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A Cult Classic Restored, Again

Blade Runner Partnership

A vehicle flies between Los Angeles skyscrapers in both the 1982 and 2007 versions of “Blade Runner.”

Published: September 30, 2007

Correction Appended

IT’S been 25 years since the release of “Blade Runner,” Ridley Scott’s science fiction cult film turned classic, but only now has his original vision reached the screen.

“Blade Runner: The Final Cut” — as the definitive director’s cut is titled — was scheduled to play at the New York Film Festival Saturday night, opens at the Ziegfeld in New York and the Landmark in Los Angeles on Friday, and comes out in December in a five-disc set with scads of extra features.

An earlier director’s cut played in theaters 15 years ago to great fanfare and is still available on DVD. But the new one is something different: darker, bleaker, more beautifully immersive.

The film, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” takes place in Los Angeles in 2019. It follows a cop named Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) who hunts down androids — or, in the film’s jargon, replicants— that have escaped from their slave cells on outer-space colonies and are trying to blend in back on Earth.

What’s hypnotic about the film is its seamless portrait of the future, a sleek retro Deco glossed on neon-laced decay: overcrowded cities roamed by hustlers, strugglers and street gangs mumbling a multicultural argot, the sky lit by giant corporate logos and video billboards hyping exotic getaways on other planets, where most English-speaking white people seem to have fled.

Mr. Scott designed this world in minute detail and shot it at night, from oblique angles, mainly on Warner Brothers’ back lot in Burbank, Calif., pumping in smoke and drizzling in rain.

“I’ve never paid quite so much attention to a movie, ever,” Mr. Scott said in a telephone interview from Washington, where he’s shooting a spy thriller. “But we had to create a world that supported the story’s premise, made it believable. Why do you watch a film seven times? Because somebody’s done it right and transported you to its world.”

He created this world from what he saw around him. “I was spending a lot of time in New York,” he said. “The city back then seemed to be dismantling itself. It was marginally out of control. I’d also shot some commercials in Hong Kong. This was before the skyscrapers. The streets seemed medieval. There were 4,000 junks in the harbor, and the harbor was filthy. You wouldn’t want to fall in; you’d never get out alive. I wanted to film ‘Blade Runner’ in Hong Kong, but couldn’t afford to.

When “Blade Runner” came out in June 1982 it received mixed reviews and lost money. The summer’s big hit was “E. T.,” Steven Spielberg’s tale of a cute alien phoning home from the tidy suburbs. Few wanted to watch a movie that implied the world was about to go drastically downhill.

“Here we are 25 years on,” Mr. Scott said, “and we’re seriously discussing the possibility of the end of this world by the end of the century. This is no longer science fiction.”

The special effects that produced this vision were amazing for their day. Created with miniature models, optics and double exposures, they seemed less artificial than many computer effects of a decade later. But like film stock, they faded with time.

For the new director’s cut, the special-effects footage was digitally scanned at 8,000 lines per frame, four times the resolution of most restorations, and then meticulously retouched. The results look almost 3-D.

The film’s theme of dehumanization has also been sharpened. What has been a matter of speculation and debate is now a certainty: Deckard, the replicant-hunting cop, is himself a replicant. Mr. Scott confirmed this: “Yes, he’s a replicant. He was always a replicant.”

This may disappoint some viewers. Deckard is the film’s one person with a conscience. If he’s a replicant, it means that there are no more decent human beings.

“It’s a pretty dark world,” Mr. Scott acknowledged. “How many decent human beings do you meet these days?”

The clue to Deckard’s true nature comes in a scene that was cut from the original release and only recently unearthed by Charles de Lauzirika, Mr. Scott’s assistant and the restoration’s producer. In the film, Deckard falls in love with Rachael (played by Sean Young), a secretary at the Tyrell Corporation, the conglomerate that makes replicants. She discovers that she’s a replicant too. Her memories of childhood were implanted by Tyrell to make her think she’s human.

In the last scene of Mr. Scott’s version, Deckard leads Rachael out of his apartment. He notices an origami figure of a unicorn on the floor. A fellow cop has often left such figures outside replicants’ rooms. In an earlier scene, Deckard was thinking about a unicorn. Looking at the cutout now, he realizes that the authorities know what’s in his mind, that the unicorn is a planted memory, that he’s a replicant and that he and Rachael are both now on the run. They get into the elevator. The door slams. The end.

Correction: October 21, 2007

An article on Sept. 30 about a new director’s cut of “Blade Runner” referred imprecisely to a scene in which Deckard (Harrison Ford) remembers seeing a unicorn. The scene, which was cut from the original release, includes takes that were recently unearthed; the scene itself is not new.

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