There are flubs that can be fixed: the reflection of a glass panel between Indiana Jones and a hissing cobra, matte lines surrounding swooshing tie fighters, Greedo shooting first. But when the flub in question involves a glaringly obvious stunt woman in a shaggy wig crashing through a pane of glass, short of reshooting the entire scene, there’s not a whole lot you can do.
This was the difficult reality faced by Ridley Scott and his production/restoration team as they prepped the Blade Runner: The Final Cut. For years, fans have griped about the very un-Joanna Cassidy-like woman filling in as Zhora at the conclusion of a foot chase that culminates in the character’s death. The effect has always been jarring, but, now, in an age when stunt doubles and the like are more carefully integrated into the fabric of the finished film, the sight of this other woman essentially completing Zhora’s journey is downright infuriating.
When news first leaked that Cassidy’s visage was going to be grafted over the frankly unladylike face of the stunt double, the Blade Runner faithful were not as pleased as you might’ve thought they’d be. While the fix would certainly be welcome, the memory of George Lucas’s myriad defilements of the original Star Wars films leapt instantly to mind. Some charged this was akin to painting over the Mona Lisa – which made little sense since no "finished" painting has ever been subject to as many alterations as Blade Runner. Still, these folks weren’t wrong to be cautious. Once a filmmaker like Scott starts upgrading an earlier work, the impulse is to refine and prune and polish until everything audiences loved about the original picture is gone.
They needn’t have worried. One month ago, I plopped down on a couch in a small screening room at Sony Pictures Imageworks and watched the (visually) finished shot. Seated to my right was Ms. Cassidy. This was her first viewing as well. We watched the new version of Zhora smashing through plate glass on a loop, and, the first time through, my initial reaction was stunned silence. The same went for Joanna. The second time through, I turned to DVD producer Charles Lauzirika and said, "It’s gone."
And it is. The upgrade is so seamlessly integrated, that there’s no risk of it taking you out of the movie. For hardcore fans of Blade Runner, there will absolutely be a brief sense of shock: what used to be so discordantly wrong is now subtly right. But that’s it. And each subsequent viewing will eventually wipe the mistake away for good.
I’ll have much more to say on the "Final Cut" changes closer to the release of the 5-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition (for more info on that, check out The Digital Bits), but for now I just want to assure you that the movie is in the most capable of hands. These people love Blade Runner just as much as you do; they will do no harm.
But don’t take my word for it. If you’re attending the Con this weekend, get your ass to Hall H at 3:15 on Friday and see for yourself.