Blade Runner

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Blade Runner

A

Blade Runner

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Science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick spent his career—and by all accounts, his leisure time—obsessed with the notion that reality and humanity were ultimately ungraspable concepts, so it's fitting that the most famous film taken from his work would be so unstable. Ridley Scott's film adaptation of Dick's short novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? has seen five major iterations, from a 1982 work print used for test screenings through a 2007 cut released to theaters as "The Final Cut." (We'll see.)

In each, Harrison Ford plays a retired hunter of rogue replicants, humanoid robots used on Earth's off-world colonies and prone to rebel against their programming in their attempts to emulate their creators. As consumer products, it's surprising they've remained on the market, but as walking challenges to how we define our own humanity, they're incredibly efficient. But they're hardly the only such challenges. Ford inhabits a dystopian Los Angeles where black skies always drip with rain, neon advertisements constantly promise that happiness remains just one Cuisinart purchase away, and a privileged few make choices for the many, almost as if they were programming machines. That world, created out of miniatures, retrofitted backlots, and L.A.'s Bradbury building, remains Blade Runner's most stunning achievement. Bathed in Vangelis' synth-noir score, its dark future of overcrowded streets, ecological failure, and corporate domination looks hellish but familiar.

Revisiting the cuts released to theaters in 1982, it's easy to see how the initial audiences had a hard time seeing past the visuals. Poor test screenings led Scott and the studio to trim some of the film's ambiguity via a voiceover (lazily delivered by an audibly unhappy Ford) and tack on a jarring happy ending. But Blade Runner's cult began almost the moment it died at the box office, and a 1992 director's cut—sans voiceover and happy ending—confirmed it as a modern classic. Moments like a sequence in which Ford dreams of a unicorn deepen the mystery, unsettlingly bringing the inquiry into the meaning of humanity all the way back to Ford's protagonist. Dick, no doubt, would have approved.

Key features: Depends on which version you buy. The two-disc Blade Runner: The Final Cut contains the 2007 cut (a slightly tweaked and expanded version of the 1992 cut) and the main bonus attractions: three commentaries and the excellent three-and-a-half hour making-of doc Dangerous Days, in which everyone involved with the film still seems kind of grumpy. Hardcore fans will want the four-disc "Collector's Edition" set, with four different cuts and a bounty of archival material, and the truly devoted will need the "Ultimate Collector's Edition," which comes in a retro-futuristic suitcase and includes various tchotchkes and the elusive work-print cut.

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