As Blade Runner 2049 rapidly approaches, the critics are raving, fans are getting fired-up about Replicants, and even Harrison Ford is weighing-in on which version of the first movie is his favorite. But here’s the thing. If you’ve never seen the 1982 Blade Runner before it really doesn’t matter which version of it watch before Blade Runner 2049. Like. At all. Here’s why.
If you’ve never seen the original Blade Runner this article is totally spoiler-free.
Harrison Ford, Ridley Scott, and most fans will tell you that “Final Cut” version of Blade Runner is preferred over all the versions. And the reasons cited almost unanimously have to do with the fact that the theatrical version — that’s the one streaming to rent on Amazon Prime and iTunes — contains two things film snobs hate: a “happy ending” and a noir voiceover from Harrison Ford throughout. The theatrical version also doesn’t contain the infamous dream sequence in which Deckard (Harrison Ford) dreams about a unicorn.
A lot can — and will — be said about voiceovers if you’re having a casual conversation with someone about Blade Runner. Here’s the thing: the entire cult of Blade Runner exists around the theatrical version of the film released in 1982. This version had the voiceover. This is the version people fell in love with. In the 1996 book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, journalist Paul M. Sammon dug deep into the origins of the studio-mandated voiceovers as well as people’s reactions to them, and he uncovers something people who hate the voiceover will never tell you: the concept originated with Ridley Scott, not the studios.
The objection Scott and Ford had to the voiceovers used in the theatrical release were connected to the fact that these tracks were the third round of voiceovers recorded for the movie. Meaning, if you object to the voiceover in Blade Runner because of a kneejerk damn-the-man philosophy, it’s best to remember the concept of giving the movie a noir, hard-boiled detective-feel wasn’t something exclusively slapped on by the studio. They got the idea from the guy who made the movie. It just wasn’t the voiceover he wanted.
So who cares? What’s the big deal about the voiceover? The answer for a sane person is this: it’s not a big deal. If you think Blade Runner is an art film, and that Ridley Scott is an auteur whose vision was compromised by evil studios, then go right on believing the voiceover is proof of that compromised vision, even though the truth is more complicated. But, if you think of Blade Runner as a cool, neo-noir detective sci-fi movie that captured the themes of Philip K. Dick, then the voiceover won’t bother you. In fact, its clunkiness may actually remind you of Philip K. Dick’s prose!
So what about this unicorn dream and this slapped-on happy ending? Of the two, the happy-ending is probably the bigger problem, but operating from the premise that you’ve never seen the movie — or it’s maybe been a long time since you’ve seen it — it won’t spoil the ending of the original Blade Runner, happy or otherwise. The bottom line is that pretty much all versions of the movie have a happy ending. One just takes the happiness a step further (theatrical version). The other is a little understated (Final Cut).
Which leaves us with the Rosebud of Blade Runner; the unicorn dream debacle. Have you ever had someone yell at you in a bar about unicorn dreams? It’s just as ridiculous and wonderful as it sounds. And that’s because the unicorn dream is the biggest clue to the mystery of whether or not Deckard is a Replicant. If Deckard dreams about a unicorn, then that means he’s probably a Replicant. If he doesn’t, then all that means is that he didn’t dream about a unicorn.
The point is, even if you’re watching the theatrical cut — without the Unicorn dream — you still might come to the conclusion that Deckard could be a Replicant. After all, Blade Runner is based on a novel called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, meaning rhetorical questions about the nature of humanity are inherent to understanding it and loving it.
And if you love good science fiction and cool films, no matter which version of Blade Runner you watch, you are going to love it. Is Ridley Scott’s “Final Cut” of the movie great? Yes. It totally is. But you aren’t necessarily missing anything if you watch the same version the cool kids saw in the theaters back in ‘82.
Blade Runner 2049 hits theaters everywhere on October 6.
If you liked this article, check out this video on practical effects in Blade Runner 2049.