Blade Runner is one of the most famous SF movies ever made, but I had only seen the original 1982 cinema version, and that a long time ago. Several different versions have been made but in only one of them did director Ridley Scott have complete artistic freedom – The Final Cut, released in 2007 – so when it came up on TV I was keen to watch it.
I'm sure I needn't say much about the plot, concerning the efforts of a specialist police officer (Bladerunner) in a future Los Angeles to identify, track and "retire" (kill) four replicants; very tough and strong artificial humans made for work in outer space who have illegally returned to Earth in the hope of extending their artificially short lives. The four most important characters in the film are the Bladerunner Deckard (Harrison Ford), two of the replicants he is hunting (Rutger Hauer in a compelling performance, and Darryl Hannah) and a young woman who also turns out to be a replicant (Sean Young).
The setting is dystopian, with Los Angeles a grim, dark, dirty, violent and decidedly wet place (most of the scenes seem to be set at night, in the rain). The mood is enhanced by the soundtrack, with strange mechanical noises from the city frequently intruding into the futuristic background music from Vangelis. The most noticeable difference between The Final Cut and the original is the deletion of the explanatory voice-over from the protagonist Deckard; a big improvement in my view, as it adds to the bleak, mysterious atmosphere of the film. Little is explicit and the viewer has to focus to keep up with the often fast-moving action, but time is taken to give some depth to the major characters, and some of the minor ones too. The fact that the replicants are treated with some sympathy adds to an air of moral ambiguity; this is definitely a film for adults to appreciate, in a way that few SF films have been (Gattaca being another example).
The original release should certainly feature in anyone's list of best SF films; The Final Cut is vying for the top spot. Compared with another good SF film seen recently – Interstellar – it lacks the ambitious plot and spectacular visuals, but as a piece of filmic drama it is clearly superior. Any SF fan who has not seen this film should certainly do so, and try to see The Final Cut if you can.
A final thought: the film is set in 2019, which in 1982 was presumably felt to be far enough into the future for interstellar colonisation to be feasible. It is rather sad, but typical of SF, that this optimistic assumption was so far from reality that we are in fact further from achieving that now than we seemed to be in 1982. Yet the IT visible in the film was far less advanced than ours – which just emphasises how difficult it is to predict technological developments.