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THE CLASSICS : MOVIES

'Blade Runner,' Take 3

It was coolly received in 1982, but Ridley Scott's bleak science fiction film has undergone revisions, and this time he thinks they got it right.

September 30, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

Ridley Scott was living in London in 1980 but looking for a leading man for his first Hollywood movie. The script was a strange one -- it was a surreal tale adapted from a 1968 novel about murderous artificial people in futuristic Los Angeles -- and Scott didn't have a certain title since he couldn't use the more-than-a-mouthful name of the book: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Scott did have a star in mind, though: He had seen "Star Wars" and decided that he wanted his star to be the actor who had played that charming scoundrel Han Solo.

"The reaction of one of the producers was: 'Who the hell is Harrison Ford?' One of the reasons I went for Harrison was the fact that I knew that Steven [Spielberg] and George [Lucas] were doing this thing called ["Raiders of the Lost Ark"]. It smelled good to me. I simply called up Harrison's agent and said, 'I want to meet Harrison as soon as possible.' Like two days later we met and he turned up with the stubble and the hat and the leather jacket on because he had been shooting. It was like 10 o'clock at night. So my meeting for 'Blade Runner' was with Indiana Jones."

Scott chuckled at the memory, then groaned, reached for a bag of ice and propped his leg up on a chair. The 69-year-old British filmmaker was fresh from knee surgery -- "Too much tennis," he said with a sad shrug -- and at the time was still working on his 19th film, "American Gangster," due in theaters in November. But he was eager to talk about "Blade Runner" and the past because he's getting a rare chance to revisit and reengage both. Scott oversaw a new remastered version of the film that enhances its Vangelis score, adds snap to its visual effects and even includes a bit of new footage, all for the 25th anniversary of the dystopian epic. "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" will be shown for a month at the Landmark Theatre in West L.A. and then will go on sale as a DVD in November.

The tale of "Blade Runner" is not a sunny one. The version of the film that reached theaters in 1982 (it opened against "E.T.") was weighted down with a somnambulant voice-over narrative and a tacked-on ending that Scott loathed; the set too had been a contentious one, with Ford and Scott locked in a surly struggle. Also, Philip K. Dick, the author of "Do Androids Dream," died just four months before the film reached the screen.

Then, famously, the history of the film took a sharp turn away from ignominy. First, the advent of the home-video era brought the movie to a wider audience, one that was increasingly attuned to the film's cyberpunk visions and its technological concepts.

Then, close to the film's 10th anniversary, a so-called director's cut was given a theatrical run in Los Angeles and broke revival-house records. That version was actually a preview print, as Scott refers to it, which might have been missing the monkey-wrench additions (like that clunky Ford voice-over) but also was missing large chunks of music and a key dream sequence.

This current "Final Cut" version, Scott said, comes closest to what the film could have been and, in his mind, should have been.

"It's quite a thing to come back to this film now, after all this time, after a quarter of a century," said Scott, whose résumé includes "Thelma & Louise," "Gladiator" and "Black Hawk Down."

"This is a film that, in many ways, has echoed throughout popular culture in a very special way."

The film also seems to have been a career landmark for just about everyone involved.

"I was never on another movie set quite like that one," said Daryl Hannah, who portrayed the sexualized android called Pris. "I was very young, and every day it felt the way you fantasize that making a movie would be -- like you're stepping into another world."

Rutger Hauer, the Dutch actor who played the menacing but poetic killer android called Roy Batty, talks about how the movie "captured a vision of the future that to this day holds up. That's quite an achievement. It was a film all of us knew was going to be special. A lot of that is because of Ridley."

Although in hindsight everyone seems to laud Scott's bold film, at the time there was considerable debate on the quality of his anachronistic noir vision. There were critics who were divided on the film, but, before that, there was also the crowd of financial backers and studio executives who felt it was too convoluted and complicated and needed to be dumbed down for audiences.

"I learned a lesson from all of that," Scott said, leaning over again to rub his rebuilt knee. "I learned to stand my ground. I was stubborn, but I learned I should have been more stubborn."

Future vision

Watching "Blade Runner: The Final Cut," anyone who lives in Los Angeles today would be struck by how prescient the film was about the direction of society and culture. To Edward James Olmos, the film, set in 2019, amounted to a crystal ball in many of its details.

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