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Accept no replicants

The definitive cut of ‘Blade Runner’ proves the sci-fi epic’s classic status

Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos in ‘Blade Runner’

In 1977, the success of “Star Wars” spawned a renaissance of sci-fi and fantasy films that would reverberate through the early ‘80s (not even taking into account the sequels to “Star Wars.”) Whether it was Roger Corman schlock like “Battle Beyond the Stars” or the timeless badassery that is Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” a wave broke over genre filmmaking just around the time I got HBO and had summers off.

As a result, I’ve seen Scott’s follow-up to “Alien,” the enigmatic, noir-inspired “Blade Runner,” probably 196,000 times (no, really), throughout various revisions. 

There’s the 1982 theatrical cut with Harrison Ford’s narration spelling every plot point out for the audience. That one differs from the inevitable 1992 director’s cut, which loses the narration and trades in the happy ending for something more ambiguous. There’s a European cut with more violence. A television cut that excises the boobs. And finally, 25 years after the original, came “Blade Runner: The Final Cut.” The for-real, totally final one.

But “The Final Cut” is the best cut of this timeless and still vibrant sci-fi icon, and it will make its Tulsa debut at Circle Cinema’s Graveyard Shift on March 27-28. Big shock: I still love it.

For the uninitiated: In three years, Los Angeles will look like Tokyo on steroids and there will be synthetic humans called replicants. Created by the Tyrell Corporation, there are all kinds of replicants for all kinds of jobs. Accounting for the inherent dangers of creating a genetically-engineered army of super humans, replicants are sensibly given a 4-year lifespan.   

But when a group of space-faring “skinjobs” (the uniformly excellent Rutger Hauer, Daryl Hannah, Brion James and Johanna Cassidy) go off reservation and return to Earth to discover the cure for their planned obsolescence, they find themselves in the sights of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an erstwhile Blade Runner—those are cops devoted to hunting and killing rogue replicants. And if that sounds fucking awesome, that’s because it is.

More than “Star Wars,” “Blade Runner” defined the look of decades of sci-fi films that came after it, for better and worse. The art design of Moebius and Syd Mead has been appropriated by everyone from Luc Beeson to (ironically) George Lucas in the ensuing decades. But looking at “Blade Runner” now still inspires the same awe for how unique and beautifully crafted a film it is.

The exquisite visual details almost overcome the plot. The world Scott created here is thick with neon decrepitude, Beijing-level pollution, mashed-up languages and suggestions of an overarching society that everyone is forced to live in. If you’re still on Earth, it’s because you can’t leave. But the slow-burn story of Deckard pursuing his marks while feeling sympathy for them after he meets a smoking-hot replicant named Rachael (Sean Young) perfectly matches the peerless atmosphere the film generates for its characters. 

Scott’s deliberate direction gives room for the themes to breathe—the nature of memory, consciousness and what it means to be a human. The cinematography of Jordan Cronenweth is a national treasure—his balance of light and shadow make future L.A. yet another character. The practical FX by Douglas Trumbull (and a bunch of ILM guys who weren’t working on “Return of the Jedi”) are still gorgeous and feel more tangible than the computer-generated variety we’ve grown accustomed to. The haunting score by Vangelis somehow manages not to date itself, which is miraculous. And it’s Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer at their respective peaks. The last 15 minutes of “Blade Runner” remain the most suspenseful moments of Scott’s entire oeuvre and never fail to get under the skin.         

Integrity is tested by time. By that measure, “Blade Runner” is still the best science fiction movie ever made.