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Warner's BLADE RUNNER Box Is a Classic!

For DVD releases in 2007, Warner Home Video, director Ridley Scott and disc producer Charles de Lauzirika have truly saved the best for last. The long-awaited, all-encompassing box-set of BLADE RUNNER (****, 117 mins., 1982, R) that fans have been dreaming of has finally been released, and no matter what your persuasion is -- regular DVD, HD-DVD or Blu-Ray -- the set ranks as one of the medium’s most sweeping achievements.

Saddled, however, with contractual and legal obstacles, it’s taken literally years for Warner and Lauzirika to have access to all the tools they needed in order to produce the definitive presentation of Scott’s groundbreaking 1982 sci-fi classic -- a movie initially shunned by audiences during its theatrical release in the crowded summer of ‘82, but one that has obviously endured and become of the most influential films ever produced.

Even though the so-called “Director’s Cut” was first issued in 1992, that version wasn’t a formal edit of the film prepared by the director. The opportunity for Scott to make necessary adjustments for his new “Final Cut” may not have been the biggest obstacle in this set’s creation, but the hurdles that needed to be cleared in order to release all the other, myriad versions of the film took an understandably enormous amount of time. The original theatrical cut, the international unrated version (which comprised the beloved Criterion laserdisc release), and the legendary workprint (screened in regional releases in the early ‘90s, prior to the “Director’s Cut” release) are all, as any “Blade Runner” fan would tell you, integral to the “Blade Runner” experience, and instead of going halfway with just a “Final Cut” Special Edition, Scott, Lauzirika and his staff opted to wait until the opportunity afforded itself to literally release them all.

That decision was prudent and worth every internet rant and message board thread that speculated when the DVD would be coming out. Warner’s new DVD release of “Blade Runner” is the most comprehensive package of its kind ever released: the four and five-disc box-sets offer an incredible wealth of material and, most importantly, every relevant version of the film produced.

Speaking of the film, it goes without saying that “Blade Runner” holds up today as one of the most enthralling science-fiction films ever made: a symphony of sight and sound with a narrative that doesn’t -- in any version, really -- entirely connect, but for its purposes doesn’t have to. Scott, special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull, cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, the sets of Lawrence G. Paull and art director David Snyder (conceptually designed by Syd Mead among others), and the music of Vangelis transport you into a future world that’s foreign yet familiar, decrepit in parts but majestic in others: a Los Angeles of 2019 where a group of android “replicants” seek answers to their built-in manufactured “expiration” dates, sending burned-out “Blade Runner” cop Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) to hunt them down and terminate them.

Ever since the film’s 1982 release, fans have debated -- and argued -- over the merits of each version of “Blade Runner.” The film’s theatrical and “International Cut” variants included a voice-over by Ford that had been incorporated, to varying degrees, in the script since its conception, along with a “happy ending” (more of an “optimistic epilogue” in my mind than a radically different conclusion than its counterparts) comprised mostly of outtake aerial footage from “The Shining.” The 1992 “Director’s Cut” eliminated the voice-over and cut the ending down to its original form, while simultaneously suggesting more heavily that Rick Deckard wasn’t just human -- he was a replicant as well! This controversial theory has been a source of debate for decades, even amongst the film’s writers and Harrison Ford himself, who resisted Scott’s implication that its protagonist may not be human (in fact, co-writer Hampton Fancher still doesn’t take the idea seriously, finding it completely absurd and against the intentions of Philip K. Dick’s original novel).

I’ve always felt that, while the suggestion that Deckard is a replicant is intriguing, the film’s story doesn’t work when viewed from that angle: it opens up a can of worms that logistically makes less sense than its other interpretation, along with robbing the film of its central emotional arc -- that a tired, dispirited human who’s lost his soul regains it, ultimately, through his interaction with artificial life-forms who are, in some ways, more “human” than he is.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, as well as fans interested in the box-set, here’s a breakdown of the different versions included in the new DVD and high-definition versions of “Blade Runner”:

-The Final Cut: this brand-new, remastered version of “Blade Runner” presents Ridley Scott’s final, intended Director’s Cut, with some very, very minor tweaking -- a couple of digitally enhanced alterations (including a reworked shot of the dove flying off, out of Roy Batty’s arms at the end), a couple of alternate lines, and a superior “Unicorn” sequence more in line with Scott’s original vision than the would-be 1992 “Director’s Cut” release. Only die-hard “Blade Runner” fans will notice these differences, however, as this cut essentially plays out as being mostly identical to the 1992 release, keeping Deckard’s possible replicant identity a key ingredient.

Where “The Final Cut” has a big advantage on every disc release (whether it’s DVD or the HD-DVD/Blu Ray versions) is in its transfer and sound: the remastered, cleaned up image is spectacular at every turn, while the remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is fully enveloping, opening up Vangelis’ marvelous score in a way no prior audio mix ever has. Supplements include commentaries by Ridley Scott; another track with writers Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, producer Michael Deeley and production executive Katherine Haber; and another track with Syd Mead, Lawrence G. Paull, David Snyder, Douglas Trumbull and fellow F/X artists Richard Yuricich and David Dryer.

-The Original Theatrical Cut: the movie’s original released version is presented in a newly restored transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. It presents the movie as it was initially issued in June of 1982, complete with the longer, “happier” ending and voice-over -- which still, to this viewer, is a needed component of the picture and Deckard’s role in the story. Ford’s performance seems to have been fashioned out of an understanding that there would, indeed, be voice-over narration placed over various sequences, and while not all of it is effective or necessary (and Ford hated recording it), it ultimately aids the picture more than detracts from it.

-International Cut: essentially the theatrical version with several seconds of more graphic violence, this version is also included in a newly restored transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. Fans will recognize this version as being the cut included in Criterion’s laserdisc release, which for many years was the only way to see the film in widescreen format, as it was originally intended.

-Director’s Cut (1992): after the workprint version was screened in several Los Angeles theaters in the early ‘90s, Warner Bros. sought to issue a national release of Ridley Scott’s intended version of “Blade Runner.” Working without Scott’s involvement, they dumped the voice-over, abbreviated the ending, and added a less effective “unicorn” sequence intended, in Scott’s mind, to imply that Deckard was a replicant. This version has been the only edit of the movie issued on DVD prior to the new box-set, yet its inclusion here (again in remastered widescreen and 5.1 sound) is mainly for prosperity, since Scott’s new “Final Cut” is essentially the same package with a better transfer and a few minor, but satisfying, improvements.

All three of the above versions are included on the same DVD or high-def platter (via seamless branching) with short introductions from Ridley Scott.

-The Workprint: the early assembly of “Blade Runner” with sections of unused Vangelis score and lots of temp music, this legendary, unfinished version of the film was screened in L.A. during the early ‘90s and basically launched a campaign for a formal Director’s Cut. Its inclusion in the 5-disc limited “briefcase” version (standard DVD) and 5-disc HD-DVD and Blu-Ray Collector’s sets will come as a revelation for “Blade Runner” fans, as it preserves an early and alternate conception of the film with numerous differences from its later counterparts -- including, most notably, an alternate “love theme” from Vangelis during Deckard and Rachael (Sean Young)’s intimate sequence. It’s included here, warts and all, in a surprisingly sharp (considering its condition) remastered transfer and 5.1 audio, along with a commentary track from Paul M. Sammon, author of “Future Noir,” the definitive book on the production of the film.

For extras, the “Blade Runner” set offers a treasure trove of production stories, fascinating anecdotes, amazing outtakes and other materials that will keep fans’ eyes glued to their sets for hours on end.

“Dangerous Days: Making ‘Blade Runner’” is the set’s big documentary, a sprawling, three-hour look at the film’s production offering interviews with basically everyone except Vangelis. Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, Daryl Hannah, Hampton Fancher, David Snyder...the list goes on, and Lauzirika leaves no stone unturned in his chronicle of the troubled production, whether it’s the friction between Scott and producers Bud Yorkin and Jerry Perenchio (who are both interviewed here), between the cast and Scott, between the writers and’s a meaty, thrilling ride that touches upon all the oft-reported issues and conflicts that were a part of the film’s turbulent shoot. The documentary is presented in 16:9 standard-definition widescreen on the second disc of all platforms.

The set’s fourth disc, “Enhancement Archive,” presents even more fascinating extras.

Nearly an hour’s worth of deleted scenes are on-hand, beginning with an evocative alternate opening credit sequence, discarded F/X shots, legendary scenes with Deckard and his “Blade Runner” counterpart Holden (cut entirely from all five versions of the movie), a regrettably discarded moment between Graf (Edward James Olmos) and Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh), and many sequences of excised voice-over narration that illustrated how much narration was originally intended for the film. These sequences, presented in 16:9 standard-def widescreen from the best surviving elements, are simply breathtaking for “Blade Runner” fans -- like watching another, previously unseen glimpse into the film’s universe.

Ten more featurettes (from an examination of Deckard’s identity to a look at the movie’s fan culture and poster art) join three vintage featurettes, including a convention reel, behind-the-scenes outtakes, and an “On the Set” segment that will again prove to be enthralling for die-hard fans. Also fascinating are screen tests of Sean Young and actresses who didn’t make the cut, including Stacey Nelkin (who was later cast as “Mary,” the sixth Replicant that was cut for budgetary reasons prior to shooting) and Nina Axelrod.

The movie’s seldom-screened (and quite awful) trailers are also present, having utilized the Ink Spots’ “If I Didn’t Care” and a narrator who doesn’t even sound remotely close to Harrtison Ford! The advertising is nevertheless fascinating to see, as it completely fails to properly sell the film and what it’s actually about.

Enormous kudos for this magnificent set go out especially to Charles de Lauzirika, who previously produced the supplements for the “Alien Quadrilogy” box-set, a release that remains one of the most satisfying DVDs ever produced. Needless to say, Lauzirika has added to his mantle here with a DVD release that may never be surpassed for its richness, wealth of information and content.

“Blade Runner” is one of my favorite films of all-time and the new box-set, likewise, is one of the finest DVDs ever produced. We couldn’t have asked for a better way to cap the year in home video with a more spectacular release than this one.

New on Blu-Ray

RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION (**½, 2007, 97 mins., R; Sony)
RESIDENT EVIL (**½, 2002, 100 mins., R; Sony)

Paul W.S. Anderson’s nutty adaptation of the Capcom zombie video game franchise continues with “Resident Evil: Extinction,” a dumb but moderately enjoyable lark with sufficient action and special effects to please most sci-fi/horror enthusiasts.

Milla Jovovich is back once again as Alice, the one-woman-army now battling zombies in a desert setting where the last remnants of humanity are holed up. The dastardly Umbrella Corporation, meanwhile, is looking for her blood while our heroes gather at a compound trying to stay alive. Joining Milla in her battles this time out are Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield, Oded Fehr and Mike Epps from the last installment, and Ashanti, all of whom take down scores of zombies under the stylish enough visual flair of veteran director Russell Mulcahy (“Highlander”).

“Resident Evil: Extinction” certainly isn’t anything groundbreaking but it’s fun for what it is: a no-brain, good-looking action flick with a couple of attractive female leads and enough F/X to satisfy its intended audience.

Sony’s Blu-Ray edition, out next week, includes an excellent 1080p, AVC-encoded high-definition transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio. The movie looks and sounds spectacular, while sufficient extras include a commentary with Mulcahy, Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt; a series of featurettes (“Beyond Raccoon City”); deleted scenes; a trailer for the upcoming “Resident Evil” CGI home-video movie; and a picture-in-picture Blu-Ray experience with additional anecdotes, interviews and production materials.

Also new on Blu-Ray is the original 2002 “Resident Evil,” written and directed by Anderson himself and offering nearly all of the extras from its prior Special Edition DVD, including an alternate ending, two different commentary tracks, 12 featurettes and a music video. The 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD soundtrack are both exceptional, making for a robust presentation for all “Resident Evil” fans (who should note “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” is already available on Blu-Ray, albeit in a disappointing, movie-only release).

DRAGON WARS: Blu-Ray (**½, 2007, 90 mins., PG-13; Sony): Outlandish but fast-paced, entertaining South Korean-produced monster epic with a mostly-American cast, including Jason Behr (“Roswell”), Amanda Brooks, Robert Forster and Elizabeth Pena, who do battle against an invasion of giant dragons in this $70-million spectacle which basically went right to video in the U.S. For kids and monster fans, “D-Wars” offers ample spectacle, a silly plot and loads of old-fashioned monster fun, beautifully captured on DVD and Blu-Ray disc by Sony, where the movie sports a sterling 1080p transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio, a Making Of featurette, and storyboard and animatic galleries. Even Steve Jablonsky’s score is surprisingly pleasant and effective, making for an engaging B-movie all around.

NEXT TIME: ZODIAC: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT arrives on DVD as we kick off 2008! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards, check out the newly relaunched Aisle Seat Blog, and direct any emails to our email address. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year everyone!

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