Blade Runner: The Director's Cut on DVD

Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, Joe Turkel. Directed by Ridley Scott. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1. Dolby Surround. Two sides. 117 minutes. Theatrical version, 1982; director's cut, 1991. Warner Bros. Home Video 12682. Rated R. $29.95.

It's the 21st century, and Los Angeles is a labyrinth of cultures, foreign corporations, and unending acid rain. It's a pit of despair, unhappiness, and violence. Harrison Ford's character, Deckard, is a hard-drinking cop whose specialty is retiring renegade "replicants," the synthetic übervolk created by the Nexus Corporation. They have a limited lifespan and are made for slave labor on the outer worlds.

Deckard is forced from self-imposed exile after five perfect replicants escape and retreat to the anonymity of the city. Their purpose: to destroy the "father"---their creator (Joe Turkel) and the head of Nexus---who has incurred their wrath by heightening their senses at the cost of shortening their lives. It's up to Deckard to put them to rest before they wreak more havoc on an already crumbling society.

But Deckard faces unexpected realizations as he hunts down the quintet. He falls in love with Rachel (Sean Young), a replicant herself, and he stares his own mortality in the eye when Roy (Rutger Hauer), the leader of the group, challenges Deckard's own origins.

Based on Philip K. Dick's cult novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner is a hauntingly prescient vision of the future. It's surprising how well it holds up in our own world of rapidly escalating technology.

One might think that DVD is the perfect format to present Scott's portentous story, and in many ways it is. Widescreen formatting presents the gorgeous, strikingly imaginative set and production design in their entireties. The sound mix captures the quieter background noises and the layering effect they create with the dialog. Deckard's world emerges as a place of unexpected beauty amid L.A.'s crumbling ugliness and gray bleakness. If only the definition in certain scenes were improved, it might be close to a perfect transfer. Unfortunately, there's a grainy, muted quality---especially in close-ups of the actors---that tinges the images with a gritty brittleness.

But no two ways about it: Either you're a fan of the monotonous Harrison Ford voice-over that accompanied the original theatrical release, or you're adamantly not. This original director's version, which had a limited release in theaters in 1991, omits Ford's lackluster narration, which the studio believed should accompany the story because it was too confusing to follow. (The actor reportedly hated looping-in the "explanation," and his pique is apparent on the soundtrack.) The director's cut also lacks the "upbeat" ending that was tacked onto the release most of us saw in the theaters.

It might be difficult for studio executives to grasp, but for the average moviegoer, Blade Runner: The Director's Cut is the far superior film. By foregoing Ford's nasal narrative, the sensory elements of the film---the sound effects, the visual feasts, and the dark, negative, techno-noir aspects of the filmmaking itself---are allowed to breathe.