Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Made For Each Other

It may be one of the best DVD extras ever: the Deleted and Alternate Scenes section of the new, bursting-at-the-seams box set of BLADE RUNNER which, when Play All is selected, reveals itself to be not just a random array of cutting room floor scraps, but a fully edited 45-minute assemblage which covers the narrative scope of the film. In a sense, it could almost be yet another version BLADE RUNNER in addition to the five that already come with the set in its most extensive form. It’s not one that shows it off at its best, of course. For starters, it reveals how much worse the Deckard voiceover could have been and how much more of it could have been in there. The impression given is that they were considering that possibility and some of it is so descriptive in exactly what’s going on that you could imagine it being used in some sort of children’s storybook album of the film or something. Some of it is actually better performed than what was finally used in the theatrical version, but they never did figure out a correct way to do the narration and this is pretty solid evidence of it.

This sort of thing easily inspires daydreams of shorter, alternate versions that could be put together from other favorite movies. What could be assembled from the deleted scenes in THE GODFATHER? What narration for APOCAPLYPSE NOW has never been heard in any version ever released? How would one of the early assemblages of STAR WARS play if we looked at it now? What major subplot cut from a film that we know all too well would forever alter our perception of that film if we were allowed to see it? Of course, BLADE RUNNER is a unique film in this case because we’ve been lucky enough to observe its creative progress over the years. Back in 1999 the famed workprint cut of the film, now available on the 5-disc set, played at the Cinerama Dome for a week. I went twice, thinking I might never get another chance to see it. I wish I’d written down some of my thoughts at the time. BLADE RUNNER is not just a film where we have the chance to explore it in this way, it’s one that lends itself to such examination.

Much of what is here could be considered shoe leather, alterations and extensions to footage we are familiar with. But surprises do turn up. One establishing effects shot with the familiar Off-World blimp uses a matte painting of the cityscape which makes it resemble Gotham City in the 1989 BATMAN. Both scenes where Deckard visits fellow Blade Runner Holden in the hospital are included. One section of Deckard lingering over the photos at his piano has him musing over a shot of him with his ex-wife and the suburban setting of the house resembles the photo of Rachael as a little girl with her mother—production shortcut or a clue to the truth about Deckard? While at the bar at Taffey Lewis’s nightclub Harrison Ford plays a scene with a bartender played by actor Charles Knapp, familiar from his appearance as the morgue attendant in CHINATOWN (“Never better, except for this cough”) and if this scene had been included it certainly would have added to the CHINATOWN allusions already present. The love scene goes on longer as well and includes, it should be noted for the record, an appearance by some Sean Young nudity. There are also two versions of the off-to-the-mountains ending, one with narration but no dialogue and one with dialogue and no narration. The unused helicopter footage (shot by the production, not the stock shots from THE SHINING) show footage of Deckard’s spinner from overhead which make it look a little like the 60s Batmobile, but we do get wider shots of Ford and Young inside (only close-ups were used in the theatrical cut). Maybe it could be argued that no version of this sequence should ever have been a part of BLADE RUNNER, but in all honesty, the last line of Rachael’s—“You know what else I think? That you and I were made for each other.”—is so good and correctly opens up so many possibilities, that it’s a shame that it couldn’t be used somewhere, somehow.

This unusual look between footage we are so familiar with will probably never be the norm for famous films. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It is fascinating, yes, and it does help us to understand even better why certain choices and deletions were made. But there’s the question of how much should we be given to tell us about the making of a film and how much we simply pay attention to the film itself, to study that and ignore everything else? It’s not about getting to see deleted scenes, some of which are legendary to us because they no longer seem to exist. It’s the question of how much attention should we pay to a rough draft of a film or, for that matter, any creative work? It can illuminate, yes, but maybe the final version, the one we know, is the one we should get the most illumination from. Of course, with BLADE RUNNER, there will always be the debate over which version that really is. Sometimes a film is allowed to break those kinds of rules. With this film, the beauty remains unique, in every variant we get to see.


Nostalgia Kinky said...

While I was watching the extras on this the other day it occured to me that this is truly among the best DVD releases ever. I am still stunned that it is actually finally out.
I got the Briefcase set and it is already in a very special space...nothing much to add to your fine post...just wanted to add that this is among the most well put together and respectful box sets I have ever seen....the film which was already and all time favorite somehow ranks even higher now...a truly special release...

Mr. Peel aka Peter Avellino said...

I've had a chance to go further through the set and it really is a remarkable accomplishment. Glad to hear that you're enjoying it as well.