Charles de Lauzirika, the filmmaker and producer who worked with Ridley Scott on Blade Runner: The Final Cut, has responded to my criticisms and talks about some of the choices behind the restoration in the BladeZone forum. Here’s a slightly condensed version of our exchange:

Although I appreciate the time and effort you put into your review, there are two critical problems with your thesis: 1) You basically assume that previous transfers were personally supervised by Ridley Scott (they were not) and 2) that the colorspace you’re seeing in various frame grabs and seen on a computer monitor match what would you see in a properly calibrated theater (home or theatrical.) They do not.

The Final Cut represents the very first time you’re seeing the film the way the director intended. Like it or not, it’s what he (not the “restorers” or anyone else) wanted, nor was it somehow updated to look fashionable. It’s simply the way the filmmaker wants his film to look. That’s why we left the other versions alone despite the new HD transfers, even if they don’t represent Ridley’s intended grading for the film, so that they would be historically preserved as they were.

I also don’t think there’s much value in directly comparing new frame grabs with old ones, aside from archival curiosity. Color-timing is meant to help create moods throughout the film at 24 frames a second, and to coldly dissect the grading on a static shot-by-shot basis deprives it of its intended effect…and that’s made even worse by the mismatching colorspaces of a computer and a calibrated screen or projection system.

Charles, thanks so much for your reply!

First, allow me to pay my most sincere compliments on the Final Cut, Dangerous Days and the Blade Runner home video set. Great work.

While my comparative material and the screencaps in this thread of course do not fully do the new colour-grading justice, I have already seen the film multiple times, on different monitors as well as projected unto a large screen, from both DVD and BluRay (I unfortunately haven’t been able to see it in a theatre yet), and think my basic observation stands, despite the differences between these individual viewing situations.

I am fully aware that the colour-grading was done according to the director’s wishes — something I also state in my review — but still find it markedly different than the earlier versions, which to me appear much closer in colour to each other. It therefore seems obvious to me that the new colour-grading is an aesthetic choice made specifically for the Final Cut.

My further point is that, while it is clearly the prerogative of the director to do as he pleases in this situation (I wouldn’t want to see a Final Cut in which he didn’t), Ridley Scott of 2007 is not Ridley Scott of 1982. His aesthetic sensibility and preferences have naturally changed and evolved, and this is what I see in this new version of Blade Runner, which in its colouristic sensibility looks more like, say, Kingdom of Heaven, than, for example, Legend. In other words, a film of the 2000s rather than the 1980s.

Additionally, I find it hard to believe that Scott would have graded the images like this in 1981-82, if he — as you say — had supervised the process more closely back then. And in any case, the film was made back then and is a product of that age. The look of the original release, which to my eyes is preserved rather closely, though not fully, even in the Director’s Cut, is the look that has been so influential on subsequent filmmakers, game designers, graphic artists, etc. To change that to the extent it’s been done is to change something much more fundamental than correcting continuity gaffes or substituting a new shot of the dove.

I think this is a pity, but of course still highly appreciate the work Ridley Scott and yourself have done on the restoration as a whole.

It’s strange, because once the first frame grabs started coming out, even I was taken aback by how green they appeared. So we checked with Warners and the authoring facility, and then looked at it again on the big screen and on properly calibrated monitors and it didn’t look that green or “blue steel” at all. In fact, every time I see The Final Cut on the big screen, I pay special attention to Holden VKing Leon, because those frame grabs were ridiculously green. And sure enough, each and every time, it looks exactly how it’s supposed to look, and nowhere near that green at all.

But again, this is the first time Ridley’s had total control over Blade Runner. That just doesn’t go for the cut, or the digital fixes, or the sound…it also goes for the color-timing. So, to me, all of these comparison to past versions don’t make a whole lot of sense since he didn’t have total control over those past versions. And believe me, I was almost slavishly against any form of revisionism or modernization of the film. I never once heard Ridley or anyone say, “Let’s make it more contemporary.” It was always, “This is the way it was supposed to look.”

I guess it wouldn’t be Blade Runner without at least a little controversy. 🙂

Heh, you’re right about that. Thanks again for commenting. 🙂

Any possibility that we might be able to squeeze some additional information out of you re: the thought process behind the Final Cut? As evidenced by my review, I’m particularly interested in the thoughts that went into adapting the “foreshadowing” inserts of Roy and retaining the two different versions of Leon’s “Tell you about my mother” line…

Well, those two shots still foreshadow what’s to come. The close-up on Roy’s hand has barely been changed — We just had Imageworks add a little abstract neon reflection to the frame. As for the close-up on Roy’s face, we had to remove Tyrell’s thumb anyway, and since it was always a case of stealing shots and not intentional foreshadowing, Ridley wanted it to be more smoothly integrated into the film, which it now is. But the framing and action within the shot is virtually the same, so on perhaps a slightly more subconscious level, it still harkens forward.

[Re: Leon’s line] …basically, I tried matching the two lines, but doing so kind of ruined whichever of the two moments were changed. If you use the harder “I’ll tell you about my mother!” in the first scene, it telegraphs to the audience that Leon is about to act and diminishes the surprise of the gunshot. Plus, Brion James’ performance is so mellow at that point, it would look like a bad foreign dub to use the other line. If you use the softer “Lemme tell you about my mother…” during Deckard’s playback in his sedan, it ruins the build-up to the gunshot echoing in the tunnel, now that we already know Holden’s fate. Of the two, I found the latter change to be the least offensive, but again, this falls under what I would call the Greedo Rule*, which is that if Ridley had wanted the lines to match back in 1982, he easily could have. It was a deliberate choice. And changing it would have undermined the film’s reliance on false or implanted memories as a theme.

* By the way, in the final stages of polishing The Final Cut, a lot of very minor last minute tweaks were made as Ridley was working with the colorists. So there might be some tiny changes that break that rule, but none of the big fixes could have been done in 1982, especially given the difficult circumstances surrounding the making of Blade Runner.

For the entire discussion, including a generous sampling of comparative screencaps, go to the BladeZone forum.