Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rediscovering the Past: Blade Runner: The First Cut Isn't The Deepest?

Q:  “What was the tallest mountain before Mount Everest was discovered?”

A:  Mount Everest
I always loathed that Trivial Pursuit trick question. The assumption that reality exists outside of the current human construct is something I’ve always been interested in exploring, but not when it costs me a piece of plastic pie. It does seem fairly brazen when one considers the magnitude of info that is outdated in every Trivial Pursuit board game.  

After vehemently avoiding Blade Runner for years, I succumbed to a first-viewing upon weighty recommendations from friends. I’m not much of a sci-fi fan. Let me rephrase that: I’m not much of a sci-fi-for-the-sake-of-being-sci-fi fan, but I enjoy art that makes me consider larger philosophical issues, such as the aforementioned questioning of truth. Call me a sap, but I also don’t mind an explosion or two thrown in. Blade Runner forced me to reconsider what constitutes human existence, and I loved it. The problem is the version of Blade Runner I watched was not the same version of Blade Runner that was shown in the theater in 1982. I was taken by a restored, reedited, re-shot, CGI-ed version of Blade Runner, “The Final Cut”, including a starkly different ending than the original. 
Robo Hobo sans shotgun
In many ways, I’m glad I watched “The Final Cut” version of Blade Runner. It highly affected how I perceived the film. A slicked-up, errorless film kept me fixated enough to follow the story line, which is what mattered to me. Immediately after the viewing, I surfed YouTube for clips of the original version and was taken aback by how dastardly dated the clips seemed, the original ending fiercely atrocious, unbefitting of the rest of the film. Researching further, I discovered that “The Final Cut” wasn’t just glossed-up with a new ending, but rather completely reworked, sometimes with Ridley Scott even shooting extra scenes and CGI-ing others to make the film look more modern and cover up any incongruities that existed in the original. 

There is something very odd to me about two people discussing two different films as if they have seen the same film. It bothers me that to discuss Blade Runner with another, I have to first ask what version was witnessed--not to mention there is more than two versions--before discussing a highly intriguing, submersed plot point that changes between versions, polarizing the film even further. I don’t even know if I would have liked Blade Runner if I viewed the original version. I’m rather confident the original ending would have spoiled the rest of the film for me, but I will never know. Dated sci-fi can make for some really bad intake.  Futuristic flying cars become model cars with wires pulling them along, realistic humans met with violent endings become comedic mannequins spewing strawberry jelly, and dreary, metallic versions of Los Angeles become dull, grey movie sets. Suddenly belief isn’t suspended, and the viewer checks out. 

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of my all-time favorites. It works on so many levels. That movie, to my knowledge, has never been doctored, other than maybe brightened by a DVD transfer. If that movie was altered, in any way, it would cause me a gruesome annoyance. It would change how I think about the film, and I saw it for the first time in 1998, complete with pastel spaceship interiors and bizarre psychedelic 60s movie effects. It was far “ahead of its time”, made before the 1969 moon landing, but still managing to capture the proper effects of space physics. The proof is in the sequel; 2010 explained everything, and it was disastrous. 

Google goggles ruin children
I watch a lot of Disney movies with my kids. Disney is always proud to release varnished versions of classic films, $29.99 at a clip. It certainly makes the viewing of these films a more pleasant experience, but in some weird way it does seem to be rewriting history. I imagine a futuristic toddler watching a 3D, holographic version of Snow White through a pair of those newfangled Google glasses and thinking, “Man, they were high-tech back in 1937!” 

I don’t blame Ridley Scott; I would have done the same. From everything I’ve read on the interwebs, Ridley Scott’s original ending was the ending of “The Final Cut”, but studio executives nixed it for the proverbial happy ending. How am I to fault him for perfecting his original vision to tell the story the way he thought it should be told? But where does it end? What if Tarantino cut his own racially explicative scene out of Pulp Fiction? What if Michael never caps Fredo? What if Andy never escapes Shawshank? What if Mona Lisa was given a boob job and some ruby lipstick? Far-fetched indeed, but what if art museums found a way present the art in 3D form without retouching the paintings? Would we be so willing to walk around the Louvre with 3D goggles intact?
Rating redone art poses problems. Without revision, 2001: A Space Odyssey can be compared to other films of the time. With those comparisons, value can be assessed. I think this is why Waterworld was met with such widespread condemnation: simply because it cost so much to make in comparison to other, more acclaimed films of that time. “The most expensive movie ever made” cost $175 million, and that was appalling to moviegoers in 1995. I don’t think Waterworld was that bad, at least now that every summer is filled with its share of over-budgeted critical bombs. 

If people truly enjoy 99 cent cheeseburgers at the exorbitant rate they are consumed at, and that enjoyment isn’t solely monetarily based (as recent studies show that middle-class America eats more fast-food than lower-class America), then that food is tasty, right? Do we judge how good Elvis was based on the records he sold? Certainly, some do. Are art and economics independent of each other? When we criticize Waterworld or place Blade Runner on a pedestal, what are we truly considering? After all, 50 dollar bottles of wine only taste better than 5 dollar bottles of wine if the taster knows which bottle costs more. It can be said that all history is revisionist, and, yes, I knew that I was watching a different version of Blade Runner. I just didn’t know how different.

Q: What science-fiction thriller, released in 2007, features Rutger Hauer as a genetically engineered bio-robot searching for its maker?

A: Blade Runner

1 comment:

Craig Scholes said...

One of these days I will see this movie

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