“If only you could see what I've seen with your eyes!”
The odds were stacked against Blade Runner. A troubled production that saw Ridley Scott fired and the film edited against his wishes, it flopped on release in 1982. Still, Blade Runner endured and its influence on cinema has been a significant one.
The first release of Ridley Scott's Director’s Cut came on VHS and LaserDisc in 1993. It was followed by a DVD release in 1997, and then The Final Cut DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD (!) release in 2007.
Now, on its 35th anniversary, Blade Runner: The Final Cut has landed on Ultra HD Blu-ray.
Blade Runner follows Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, an ex-cop in Los Angeles, 2019, who’s brought back into the fold to find and 'retire' (i.e. kill) four androids. These androids, or Replicants, are used as slaves on off-world colonies, and deemed illegal on Earth.
Things take a turn when Deckard discovers a fifth replicant, Sean Young’s Rachel, and develops feelings for her. The lines between what is and isn’t human blur, as he wrestles with having to do his job and retire all the replicants.
Blade Runner is a celebrated piece of filmmaking but it’s not an easy watch. Some fall in love with the aesthetic and the story; others find it emotionally cold and aloof. Despite having Harrison Ford in the lead role, his Deckard is subdued and unsympathetic, a cynical character who lives a lonely existence.
The real stars are the characters being hunted. In Leon (Brion James), Pris (Daryl Hannah), Zhora (Joanna Kassidy) and the charismatic leader of the group, Roy Batty (brilliantly played by Rutger Hauer), the replicants have a simple goal; meet their maker (Joe Turkel’s Tyrell) and find a way to live beyond their fixed four-year lifespans.
Despite their capacity for brutal violence, their childlike innocence and view of the world is perfect for this story. They’re presented as wild animals that need to be put down, yet by getting to know them just a little, you soon want them to survive.
Some aspects remain rocky. Deckard’s up and down relationship with Rachel may fit the 1940s detective genre it’s aping, but can seem unnecessarily callous, and it is slow-paced - even the bursts of action, if you can call them that, are repetitive and unfulfilling.
But that’s also what makes Blade Runner so interesting. It’s not concerned with conventional storytelling. It’s a dreamy, meditative tale that ponders the nature of existence, human or otherwise, with frequent bouts of melancholy.
It’s rarely heroic but it is committed to seeing the humanity in all its characters. Blade Runner has plenty of imitators, but there’s nothing quite like it.
This transfer is sourced from the same one Warner Bros. used for its Final Cut in 2007 - a 4K digital intermediate re-worked under the supervision of Ridley Scott. HDR has been added to the equation for this 4K disc release.
The Blu-ray was good for 2007, but the 2017 4K Blu-ray blows it away. It’s sharper and more expressive, with colours not just brighter but more intense. The plumes of fire that dominate the Los Angeles landscape at the film’s beginning are more defined and more vibrant.
It’s a clearer image, with more detail on offer - a comparison with the Blu-ray makes this apparent.
The scene where M. Emmet Walsh’s Bryant talks Deckard through the various replicants is bathed in a rich blue tone. On Blu-ray there’s a lack of sharpness to the faces and the scene seems drenched in blue - the Ultra HD Blu-ray is more distinct and strikes a better colour balance. You can detect multiple shades of blue, the lighting feels more natural and defined, and aspects of the picture that appeared fuzzy on the Blu-ray are now rendered with startling clarity.
More after the break
The 4K Blade Runner is wonderfully vivid. Fittingly enough, a shot of the THX sign towards the end of the film looks electric blue in 4K and is relatively dull and faded in HD.
Some scenes are a few shades lighter though, which in turn reveals more of the lighting, shading and detail in a scene.
Blacks were pretty good on the Blu-ray but they’re inky deep on the 4K, and the complexion of characters, especially Ford’s Deckard, has been enhanced, with stronger, better-defined skin tones, without ever appearing over-cooked.
This is a richer, more expressive image that makes you appreciate the production design and aesthetics even more. If the goal of 4K is to get closer to the director’s intent, then this is a resounding success.
From the booming opening, this is a Dolby Atmos track that makes its presence felt, whether it’s the room-shaking heft provided by a Spinner (the flying cars) or the explosions that resonate during the opening scenes, there’s a real depth and dynamism to the soundstage.
The panning of effects is excellent (Spinners whoosh past from right-to-left and vice versa) as is the positioning of those effects. You’re never in doubt where a sound is coming from - Deckard’s fight with Leon is excellently done - while crowd scenes deliver plenty of atmosphere from the front and back speakers.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut makes much better use of the overheads than another Atmos discs we've tested recently, such as Ghost in the Shell, with thunder and pinpoint rain effects appearing to drop from the ceiling.
Vangelis’ famous score is wonderfully represented, setting an ominous tone that can engulf the room, while also providing some deft, almost romantic touches.
Dialogue is handled well and LFE sounds are delivered with the necessary force. Gunshots and punches can be felt, while some of the more violent scenes are appropriately intense.
This Atmos track is a fine example of what Dolby’s object-based surround sound format can bring, immersing you with a vibrant, busy, detailed and accurate soundscape.
Blade Runner stands alongside Alien as one of Ridley Scott’s best films, and this 4K Blu-ray release is a fitting representation of his vision.
It’s a sharper, bolder and richer image, the HDR allowing the colours to come even more to the fore, resulting in a picture that’s leagues better than the Blu-ray. Add an Atmos soundtrack that places you in and amongst this brilliantly realised world, and the disc is a real treat (assuming you have a system to do it justice).
Blade Runner: The Final Cut on Ultra HD Blu-ray arrives in pristine condition, although the lack of substantial extras is a disappointment (you'll want the Special Edition (!) for more extras).
Regardless, outside of catching it in the cinema, this is as good as the film will ever look and sound (until we get 8K...).
Special features are few and far betwee on this 4K Blu-ray. Aside from a digital download code, there's an introduction (which we believe is from the 2007 Blu-ray) and three commentaries. For more special features, you'll want the four disc Special Edition.
- Introduction by Ridley Scott
- Three filmmaker commentaries, including one by Ridley Scott
Picture: 2.40:1, 4K 2160p
Sound: Dolby Atmos/ Dolby TrueHD 5.1