actually the odd one out. Both Blade Runner and 2001 demanded rapt attention and intellectual effort from those who viewed them. Both presented deep philosophical metaphor and subversive social commentary, and dared thrust such themes so far into their respective foregrounds that it was perhaps a bit uncomfortable for people used to watching far lighter fare. And, perhaps predictably, both initially failed to make a connection with people. Such is the unenviable fate of films so visionary that they tend to leave everyone but their very creators – even the very audiences they’re intended to entertain – scratching their heads. To be sure, I didn’t love Blade Runner the first time I saw it. I was just a kid, probably 10 or 11 years old at the time. I saw Harrison Ford’s name on a VHS box at my local rental store, and I thought “oh good, I know that guy…he’s Han Solo and Indiana Jones, so this movie will probably be like those”. As anyone who’s ever seen Blade Runner can attest, I really could not have been more wrong. I distinctly recall being disappointed with the film at that young age, returning it without a second thought during a time when I would regularly rewind a cassette and start a movie immediately over again if I’d enjoyed it the first time.
And so it was that, for years, I found Blade Runner simply impenetrable as a film. I couldn’t identify with, let alone empathize with, most any of its characters. Its then-futuristic setting of Los Angeles, 2019 (my how time flies, huh?) was dazzlingly realized, but it felt so cold and detached that I found it hard to care about much else outside of the visuals. Harrison Ford as Deckard wasn’t the roguish hero I assumed I’d be watching. Instead, he was a quiet, tortured, introspective detective who’d seen enough of the world he was being forced to “clean up”, not even sure that what he was doing was right. I found more “humanity” in the Replicant characters. At least Joanna Cassidy’s Zhora showed a real sense of fear. The late Brion James’s Leon was the only one (ironically aside from Sean Young’s Rachel) who seemed to care enough about their own past to keep any mementos of it. Daryl Hannah’s Pris showed a dark, manipulative quality that felt deeply, disturbingly human. And then there’s Roy Batty – a character seemingly tailor-made to suite Rutger Hauer’s most glorious of 80’s eccentricities. There’s a childlike innocence combined with a cold lethality to this character which, while possibly merely evil at times, made him feel like a more fully realized “person” than most of our supposed protagonists. Are we supposed to root for the humans who show no real love for either their world or their lives? Are the Replicants really the villains simply because they’re acting solely on radically underdeveloped instincts of self-preservation? Why do the very saturation, population, and density of this dystopian cityscape leave one with a sense of sterility where there should be depth, beauty and meaning?
Imagine my amazement when, years later and as a more learned film critic, I came to realize that all of my thematic “complaints” were actually at the very heart of what Blade Runner was trying to say all along. Buried beneath its twinkling metallic luster and dank, rain-drenched streets was a searing statement on our lost humanity – stifled nearly out long ago by our collective over-reliance on technology and its inevitable consequence of an ever-escalating detachment from one another. I find a film like Blade Runner, which seemed so cold and distant in the 1980’s, nothing if not eerily prescient as I reflect on it now in 2017. In an era where interpersonal interaction sadly feels like a relic of decades past, and in which we speak just as frequently (or perhaps even more so) with our smartphones as we do with flesh and blood human beings, the once-challenging subtext of Scott’s cautionary tale on the dangers of losing ourselves to our creations can finally be appraised in stark relief. At what point do the emotionless devices to which we’re devoting an ever-increasing portion of our lives become more a reflection of our souls than we ourselves possess any longer? Blade Runner will always be a slow, methodical, somewhat alienating film, which will consistently challenge its viewers to find meaning in the precious few things in its world which may actually contain it. As such, it will no doubt continue to divide audiences today just as it did back in 1982. But one thing is inarguable in 2017: Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is one of a handful of true cinematic classics, so astoundingly ahead of its time that we’re only now beginning to catch up to it, three and a half decades later. The questions it poses about the nature of humanity and our capacity to advance both our world and our creations to the point of erasing the line between man and machine – or, just perhaps, between man and Replicant – have never resonated more than they do today. Then again, we still have two years to go.
Video: How’s it look?
I’ve owned Blade Runner on virtually every home video format that’s come along since its original release – VHS, laserdisc, DVD, blu-ray, you name it. Back in 2007, when the “Final Cut” version of Blade Runner was released in theaters, I went to see it. I still remember that screening vividly, as it was one of the most wonderful and rewarding big screen experiences I’d ever seen. The 2007 blu-ray came close to replicating that experience (no pun intended), but not exactly. Now that I’ve seen Warner’s new 4K UHD of the film, I can honestly say that there is simply no going back to that blu-ray release ever again. First and foremost, the resolution of film grain on this release is simply indescribable. I have never seen any disc that resolves grain in a way that, to my eyes, looks utterly flawless, but this disc does it. This is a presentation that actually somehow looks better (not worse) the closer you get to the screen. At some points in prepping for this review, I actually found myself not watching the movie itself, but with my nose nearly touching my 65” OLED panel, trying to find fault with any aspect of this presentation – and I frankly just couldn’t do it. Everything is so effortlessly, perfectly rendered on this disc that I must apologize in advance if my next comments become overly hyperbolic or redundant.
Black levels are pitch perfect – astoundingly jet and inky, giving a truly sensational level of depth to the image. Fine details, going from blu-ray to the new UHD disc, increase dramatically. Full disclosure, increased detail via resolution is one area in which I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by other 4K discs I’ve seen. Typically, while there is better detail, it’s something you’re just simply not going to notice while sitting across the room at a normal viewing distance. This is not the case at all with Blade Runner. The uptick in resolution and detail here is absolutely noticeable, and positively striking. If you have any doubt about that for a second, pop the blu-ray back in for a few seconds. All of that exquisitely rendered film grain on the 4K disc turns into a wishy-washy mess on the Blu-ray. What you quickly realize is that you only thought that was great grain detail ten years ago when you didn’t know any better, because a disc like this wasn’t yet possible.
The HDR application on the disc is subtle yet striking, tasteful yet aggressive, and faithful yet revelatory. Nothing jumps out with the new, punchier colors as “this is revisionist”. The best way I can describe this is that it still feels like the Blade Runner you’ve always seen, but the UHD disc shows it to you after cataract surgery, so that you can finally appreciate what was always meant to be there all along. I could go on to systematically go into how there’s no banding, artifacts, blemishes, or issues of, frankly, any kind on this disc, but again…there’s simply nothing here to report but sheer perfection. This is now the gold standard by which all other restorations of catalog films should be judged. You have never fully experienced the visual splendor of this film (or, I would argue, of your 4K television) if you haven’t seen this 4K UHD.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Just to give full disclosure once again, I’m not currently set up for Dolby Atmos at home, and I’m not sure when or if I will be. I simply don’t have a room configuration that makes sense for installing overhead (or indeed, even rear) channels, so I’ve opted to stay with a 5.2 lossless setup for the time being. That isn’t to say that I wasn’t able to have a fantastic time with Blade Runner’s audio presentation. While I’m unable to decode the new Atmos track, the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track is absolutely wonderful (yes, even without the rear speakers). Bass response is tight and powerful. Transparency is virtually flawless, with spinners travelling smoothly from the rear right to front left of the sound stage with perfectly fluid motion. The level of minute detail on the track is nothing short of astounding. Just listen to the opening sequence alone and you’ll be mesmerized. This is a terrific soundtrack for showing off what your home theater can do, impressing not merely with bombast, but with room-filling ambiance and subtle touches that create a fully-realized aural world, not just blanket the viewer in noise. My favorite audio tracks are both powerful and subtle, and Blade Runner is no exception. This is an excellent, reference-quality audio track in all aspects that I know how to grade, and I can only imagine it sounding that much better if you’re Atmos-capable.
Supplements: What are the extras?
And now for the bad news: you’ll definitely need to hold on to your blu-ray sets if you’re a hardcore fan of this film. For some reason, Warner has elected merely to include discs 1, 2 and 4 from the original, 2007 blu-ray release along with the new 4K disc (that’s one Blu-ray with the Final Cut, the Dangerous Days documentary on DVD, and the archival extras on DVD) rather than simply include the blu-rays that were included in the 30th anniversary release, which would have actually just given fans everything in one package. To be clear – this disc configuration misses out on ALL other versions of the film aside from the Final Cut (including the Workprint) and offers Dangerous Days once again in SD only. Now, you may want to plan your purchase accordingly, because the first batches of this 4K release have evidently gone out with discs 1, 2 and 3 of the 2007 set instead. While that nixes the archival extras discs (trailers, promo spots, etc), it DOES give you another three versions of the movie (the Theatrical Cut, the International Cut and the 1992 Director’s Cut) in this package – so, if you’ve already sold off your old blu-ray set, it may be worth grabbing this up sooner rather than later, because Warner will likely be correcting the error very soon. Still, this could have very easily been the absolute definitive release of Blade Runner, and it could have been so using existing discs. Why Warner chose to go this route instead is anyone’s guess, but it’s certainly a major blemish on an otherwise fantastic release, so I’ve had no choice but to adjust my extras score accordingly.
- The short version: Warner was supposed to include discs 1, 2 and 4 from the 2007 Blu-ray release in this UHD/4K release. Instead, most of the early copies of this contained discs 1, 2 and 3. Warner has contacted us and will send a replacement, and we will then update our review accordingly.
The Bottom Line
Stated simply, Blade Runner unequivocally belongs on every movie collector’s shelf. And this 4K UHD release is (and will likely remain) the definitive home release of The Final Cut of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. With a stunning, revelatory visual presentation that seriously knocked my socks off, and a booming, transparent, exquisitely detailed Dolby Atmos / TrueHD 7.1 audio track that’s every bit its equal, this release fully deserves a place in your collection, despite some missteps from Warner with regard to the extras. Buy this exclusively for the 4K disc (like you ought to be doing anyway), and you absolutely will not be disappointed. Blade Runner in 4K earns my highest recommendation.