The fifth version of Blade Runner is slated to hit theaters in early October after undergoing a seven-year restoration process that included a 4K scan, improved special effects, and a reworked 5.1 audio mix. On Dec. 18, three different assemblies of the five cuts of the film will be available on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray.
Those who have faithfully followed every version of Blade Runner will be heartened to know that through the magic of digital film restoration, it has now received Ridley Scott’s definitive cut. Blade Runner: The Final Cut airs in theaters in early October. And on Dec. 18, three different assemblies of the five different cuts of the film and its components (plus extra content and a three-hour-plus making-of documentary) become available on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray.
The multiple-cut Blade Runner mystique was touched off in the early ’90s when a workprint of the film leaked out for a Los Angeles film festival, according to Charles de Lauzirika, restoration producer for the new cut and DVD producer for all the extras.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, here’s a rundown of the various versions of this inestimable sci-fi classic. The original film was released in 1982. At the same time, an international version went out. “It might just have been an alternate cut that Ridley and [supervising editor] Terry Rawlings prepared. It might have been done before the MPA rating,” de Lauzirika says of the cut, which contains some additional violence. But he’s not sure.
Then there’s the workprint, sometimes called the “New Art,” for which there is no negative. This version surprised fans when it was shown at what de Lauzirika remembers as the Cineplex Odeon Fairfax 70mm Film Festival. He ascribes the cut to Scott and Rawlings, and he says it just happened to be the 70mm version that Warner’s archivist Michael Eric pulled out of the vaults for the festival. The entire fifth and sixth reels of the film have temp music (from The Planet of the Apes, Humanoids from the Deep, The Hand, and others) because it was the test-screening cut, and they didn’t have all of Vangelis’ score in yet, de Lauzirika says. There’s no voiceover except at the very end.
Then, in 1992, came the Director’s Cut, known for, among other things, having cut Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) narration. However, according to de Lauzirika, this didn’t turn out to be Scott’s definitive version, and was rather done internally at Warner Bros. while Scott was busy finishing up Thelma and Louise and prepping 1492.
All four of these versions were deemed worthwhile to bump up to HD for release, according to Kurt Galvao, director of feature postproduction assets and technology at Warner Bros. The team checked the tracks, did color correction, created 3D masters of the three negatives — for the 1982 original and international and the 1992 director’s cut. “Then we had the New Art [or workprint] version. That one’s a 70mm print, and it’s the only print in the world that exists, and there’s no negative behind it. We scanned that — knowing that it’s a print and it’s fading, but being that it’s one of a kind, we thought we would do as best we could with that and create it in HD as well,” Galvao says.
All of this was occurring as the fifth version — Scott’s final cut — was painstakingly assembled from original elements, including the original 65mm negative. De Lauzirika has been working on it over a seven-year period. “And this time, Ridley approved every single thing that went into it — every single cut, every single effect,” he says.
“We’re right back to square one,” Galvao says of The Final Cut elements. “We scanned the cut negative, plus the negatives we dug out of vaults in England, here at Warner Bros., and [co-executive producer] Jerry Perenchio’s vault as well. We went through and viewed every frame of every roll that we could find.”
“Honestly, I got to go through 977 boxes and cans of mag, IP, INs, 65mm visual effects comps, 35mm original dailies … everything ever printed,” de Lauzirika says. “I saw amazing, amazing material — much of which we’ve been able to pull and put on the DVD in some form, even if it didn’t make it into The Final Cut.
“I think The Final Cut is the best version of them all. The picture and sound on it are just astounding. We really put a lot of work into the restoration, and we transferred the actual original neg at 4K, and it just looks stunning. Even more stunning are the visual effects, which were originally 65mm elements, then scanned at 8K. It looks like 3D. It’s so sharp, with all these details that I’d never seen before.”
According to Galvao, the assembly and restoration for The Final Cut included some reworking of the original effects — tightening some mattes, doing some wire removal, etc.
De Lauzirika and his team worked with a variety of original elements. “It was either optical or mag or whatever they had in the vaults,” he says. “We also had on mag original ADR sessions and various visual effects, and very interesting audio enhancements that we were able to pull.”
De Lauzirika was never able to find the original production sound or any of the audio. Fortunately, there were still archival 6-tracks, from which raw material could be used to fill in the gaps that had been caused by edits, trims, or moved voiceovers. “Per Hallberg and Karen Baker and the Warner sound team did a really great job in piecing it together,” de Lauzirika says. “Now we have a coherent, full-blown, 6-track, 5.1 mix for the DVD and for the theatrical release.”
Technicolor handled much of the new restoration of Blade Runner. Working
from 4K scans from the studio, Technicolor provided a new DI color-grade
performed between its new Stage 6, Culver City, Calif., facility on the Sony lot while
the render and other restoration services were performed at TDI in Burbank, Calif. Jill Bogdanowicz was the lead digital colorist, with some support from
Stephen Nakamura. Thom Polizzi led the Technicolor team, while Tom Burton
handled extensive restoration services such as dust busting and scratch removal,
as well as a few visual effects shots. The Stage 6 facility conformed the definitive
cut with the new VFX provided by Imageworks, etc. Scott
oversaw the color-grading sessions at the Stage 6 facility. The
color-grading was performed on one of the company’s Da Vinci Resolves. Film-out was carried out at TDI on the Arrilasers.
De Lauzirika’s team included four special effects houses: Sony Pictures Imageworks, Illusion Arts, Lola Visual Effects, and The Orphanage. Imageworks did quite a bit of work, primarily the Zhora sequence, including fixing the shot in which an obvious stunt double runs through glass in a bad wig (a greenscreen shoot with the original actor Joanna Cassidy allowed Sony to seamlessly weave her in to every shot). “[Sony] also did little tweaks, like the first time we see Batty in the film,” de Lauzirika says. “Originally, it was two stolen shots from later in the film, which made no sense.”
Illusion Arts handled a lot of the matte painting work and a lot of the landscapes and cityscapes. “There’s a shot at the end of the film where Batty dies and Deckard releases a dove up into the sky,” de Lauzirika says. “It always went from this dark, gritty, rainy Blade Runner to clear blue sky, with aluminum, corrugated buildings and silver sci-fi tubes, which look nothing like Blade Runner — but that’s because they were rushed, out of money. They shot it during postproduction at the last minute. We’ve now gone in with Ridley and replaced that original dove into a much more appropriately dystopian Blade Runner background.”
Lola Visual Effects did a lot of little tweaks, finesses, and wire removals. “They’ve been kind of our safety net throughout,” de Lauzirika says. “They picked up a lot of things that just weren’t getting covered in some of the other assignments. And then there was The Orphanage, which started the project doing wire removals and little continuity tweaks as well.”
Remember, in 1981 there was no CGI, and all the special effects of the flying vehicles over the apocalyptic wilderness of Los Angeles were done in-camera. “There was some optical printing, obviously, but there were a lot of multiple passes on visual effects shots,” de Lauzirika says. In the opening shots, the famous Hades landscape with the fireballs on the refinery towers took 17 in-camera passes. “They’d push in, rewind it, pull back, to do each fireball element, each interactive glow of the fireball, each spinner that was flying over, each lens flare,” de Lauzirika says.
“There’s actually a funny story about that,” he continues, recalling the frequent earthquakes of 1981 Los Angeles. “They would set up a seismograph to the camera, then they would run the shot overnight, and if they came in the next morning and saw a spike on the seismograph, they’d kill the shot because they’d know there’d be a bump in it and the whole shot would be ruined. Back then, the slightest little thing was like a bunch of dominoes falling.”
“The Final Cut is sort of like the best of all previous cuts, with quite a bit of new material in it,” de Lauzirika sums up. “No voiceover at all, no happy ending at all. It has a true unicorn dream of Deckard’s that was not seen in the ’92 cut. The ’92 cut was an outtake from the unicorn scene shot for Blade Runner but edited differently, because they just didn’t have the materials back then. We have them now. During our restoration project, we tracked down the original cut of the unicorn scene. We went to the original negative and restored it, so now it appears as it was always intended to appear.”
The DVD releases will also contain de Lauzirika’s documentary Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner, featuring 80 in-depth interviews with cast, crew, filmmakers, and critics, as well as archival footage. De Lauzirika claims the documentary could have run longer than its three-and-a-half hours, and for Blade Runner fans, it’s a must. “Even if you read something like Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner, which is considered the definitive making-of book, there are still things you have no idea existed before now,” he says.