Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Cert 15 117mins Stars 5

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982, 2007) 

Ridley ScottBlade Runner: The Final Cut is the definitive version of director Ridley Scott‘s 1982’s sci-fi noir masterpiece.

Uniquely it stands on a pedestal with 1927’s Metropolis, and 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the sci-fi canon, and alongside 1944’s Double Indemnity as a doom laden noir.

AndroidsDreamBased on the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner is a combination of extraordinary visuals, superlative sound, Blade Runner’s superb cast includes Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh and Daryl Hannah.

With various cuts of the film existing and offering very different endings, Scott trims The Final Cut to its noir roots and in doing so unequivocally resolves a long running debate concerning the nature of the central character, the ‘Blade Runner’, Rick Deckard.

Digitally remastered in 2007 for the 25th anniversary of the original 1982 release, Scott removed Deckard’s voice-over and a happy ending which the studio imposed on the original theatrical release, as well as reinserting a unicorn dream sequence.

Blade Runner scroll

The film takes place in Los Angeles of the year 2019. Six genetically engineered humans called replicants have escaped from an off-world colony and made their way to Earth, where their presence is outlawed.

BR fordIn Los Angeles two replicants are killed after trying to break into the headquarters of the Tyrell Corporation. This prompts M. Emmet Walsh‘s seedy police captain to strong-arm Harrison Ford‘s reluctant former detective, Rick Deckard, back into harness.

Though insisting he is twice as quit as when he walked in, Deckard accepts the order to find the remaining four replicants and destroy them, and an origami-modelling cop called Gaff is assigned to monitor Deckard’s progress.

While on the case Deckard first interviews then starts an affair with Sean Young‘s Rachael. She’s the glamorous niece of the head of the Tyrell Corporation, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the chess-playing creator of the replicants.

DeckardThe euphemistic use of the word ‘retire’, reminds us Dick’s paranoid fear of the inevitable decay of our mortal bodies, reinforced by Scott scattering his sets with mannequin parts.

The screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples is a loose adaption of the source novel but is faithful to Dick’s obsessions of decay, transformation, paranoia and identity, and in The Final Cut at least, is respectful of noir’s hard-boiled cynicism.

It can also be read as a twisted riff on John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, with the replicants representing fallen angels rejecting their godlike creator.

Incorporating tolling bells, the magnificent score by Greek composer Vangelis, announces key themes as the film opens and veers between the apocalyptic and the heavenly.

The Tyrell Corporation’s HQ is a pyramidal mausoleum, a suitable resting place for a god before an ascension to a higher level of existence. The replicants can be interpreted as angels or demons who have descended to Earth from the chaotic off-world to challenge the Earth’s divine order, and possibly raise humanity to a higher plane of existence.

Br sebastian

The subjugated and animal nature of Earthbound humanity is explored through the use of rats, those harbingers of disease, decay and death. Tyrell talks of deserting rats when discussing the altering of the replicant’s DNA. There are pet rats among J.F. Sebastian’s engineered toys. Deckard is herded like a lab rat through the decaying prison of a mansion block.

Filmed in the ironwork interior of LA’s Bradbury building, the dreamlike apartment of genetic engineer J.F. Sebastian is a repository of childhood toys which Deckard must escape before he can be enlightened as to his real identity.

Br BattyThe relationship between the replicants provides the emotional core of the film. Daryl Hannah wraps herself affectionately around Rutger Hauer, who plays her partner and the replicant’s leader, Roy Batty.

And though the a homicidal Batty is set up as the villain, Hauer’s poetic and physical performance aches with life, love and loss. His powerful closing monologue which always bring s me to tears is all the more astonishing for being self-penned.

BRrachaelFor those who think Scott is a stylist indifferent to his actors labours, they should consider the performance he elicits from Sean Young, who is perfectly in tune with the demands of the role.

In a brilliantly tense conclusion we see Rachael asleep in her apartment and Deckard approaching her, gun in hand. We don’t know whether he will kill her or kiss her.

There’s a declaration of love and a big sigh of relief from the audience. But as Deckard and Rachael leave his apartment, they find an origami unicorn left by Gaff. This changes the entire thrust of the story and our understanding of it.

UnicornGaff’s origami is evidence he knows Deckard’s dreams are memory implants, causing Deckard and the audience to belatedly realise he is also a replicant. His entire life is a lie and he has unwittingly killed his own replicant family members at the behest of the police, his enemies, who he realises he now has to escape from.

This bleak revelation is perfect film noir.

But the power of Blade Runner has been diluted by the studio edit prompting a discussion over Deckard’s replicant status. This drags our focus from a brilliant noir ending to a non-debate over the nature of Deckard’s humanity.

Instead of the audience being overwhelmed by the force of this drama, for nearly forty years everyone has chuntered over the ‘is he a replicant’ debate, a controversy this definitive version retires.

Harrison Ford was strategically picked to play Deckard in a casting masterstroke of cinematic deception. The audience is fooled by their own presumption the star is playing a hero.

A huge star from his swashbuckling roles in 1977’s Star Wars, and 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, as Han Solo, and Indiana Jones, the audience expected more of the same. Ford’s status as heroic Hollywood leading man leads us to believe Deckard is the hero until we and Deckard realise he isn’t. We don’t expect a character played by Ford to be the fall guy.

The Big SleepAs a hard drinking detective with a laconic delivery and ready attitude in the face of authority, Ford is presented as a futuristic Humphrey Bogart, rebooted, updated and teleported in from Hollywood’s Golden Age of noir.

Ford is happy to riff on Bogart’s goofy undercover book lover in  1946’s The Big Sleep to emphasise the connection. There’s even a reference to Sydney Greenstreet in Bogart’s classic wartime melodrama, Casablanca as Deckard interrogates a fez-wearing gangster, The Egyptian.

Plus the story is told through Deckard’s eyes. So Deckard’s the hero, right? He’s an updated and rebooted sci-fi Philip Marlowe, right? Wrong.

To watch The Final Cut is to realise, and this is despite what Bryant tells him, Deckard is not especially good at his job.

He’s beaten up in turn by each of the four replicants. While failing to dispatch either of the males, he shoots the unarmed females, and he only manages to kill one of them by shooting her in the back as she’s running away. And as Batty mockingly points out, Deckard is not very sporting. Ordered to retire Rachael, Deckard has sex with her instead.

indemnityFar from being Bogart 2.0, Deckard is far more of an upgrade of Fred MacMurray’s hapless insurance salesman Walter Neff from 1944 noir masterpiece. Double Indemnity. In classic noir fashion, Deckard is too dim to realise he’s always behind the game. it’s not until the end he understands how little he knows. He’s a prize chump.

Blade Runner is rightly celebrated for its superlative sci-fi styling, but I love The Final Cut for revelling in the noir at the heart of this rain-soaked LA story.

@ChrisHunneysett

AD ASTRA

Cert 12A 122mins Stars 4

Brad Pitt aims for the stars in this grandiose and epic existential sci-fi drama, a breathtakingly beautiful journey to the loneliest edge of the solar system which explores humanity’s need for companionship.

As the obsessive astronaut sent on a mission to find his father and save the Earth from destruction, Pitt displays none of the humour demonstrated so recently in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Instead Pitt is required to be at his most insular and least starry, and smartly calibrates his performance to the material in order to establish and anchor the melancholy tone.

Tommy Lee Jones is cast as his father and is equally subdued even while playing god in space, and much like  poor Liv Tyler as Pitt’s wife, he isn’t overburdened by dialogue.

As a psychological examination of the inability of men to communicate with each other, this is far from boldly going where no film has gone before.

Mind you, grief, isolation and a troubled father-son relationship is the familiar stomping ground of director James Gray. And it follows a similar path as his repetitive 2016 period adventure, Lost City of Z, which saw TV star Charlie Hunnam carry on up the jungle.

Yet the craftsmanship is typically superb as Gray takes the journey into darkness of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic Vietnam war masterpiece, Apocalypse Now, and takes it into space – we even have a bloody episode with space baboons.

Plus Gray ambitiously apes the visual and sound design from Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey. But where Kubrick explained nothing, With Pitt’s voice-over fully explains his feelings of remorse and regret.

On my first viewing I found Ad Astra ponderous and pretentious, yet on the second time around I found it’s blockbuster action scenes more exciting, and far more enjoyed it’s thoughtful, elegant and graceful rhythms. On a third visit I’ll probably love it.

THE KITCHEN

Cert 15 103mins Stars 3

There’s lots of heat but not enough spice in this unevenly cooked crime drama which sees Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss muscle in on the mobster action in 1970’s New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.

When their husbands are jailed for armed robbery, the women take over the running of the local protection rackets and graduate to bribery, blackmail, and murder.

Thriving in work environment empowers the arresting anti-heroes to make drastic changes at home, but despite fate serving up a helping hand in the form of Domhnall Gleeson’s black clad hit-man, their success is unconvincingly quick.

Individually great, the female trio’s distinct acting styles are far from complementary and adds to a confused tone which veers from caper to tragedy, and fails to successfully make a palatable blend of the black comedy and domestic violence.

And though the cauldron of sexual and racial politics bubbles over to become a blood bath, the drama never really comes to boil.

THE FAREWELL

Cert PG 100mins Stars 3

Gloriously described as being based on an actual lie, this comedy drama uses quiet humour to peel away cultural facade of honesty, to expose how lies, fakery and charades are a necessary and accepted social grease which enable family relations to function.

A Chinese grandmother is unaware she has less than three months to live as her family are conspiring to withhold the truth from her and are using a wedding as an excuse for one last family gathering.

As her grand-daughter, Rap star Awkwafina plays Billie delivers a mature and subtle performance of unexpected range. She is as far away from her outrageous exuberant persona of 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, as the humdrum industrial Chinese city of Changchun of the film’s setting is from New York, where she begins the film.

This is the second feature film from upcoming director, Lulu Wang, whose Beijing born American raised background clearly filters into and informs her thoughtful, funny and well observed work.

 

KURSK: THE LAST MISSION

Cert 12 Stars 4

You’ll need to hold your breathe while watching this handsome, gripping and sombre real life story of 2000’s Kursk Russian submarine disaster.

Matthias Schoenaerts is the stern-faced Navy captain-lieutenant who is one of twenty-three sailors trapped underwater after an onboard explosion has crippled his vessel and killed many of his crew during a military exercise in the icy Barents Sea.

Bond girl Lea Seydoux worries as his onshore wife, and Colin Firth is the British Commodore trying to navigate the heavy political weather in order to launch a last minute rescue.

APOCALYPSE NOW: FINAL CUT

Cert 15 181mins Stars 5

The last great film of cinema’s last great decade, this latest and supposedly definitive cut of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic Vietnam war masterpiece reveals Apocalypse Now to be not really a war film at all.

An adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart Of Darkness, we follow Martin Sheen’s US Army Captain Willard, as he travels by boat up the Mekong river on a mission to assassinate Marlon Brando’s rogue American, Colonel Kurtz.

Director Coppola has overseen an exhaustive remastering of his original negative which has ever been scanned, cleaned, restored and edited into a never-before-seen version. It looks and sounds bigger and more insane than ever, a unique and complete cinema experience, breathtaking and delirious in scope, ambition and achievement.

Shorter than 2002’s Redux version, longer than 1979’s original theatrical cut, it retains all the power, bombast and horror, while adding a greater theatricality and moving the story closer to myth and legend.

The most notable omission and only real significant cut is of the controversial Playboy bunny scene where the Willard’s crew trade fuel for sex with the women.

Meanwhile two key scenes are added. The first is small addendum to the ‘Flight of the Valkyries’ helicopter attack on a village led by Robert Duvall’s myopic commander of the 9th cavalry, Colonel Kilgore.

In this we see Willard’s crew steal a surfboard from the Colonel. It’s a small slapstick scene and the only moment of outright comedy in the film. Importantly it centres on Sam Bottoms’ character, a professional surfer called Lance, now the crew’s Gunner’s Mate.

The comic aspect of the scene underlines the role of Lance the only beacon of hope and innocence in the darkness, the mascot of Willard’s crew and representative of the bland sunny optimism of California.

Structurally, Lance is now more clearly seen as Willard’s foil, and the movie’s dramatic light relief, providing necessary respite for the audience from the horror, the horror.

The second major addition is ‘French plantation’ scene, where the crew attend a dinner party at a rubber plantation. Willard is later seduced by the owner’s widowed sister, and it’s this scene where Coppola most heavily draws on his theatrical background.

Willard is slowly caged in veils by a woman presented as a Siren of greek mythology, and it’s at this point the Vietnam War becomes background to the story, it’s the Trojan War in relation to Homer’s Odyssey, there to provide colour but it isn’t the story itself.

Moving the film into mythology in this manner means when Willard confronts Kurtz, he is framed as a mortal confronting a god, questioning the nature of good and evil, and demanding freedom from our creators to live without their interference. This is as fundamental and timeless a confrontation as exists in Western culture and Coppola’s real area of interest.

The causes and consequences of the Vietnam War couldn’t be further from Coppola’s mind, in this sense he is a very typical US filmmaker, demonstrating the capacity of the US to use the Vietnam War as a proxy to explore it’s own internal divisions and conflicts, rather than focus on the effects on the Vietnamese people, their country and region.

Post script:
Apocalypse Now was nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture. It won a paltry two, for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, which is one less than this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Green Book. As ever this says far more about the Academy than it does about the quality of the films themselves.

 

THE GREAT HACK

Cert 15 Stars 4

Fake news, lies, denials and illegal data sharing are the foundation of this eye-opening and scary documentary which clearly explains the shadowy world of data harvesting and its real world consequences.

With data having surpassed oil as the world’s most valuable asset, it highlights the dangers of giving up our data to social media giants who exploit it for profit.

With interviews with key players in last year’s Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal, including whistle-blowers and journalists, it’s a fascinating look at how data is used to influence voting behaviour in the UK, the US, and around the world.

DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE

Cert 18 Stars 4

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn team up as corrupt cops who become involved in a bank heists in this engrossing and hard boiled crime thriller.

With pacing, dialogue and characterisation worthy of the late great novelist, Elmore Leonard, it’s another stand out exploration of street level America from writer and director, S. Craig Zahler, who previously made the outstanding horror western, Bone Tomahawk.

A tale of the broken dreams of desperate, disaffected and bitter middle-aged white guys, the deadpan black humour, winning chemistry and terrific performances carry the lengthy slow burn which pays off with a superbly staged shoot-out.