By Joseph Marasciullo
Ridley Scott’s super-depressing, neo-noir science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner is known for its wide assortment of theatrical cuts. At least seven cuts of the film are confirmed to exist, releasing from 1982 all the way to 2007 with The Final Cut. Most versions are very similar, usually only changing a few lines or editing out graphic content. The real contest is between the US Theatrical Release, The Director’s Cut, and The Final Cut. Watching any of the other cuts is almost definitely a waste of your time. Which of the top three different cuts, however, best represents the true vision of the film?
The four other cuts include the Workprint Prototype Version, the San Diego Sneak Preview Version, the International Theatrical Release, and the US Broadcast Version. The Workprint Prototype Version is specifically important, since its lackluster reception by test audiences led to multiple adjustments to the US Theatrical Release.
Two main issues abound in the US Theatrical Release. The first was the inclusion of some terrible narration by Harrison Ford. The narration was so horrible that some believed Ford intentionally sandbagged it, which he denies, saying instead that “it was simply bad narration.”
The 13 voiceovers were added late in production to help the audience better understand the film after test audiences expressed difficulty understanding the story. The other issue is how the film shoehorns in a “Happy Ending,” where Deckard and Rachael escape to the countryside and live a normal happy life. These changes went against the tone and vision of the project, sacrificing artistic license for Hollywood profit.
The other important change that exists in the Final and Director’s cuts is the addition of the unicorn scene, a bizarre dream sequence that Deckard experiences near the midway point of the film. This strange scene is integral to the idea that Deckard is one of the replicant humans with implanted memories, as it ties into the final scene where detective Gaff leaves Deckard an origami unicorn.
The theory goes that the origami unicorn shows that Gaff knows Deckard dreams of unicorns, which he could only know if he had been able to access his memories, which would, in turn, mean that his memories are implanted. In the US Theatrical Release, we so no such scene, leaving the origami unicorn as an unexplained or inconsequential detail.
The real contest, it would seem, is between the Final Cut and the Director’s Cut, although it isn’t really a contest. The Final Cut is superior in every way. The Final Cut is really just a remaster of the Director’s Cut, with plenty of technological improvements and a slight steel-green color grading to give the film even more of a sci-fi feel.
So which version is the best? It would have to be the Final Cut version. All of the versions except the Director’s and Final cuts were altered expressions of director Ridley Scott’s true vision for the film, and the Final Cut is the best of the two. The other versions sacrifice the film’s tone and quality for mass appeal, and the only way to experience Blade Runner the way it is meant to be seen is to watch the Final Cut.