I’ve seen things, dear Hypothetical Audience, that you people wouldn’t believe. But enough about my exciting life, this week I thought I’d talk to you about recent happenings. One of my favourite films of all time is the 1982 Ridley Scott masterpiece and seminal cyberpunk work Blade Runner, a film with a noted troubled history. And by troubled, I mean there are at least 5 different versions around. Really. The most recent came out in 2007 and has been referred to as the “Final Cut.” Fast forward to a few weeks ago and the British Film Institute announced a special showing of the Final cut at cinemas up and down the country. Of course I jumped at the chance, and this Friday just gone schlepped up to the wonderful Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle to go view. Which leads me neatly on to this post, a perfect way to go back to normal length posts once again.
I’m going to be deliberately vague in my synopsis, since I think if you’ve not seen at least one version (preferably the ’90s Directors Cut or the Final Cut I’m talking about here) you should go out and do so. Basically, in the far off year of 2019 the world is in a pretty shitty state, especially Los Angeles, so we’ve been slowly colonising the cosmos. To assist us, genetically engineered biological robots called Replicants have been created, however after a bloody rebellion they are declared illegal on Earth on penalty of death. Special police officers reffered to as Blade Runners (Tiiitle Drop!!!), for… reasons never fully disclosed, of which the main character, Rick Deckard as played by post-Star Wars but pre-Empire Strikes Back Harrison Ford, is a retired one. With a new batch of Rogue Replicants on the scene in dystopian Los Angeles he’s dragged out of retirement to deal with the situation. That’s pretty much just the opening crawl and first couple of scenes. Oh, and being based on a Phillip K. Dick novel it sits firmly on the cynical side of the Idealism vs. Cynicism scale.
While each of the many, many versions (the 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray has five on it, apparently there are at least 2 more) has something slightly different from all the others, there are constants throughout. Visually, the films presents one of the greatest realised urban decay dystopias of cinematic history. The dark, polluted landscape of late 2010s LA is a beautiful mix of set design and physical special effects backdrops present in pretty much every shot. Real locations, like the famous Bradbury Building, mesh seamlessly with pre-made backlot sets (ironically in this case the famous New York Streets set at Universal Studios) filled with elements designed by the brilliant Syd Mead such as the “Spinner” flying cars. The film-noir influences create unique vision that has influenced science fiction ever since, and even, according to anecdote, had Cyberpunk luminary William Gibson worried that the book he was writing at the time (the now famous Neuromancer) would be seen as ripping off the film’s style. Similarly, the iconic soundtrack by Vangelis remains constant across all versions. While predominantly electric, there are moments where it veers into more traditional film noir sounds without creating too jarring a change. Even when it remains firmly in the modern style it compliments the action wonderfully, creating an etherial sense of drama about proceedings. And while the soundtrack remains unchanged in the later versions, more of it is audible with the removal of the voice over track.
The current cut was produced in 2007 and builds upon the previous directors cut from a decade prior. These tends to be the versions people rememberthe most fondly, mostly due to the removal of the superfolous, and rather poorly handled, noir voice over track present in the theatrical version. While perhaps the most siginificant change in the 90s version it did cause problems, there are moments where a voice over line was clearly removed but no other audio replaced it, leading to missing incidental dialogue. The Final Cut remedies this issue quite well and alleviates any awkard gaps in the audio. Dialogue also sounds far better in certain scenes, clearly some remastering has been done between cuts.
While the basic structure of the film remains unchanged from the original, there has been some additional scenes added in. New establishing shots make a couple of major scene transitions a bit less jarring, and a couple of effects shots seem to be extended slightly. It’s a testament to Ridley Scott’s direction that these match up seamlessley, even the odd one thats clearly been filmed later on. A couple of additional scenes really stand out above the rest, though. During tje chase in the Bradbury, Roy puts a nail into his hand to try and stave off his body shutting down. The final cut extends this with an incredibly grizzly special effects shot where he pushes the nail the entire way through. This actually managed to elicit a response from the viewers around me, and quite rightly so, since it really does show how desperate he’s gotten. The other shot is right at the end when he releases the lone white dove he managed to find in the urban decay. In the previous directors cut the shot of it flying away is a really awkwardly pasted in shot of a dove flying into a clear blue sky thats totally unrelated to the previous sequence and filmed much later. The final cut replaces this with a mostly-CG shot that actually matches up. It’s not a perfect match, but fills the space much better.
As I said before, if you’ve not seen Blade Runner, I’d advise you to seek it out. The Final Cut is a brilliant treatment that fixes a lot of the issues present in the previous versions as a result of the film’s somewhat troubled production, and enhances an already great movie immensely. If you’re a science fiction fan, especially someone who likes the Cyberpunk sub-genre, this film is essential viewing, and even if your not, the film noir stylings makes it an incredibly stylish viewing experience. While it may not be back in cinemas for a while, the blu-ray experience is also very well polished and well worth a look. If ever you trusted one of my reviews, this would be the one.
For the Arbitrary score, I give Blade Runner: The Final Cut 21 C-Beams Glittering Of The Tanhaüser Gate out of a possible 22
Now that I’ve used it as an excuse to wax lyrical about my favourite film, I’m going to give a quick review to the actual cinema and experience. I saw it at the Tyneside Cinema on Pilgrim Street in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, a relatively small independent cinema that plies its trade as a mix of contemporary releases alongside arts, classic and other niche cinema. According to their own literature it’s the last purpose built newsreel cinema left open in the United Kingdom, and as such still shows a few archival newsreels from time to time. Despite the fact I used to live down the road from it for two years, I’d never actually gone to see anything there until the Blade Runner showing this passing week. Which did rather beautifully illustrate how big a mistake this was.
As facilities go, the cinema has a rather nice, if somewhat snug, bar out the front which is quite a nice way to spend time waiting for your showing. It certainly had a very friendly atmosphere about the place. Apparently they use the rear of it for various film showing too, with an advert for silent film screenings being projected at the back, which actually sounds like a fantastic evening to me. Next door to the bar is a small cafe, and behind that is the ticket office. The actual entry into the cinema section is down an alleyway, which is a little odd to me but doesn’t really detract from the place.
The cinema has three screens, the one I viewed Blade Runner in was the “Classic,” which was obviously the original theatre. Whilst not the largest cinema screen I’d ever seen, the seating area is scaled appropriately, and doesn’t feel small in the slightest. As it’s an older design screen, it still has a seperate upper level, although I imagine finding the optimal viewing seat would be more difficult up there than it was for us down at the bottom. Somewhat wonderfully they had a better take on the old ice cream seller, as the small concessions hatch towards the front also did items from the bar, and accompanying the film with random alcohol is an enticeing prospect. The sound system wasn’t quite as in your face as some modern multplexes, though this isn’t that much of an issue. If anything not having the bass turned up to eleven makes some films easier to site through.
After having such a brilliant time this one single night, I definetly think I’ll be returning to the Tyneside Cinema in the future. Part of me really dislikes the kind of commercial culture surrounding big multiplex chains in the UK, and the small independent cinema is a perfect antidote to it. Hopefully I’ll get more time to spend up there when other things that pique my interests are on.
The Arbitrary Score: I give the Tyneside Cinema 4 and a half buckets of popcorn out of a possible 5
Until Next time folks!
–Not in the business, IS the business
–Times and ticket info for the Tyneside Cinema can be found here