Which Blade Runner cut should you watch before Blade Runner 2049?
Okay ladies, gentleman, Bladerunner fans and all my favourite replicants out there. I’ve got you covered. Today I’m going to give you a rundown about the differences between all the Blade Runner cuts, so you don’t have to live in fear before venturing into the cinemas for Bladerunner 2049.
What is Blade Runner?
The original 1982 Blade Runner was directed by Science Fiction’s Godfather, Ridley Scott, exploring the themes of what it means to be human. This film is loosely based of Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which is also about to be released into a television series on Netflix titled Electric Dreams.
In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, replicants are androids created to make colony planets ready for habitation. Unfortunately the working conditions of replicants are extremely dire and they’re treated as second class citizens in almost gulag-like conditions. After being declared illegal, a special police unit called Blade Runners were sent to put replicants into retirement.
Blade Runner follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired Blade Runner, who’s a stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking, Nerf-herder. So it’s just Harrison Ford playing himself.
Deckard has been brought back on the force for the cliched ‘one last job’. There he takes on a mission to find four replicants who commandeered an off world colony ship and slaughtered the crew. They’ve come to Earth to meet their maker.
Through Rick’s adventures, we’re left to subtly determine what’s the real difference between replicants and humans? What does it mean to be human? And what the hell his up with the unicorn?
The impact of the Blade Runner cuts
This movie was the inspiration of so many other cult-classics and Hollywood blockbusters. Some of the more notable examples including; Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, Ex Machina, The Fifth Element, and even Westworld. It was also a pioneer of cinematography, storytelling, and even score production.
But in my opinion, while the movie is 35 years old, the themes explored in the Blade Runner cuts have come a long way since then. While at the time Blade Runner provided a new narrative into what it means to be human, current media has expanded on that premise by miles. And dare I say, even outperformed the original.
It would be like comparing the original iphone to the iphone X. While in 2007 touch screen phones weren’t original, Apple absolutely changed the game when they brought out the O.G. iphone. Since then however, there’s been so many iterations and improvements from the original that while it does compare, the newer models just outperform the original.
Now to get back on track. What makes Blade Runner even more confusing than it’s dialogue, is the fact that there are several Blade Runner cuts out there. So which Blade Runner cut should you watch? Should it be the Original, the Director’s Cut, or the Final Cut?
Blade Runner the Original Cut (1982)
This Blade Runner has two different versions depending on where it got released. There’s the US version and the international version (would recommend). The main difference between the two is that the international version included more graphic violence than the US version.
This Blade Runner cut provides a lot more context, which I found extremely helpful, as it provides a backdrop to the setting and characters. There’s an opening crawl explaining the Replicant’s legal status on Earth and how Blade Runners are hired to ‘retire’ them. There’s also narration by Harrison Ford, providing further insight into his character and speculations.
These efforts to contextualise the film were actually requested by the studio (Warner Bros) when test audiences found a previous Blade Runner cut too confusing. Therefore the addition of the crawl, the narration, the removal of certain scenes and even the ‘happy ending’ weren’t part of Ridley Scott’s grand vision of the film.
Regardless of how much Scott detests this version of the film, this Blade Runner cut was what made the film a cult classic. And because of how well it was received, it allowed the creation of the Director’s Cut and the Final Cut later on in time.
Blade Runner the Director’s Cut (1992)
In 1989 Michael Arick, a film preservationist/restorer, found an original Blade Runner cut, lacking all of the studio’s interventions. This discovery was followed by a theatre in Los Angeles getting permission from Warner Bros to screen this unknown cut at a film festival in 1990. And the success of this release had Warner Bros booking more sessions of this ‘Director’s Cut’, because “Cash rules everything around me”.
However Ridley Scott denounced this version as a director’s cut, because it wasn’t his complete vision of the film. The success of these limited releases of the premature Director’s Cut saw Warner Bros hiring Michael Arick to head the creation of the official Director’s Cut. Which is weird considering that Warner Bros should have hired, the director – Ridley Scott, to head the project. In any case, Scott was there to approve everything so it was fine, right?
However, due to time constraints, Scott wasn’t fully satisfied with this Blade Runner cut, but still a lot more so than the original 1982 version.
Now what makes the Director’s Cut different is that it saw the removal opening crawl and Deckard’s narration throughout the film. The Director’s Cut also included a dream sequence of a unicorn running in a forest. Now I’m not going to explain what this unicorn means, but it kind of changes the film completely. The studio imposed ‘happy ending’ was also removed, making the film’s conclusion much more obscure.
Blade Runner the Final Cut (2007)
So this Blade Runner cut was the version that Ridley Scott is actually most satisfied with. Here, Scott had the most freedom to edit the film as to how he pictured back in 1982. But to be perfectly honest, this Blade Runner cut was the first I saw, and having no background knowledge of the film was left extremely confused. Kind of bored too (please don’t kill me).
Regardless, this is the version that Denis Villeneuve recommended to watch before heading out to the sequel Blade Runner 2049.
Now the differences in this version are that:
This version still has the unicorn dream sequence. It also has the violent edits from the international cut (which were lacking in the Director’s cut). This Final Cut also doesn’t have the voiceovers, the opening crawl, or the happy ending. It also has updated, cleaner special effects, with a remastering of the sound. Which to be honest was a good addition because the original US Blade Runner cut was very hard to understand at times.
Which Blade Runner cut should you watch before Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
While the Final Cut is Scott’s dream film, I’d actually have to recommend watching the international Original Cut first. Now I consider myself to be a decently smart cookie, but I had literally no idea what was happening when watching the Final Cut the first time. It was only when watching the Original Blade Runner Cut that things started making sense for me. So maybe I’m not that smart of a cookie as I thought?
Regardless, if you like the international Original Cut, because this film really isn’t for everyone, then I’d recommend watching the Final Cut. But then again, if you are a pretentious, cinephile, who can pick up on nuance and subtly to the nth degree, then watch the Final Cut first. You clearly won’t need any assistance.
Blade Runner 2049 was released on the 5th of October 2017, and is set 30 years after the original. Starring Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto, and Harrison Ford, this powerhouse of a film will explore Scott’s Blade Runner universe.