'Blade Runner' originally made its high definition debut during the height of the format war, appearing on both Blu-ray and HD-DVD via two 5-Disc configurations -- 'The Complete Collector's Edition' and 'The Ultimate Collector's Edition'. The only difference was elaborate packaging.
For the film's 30th Anniversary, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment brings 'Blade Runner' back to Blu-ray in two more iterations -- a 4-Disc Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy Combo Pack, and a 3-Disc Blu-ray Digibook edition.
The first three discs in each set are identical: disc one contains 'The Final Cut' and several extras; disc two features three additional cuts of the film accessible via seamless branching (the 1982 domestic and international versions, plus the 1992 Director's Cut); and disc three features the rare "Workprint Version" of the film alongside the mammoth 3 hour-plus documentary "Dangerous Days", an all new HD Stills Gallery, and all of the special features from the previous release's "Enhancement Archive".
The 3-Disc Digibook Edition also includes a 36 page hardcover book with never-before-seen images from the set and scene sketches from Ridley Scott. The 4-Disc Combo Pack Edition includes DVD and Ultraviolet copies of the film's Final Cut, a 72 page stand-alone hardcover book -- "The Art of Blade Runner" / "Blade Runner: From the Archives", a toy Concept Spinner, and a 3D lenticular image from the film. The Blu-rays and DVD are housed in a standard Blu-ray case with that awesome origami unicorn in the falling rain cover art. The biggest disappointment concerning the set is that it doesn't lend itself to being displayed as one concise package.
As to which edition is a better deal, that will be up to individual fans. Is a lenticular poster, DVD and Ultraviolet copies, a toy, and a longer behind-the-scenes book enough added value for the (current) $25 price increase? If you already own 'Blade Runner' on Blu-ray, there's little here warranting a double dip.
Portions of this review appear in 'Blade Runner: 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition' 4-Disc Combo Pack.
Portions of this review appear in 'Blade Runner: 30th Anniversary Collector's Edition' 4-Disc Combo Pack.
If there ever was a film rescued by home video, it's 'Blade Runner.' A commercial flop upon its original theatrical release in 1982, in the intervening years the film has risen phoenix-like from the ashes, thanks almost entirely to a growing legion of cultists who largely discovered the film on tape and disc. This groundswell of admiration built to such an unprecedented degree that it prompted a 1992 re-evaluation in the restored 'Director's Cut,' which enjoyed a surprisingly strong theatrical run that broadened the film's stature and esteem among critics and sci-fi enthusiasts even more. Today 'Blade Runner' is far more revered and respected than when it was first released twenty-five years ago, and thanks to its fanatical following, it gives 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' a run for its money as the Greatest Cult Film of All-Time.
Since so much has been written about 'Blade Runner' over the years, its vaulted place in the cinematic pantheon no longer needs any justification, or explanation. Even if you've never seen the film, you likely know the story. You know it stars Harrison Ford as a bounty hunter assigned to track down four runaway "replicants" (i.e., androids virtually identical to humans). You know that director Ridley Scott's overwhelming visuals have been praised as some of the finest images ever burned onto celluloid. And you've probably heard that it's been re-issued and re-configured in so many different versions that Scott's originally-intended themes have been mucked with to the point of abstraction. Indeed, it's gotten to the point that even with a flowchart of the changes, it's almost impossible to tell which cut of 'Blade Runner' you're even watching anymore.
So what I'm about to say may piss off many of the Scott faithful -- even more so, as it's coming from an die hard 'Blade Runner' fan (I count it as my favorite film). Despite my love for Ridley's epic, I have to say that having finally seen the 'Final Cut' (and after so many months of endless hype), this whole business about it being some radically refashioned version is largely hogwash. Even in its zillion different forms that suffered a zillion different alterations (The added/subtracted narration! The lost unicorn scene! The new effects!), Scott's essential vision has remained largely intact throughout. All of the much-buzzed about changes to the various versions of the film are largely cosmetic (or in the case of the narration, merely the removal of annoyances). Despite myth-making to the contrary, has any version of 'Blade Runner' ever been a massively Frankenstein'd, truly shocking re-interpretation? Hardly.
That's not to say that 'The Final Cut' is not a landmark event. It most certainly is, if only because Scott's definitive vision at last closes the book on the film's epic twenty-five year saga. 'The Final Cut' finally corrects all of the messed-up details and other imperfections that have so bothered Scott (and many fans) over the years. It also allows him to tweak some of the editing and effects that he was unable to complete to his satisfaction at the time of the film's original 1982 theatrical release. (Forget that 1992 "Director's Cut," which Scott now admits was only marketing and not his approved version.) However, unlike many other extended or unexpurgated versions of films that routinely hit disc these days, 'The Final Cut' of Blade Runner' does not incorporate any substantial new footage (there are not, in fact, any new scenes inserted), so aside from the surface changes, there is really nothing "undiscovered" to be discovered here at all.
So, what's the big deal about 'The Final Cut'? First, a quick history lesson on 'Blade Runner's long, strange ride ...
Back in 1982, the film screened horribly with test audiences, so a few producer- and studio-mandated changes were made to Scott's original cut. Narration by Deckard (recorded by a pissed-off Harrison Ford) was added to "explain" the more complex plot points, while a new "upbeat" ending made it seem as if Deckard and Rachel rode off happily into the sunset (actually outtakes borrowed from Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining'!). Most controversial of all was the removal of the "unicorn scene" that suggested that Deckard himself may be a replicant.
This first theatrical version of the film has become known as the 1982 "Domestic Cut," which ran 116 minutes (an "International Version" was also released in most territories outside the U.S., adding a few seconds of graphic gore cut to achieve an R-rating in the States). Although the narration was clumsy, it didn't alter the narrative at all (it was simply grafted on existing completed scenes), while the happy ending -- while stupid -- again didn't alter anything that came before it. Only the removal of the "unicorn scene" throws the film's themes in a new light (although clearly not dramatically enough to turn off those who came to appreciate the film on home video in the first decade following its theatrical release).
All of that would change with the 1992 "Director's Cut." Warner, recognizing the film's growing cult audience, contacted Scott to create a new "Director's Cut," and the film was retooled and re-released to theaters. However, Scott has now stated that despite the "Director's Cut" moniker, he was not intimately involved with that version of the film, and that it was rushed into theaters without all of his hoped-for changes. Still, it did go along way toward reinstating his original vision. Gone is the stupid narration, the dumb ending, and the "unicorn scene" was finally revealed. However, because the 1992 cut was lopped together quickly, the editing was a bit clunky and some visual effects inconsistencies from the original remained. Close, but no cigar.
Now, fifteen years after the faux-"Director's Cut," Warner has at last coughed up for Scott's definitive version, giving us the long-awaited 'The Final Cut,' which is essentially the "Director's Cut" with a series of tweaks. The narration and happy ending are still gone and the unicorn scene remains (though now it uses better footage recently unearthed from studio vaults). The graphic gore from the old 1982 International version (which was missing from the 1992 Director's Cut) has also been re-added. Even better, the sequences with the removed narration have been tightened up (they never played properly without the voice-over), and the effects have been cleaned up considerably (including print imperfections and on-set gaffes, such as visible wires on the spinner vehicles). Actress Joanna Cassidy was even called back into duty as Zhora, re-acting her character's demise to correct previously-shot footage with a stunt double that had always looked painfully phony. There are also a couple of new shots taken from archival material to give more atmosphere to the future world, but these are quick inserts -- again, there are no new scenes in 'The Final Cut' that any 'Blade Runner' fan hasn't already seen in one of the previous versions.
Now for the good news. Even after all my complaining, 'The Final Cut' is absolutely essential viewing. It is the authoritative vision of Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner,' even if its individual changes are minor in the grand scheme of things. ('The Final Cut' runs 117 minutes, only one more than the original 1982 domestic cut.) It looks and sounds fantastic, and the minor editing and cosmetic tweaks finally eradicate any lingering memory of the dreadful narration and happy ending. The unicorn scene is also better integrated, and the digital tweaks (including the Zhora scene) never stand out as unnecessary or obnoxious additions, a la the "Greedo shoots first" nonsense that George Lucas foisted on 'Star Wars' fans. Even though nothing in 'The Final Cut' is radically different in terms of context and theme versus the now-disowned "Director's Cut," it is nevertheless the version of the film to see. It's a film that was already a masterpiece, made even better.
Finally, if by some miraculous phenomenon you are actually reading this review but still haven't seen 'Blade Runner,' don't let all this talk of multiple versions scare you off. The upside is that, as a newbie, you can enjoy 'Blade Runner' in the form that was originally intended without any of the baggage that came with its earlier incarnations. Whether you're brand new to the film or you've seen it so many times that you actually know what a "Tannhauser Gate" is, 'The Final Cut' is for you. 'Blade Runner' remains a monumental achievement -- the rare film that only grows deeper and more resonant with every viewing. It's a film for the ages -- and now with 'The Final Cut,' its definitive version has finally arrived.
'Blade Runner: 30th Anniversary Collections Editions' appear to be the exact same video transfers from the 2007 Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases, which had been encoded from highly lauded 4K restorations:
'Blade Runner' has suffered over the years in various tape and disc incarnations. Although I didn't hate the two previous standard-def DVD releases as much as some, Ridley Scott's masterpiece has certainly never received the definitive video release that fans have long been clamoring for. So when Warner announced last year that -- at last -- 'Blade Runner' would be given a full-bore restoration (complete with the original film elements scanned in at 4k archival resolution), it was clearly a call to rejoice.
Even better, Warner has not skimped on any version of the film presented on the different Blu-ray and HD DVD editions. The studio offers 1080p/VC-1 encodes of not only 'The Final Cut,' but also the original 1982 domestic and International versions of the film, and the 1992 Director's Cut. There's even the rare Workprint Version on the third disc. As 'The Final Cut' forms the centerpiece of the package, I'll focus on that presentation, and then offer some additional thoughts on the other versions.
Simply put, 'The Final Cut' looks stunning. Although again I didn't despise the earlier DVD editions, this restoration is nothing short of a revelation. I've seen the film at least 50 times over the years (seriously), and was absolutely floored by how many visual elements I'd simply never seen before. The detail, texture and depth of the image are spectacular. The original elements have clearly been rehabbed from the ground up, with a flawless print that has had all dirt and blemishes removed, (which is doubly impressive considering how many optical effects there are in the film). But lest purists fear that Warner has overdone it, I was thrilled to see that there is still some legitimate grain to the image, which retains a film-like and natural look entirely appropriate to the vintage of the film.
Colors are also fantastic. This new restoration corrects the overly reddish tint from the previous DVDs, and the subtle and striking blue-green casts are now far more apparent. Fleshtones are also far more consistent, despite all the stylized lighting. Blacks are perfect, and contrast expertly modulated. Jordan Cronenweth's trend-setting cinematography can now be fully appreciated -- particularly his stunning use of light and shadow. Delineation in even the darkest areas of the picture is dead-on, so fine subtleties previously lost in the murk are now readily visible.
Lastly, Warner has delivered a terrific encode. The image retains its sharpness without being overly edge enhanced. Noise is not a problem (even on the darkest areas of the picture, as well as the numerous effects shots). There is also no apparent banding, macroblocking or other nagging artifacts -- simply put, this is beautiful compression work. Warner has absolutely hit it out of the park with this one, and it's easily a five-star presentation up there with the best.
As for the other versions of the film, they almost match 'The Final Cut.' Warner provides three versions of the film on disc two -- the 1982 domestic and International cuts, and the 1992 Director's Cut. As these versions are accessible via seamless branching they share much of the same material, and appear to utilize a master identical to 'The Final Cut.' As such, the video quality boasts the same wonderful colors, jaw-dropping depth and excellent black levels. However, since 'The Final Cut' has been spiffed up in terms of its visual effects and other slight digital tweaks, there are segments of these three other versions that suffer slightly by comparison. Grain can be slightly exacerbated, and contrast sometimes wavers in consistency during effects shots. It's pretty minor, and of course, 'The Final Cut' is where Ridley Scott and Warner appropriately focused most of their attention. Even fans who come to this release most interested in the older versions of the movie are unlikely be disappointed.
Finally, the third Blu-ray contains the much-fabled "Workprint Version." Although still presented in 1080p/VC-1 video (again identical on both the Blu-ray and HD DVD), the quality here is noticeably inferior. Of course, this version of the film was taken from weak elements, so the often fuzzy picture, weak blacks and pale colors are to be expected. The aspect ratio is also 2.20:1, versus 2.40:1 for the other four cuts of the film, and grain is much more apparent. In any case, since the workprint is labeled as just that -- a workprint -- and is included here for its historical value, its poor quality doesn't detract at all from the set.
Aside from the Work Print upgrade to 5.1 DTS-HD MA, 'Blade Runner: 30th Anniversary Collections Editions' appears to have the same surround sound track audio options from the 2007 Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases:
'Blade Runner' received Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks on its previous DVD incarnations, but they left a great deal to be desired. Even with allowances for the vintage of the original elements, it was clear that little real work went into cleaning up the source and truly remixing them for the home theater environment.
Warner certainly rights past wrongs for 'The Final Cut' here, delivering a truly splendid new Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit). 'Blade Runner' finally sounds spatially alive and vibrant, with surrounds that now live and breathe -- just as it should be. (Note that 'The Final Cut' is presented on all high-def versions with optional English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks at 640kpbs, plus subtitle options in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.)
The old Dolby mixes of 'Blade Runner' were gimmicky, often bleeding select frequencies to the rear speakers in the most obvious ways possible (whenever a spinner would fly overhead -- whoosh!). This TrueHD remaster is far, far better integrated. The rear soundstage now enjoys much better imaging and seamless pans between channels. Vangelis' legendary score is at last fully immersive, with select instruments often directed to specific channels instead of the whole thing sounding like sonic mush emanating only from the fronts. The expansive street scenes also benefit greatly from fine attention to atmosphere, with rain, crowds and other effects nicely spread all around the listener.
Dynamics are also clearly superior to any previous video release. Low end finally has real heft, and the irritating brightness that plagued the old DVD has been greatly reduced. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the score, which has a much warmer tone while still retaining the cool allure of its '80s electronic elements. Dialogue is much more even-handed in the mix as well; previously, quieter dialogue was lost, but here even some of the more hard-to-decipher words spoken by Rutger Hauser finally make sense. Any source defects have also been eliminated, with the TrueHD track always perfectly clean and smooth across the entire sonic spectrum.
As for the three seamlessly-branched cuts on disc three, each sport Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) tracks in English and French, plus a Dolby 2.0 Stereo (192kbps) option. (Subtitles include English, French and Spanish.) These Dolby tracks are quite good, but only if you don't compare them to the TrueHD. The source is still the same restored elements used for 'The Final Cut,' but the mixes are clearly different, with many sounds directed to the rears on 'The Final Cut' now far less pronounced. Dynamics are also good but not great, and Vangelis' score is not nearly as powerful. Still, make no mistake -- these mixes are certainly more than listenable.
Finally, the Workprint Version comes with a new 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround sound track. (Subtitle options again are English, French and Spanish.) While not quite as immersive or crisp as The Final Cut's sound mix, it's nice to finally have a multi-channel track for what is essentially a bootleg copy of the film.
Warner Bros has combined discs two, four, and five from the 25th Anniversary Editions of 'Blade Runner', made possible because most of the original bonus material was limited to 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only (remember, discs two and four from the 2007 release were standard DVDs). From my understanding, everything from 2007 has been included here, plus one HD bonus (see the next section).
Blu-ray Disc One
Blu-ray Disc Two
Disc two features three different versions of the film, selectable from the main menu thanks to seamless branching: the original 1982 domestic cut of the film, the 1982 International version, and the subsequent 1992 Director's Cut. Other than three Ridley Scott introductions (one for each cut), there are no additional bonus features, nor any audio commentaries.
Blu-ray Disc Three
This last Blu-ray includes the "Workprint Version" of the film along with a Ridley Scott introduction and a Paul M. Sammon Audio Commentary, as well as a number of Special Features. As previously mentioned, the workprint quality isn't up to par with the restored versions of the film, but it is in HD, and it's certainly a great supplement. As if that wasn't enough, Warner has also produced some bonus features specifically for this version of the film.
What was once the "Enhancement Archives" appears as a Special Feature submenu entitled Access, which contains deleted footage, more featurettes, and promotional materials. Divided into three sections ("Inception," "Fabrication" and "Longevity"), fans will find plenty to revel in here.
'Blade Runner' has been a fan favorite for three decades -- a movie that defined a genre and inspired the next generation of filmmakers. When it originally premiered in high-definition home video, it was the best of the best, offering fans a chance to not only see a fully restored version of Ridley Scott's preferred cut, but every other version of the movie alongside audio commentaries and extensive bonus features.
For the 30th Anniversary, Warners Bros. has repackaged everything from 2007 -- the same great picture, sound, and special features -- in three Blu-rays (instead of three Blu-rays and two DVDs) along with an HD stills gallery unavailable five years ago. This Digibook edition costs half the price of the 4-Disc Combo Pack, but does NOT include a DVD or an HD Ultraviolet copy of the film, a toy Spinner, a lenticular scene from the movie, or the full 72-page hardcover book.
Is this a double dip? Yes. If you already own 'Blade Runner' on Blu-ray, there's no need to buy it again -- only true completists will feel compelled to purchase this set. If you've never owned 'Blade Runner', this set remains a tremendous value. Since the previous releases appear to be out of print, 'Blade Runner' remains must own.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.