Blade Runner: The Final Cut

It's a shame that Warner Bros. is, so far at least, only releasing Blade Runner: The Final Cut in theatres in New York and Los Angeles, because the virtues of this version lie not so much in the few changes from the earlier "Director's Cut", but in the remastering of the imagery and sound. To see the new version in a theatre like the Ziegfield in New York, with a giant screen and excellent sound system, is a visceral and sometimes truly stunning experience.

I had seen the earlier version of the movie at a midnight showing at the Angelika in the '90s, and I remember enjoying it -- certainly more than I've ever enjoyed the muddy DVD -- but it was nothing like seeing (and, indeed, feeling) the new version. I barely have words to describe it, because it was an experience outside of words, an experience of the senses. The plot of the movie has never been its main attraction for me, the mix of brutality and camp remains sometimes jarring, and the philosophical depth some people claim for the film eludes me, but there are very few other movies that I find as visually and aurally satisfying, particularly now.

The wonder of Blade Runner is its ability to create and sustain a world that provokes us to imagine our way even deeper into it. This is one of the great powers of cinema -- to soak our senses, to envelop us -- and one of the powers that so seldom gets utilized fully, especially in commercial film, which is so often either bludgeoning or boring. Lots of big-budget movies today have special effects that are more comprehensive or spectacular than Blade Runner's, but what so impresses me about this movie (even more so now) is the restraint. The violence hurts not because it's graphic (it is, but less so than the many contemporary adventure movies), but because it's just graphic enough to allow our imaginations to continue on with the pain. One of the subjects of Blade Runner is empathy, and it provokes empathy in us not through sentimental manipulation, but through suggestion, absence, and mood. The look of the movie is so engrossing not because it's full of whizbang puffballs of digital overkill, but because it has depth without distraction, and the logic of the design choices conveys information about the settings, cultures, and characters of each scene.

It will be wonderful to have the new DVDs of Blade Runner, but without a massive home theatre, I doubt there's any way to approach the experience of watching this film in a good cinema. Unfortunately, that experience has only been offered to those of us fortunate enough to live near New York or L.A. Perhaps, with luck, if the limited run is successful, the distributors will find a way to make a more general release.