Blade Runner in Dolby Cinema

blade runner

Blade Runner is among the most seminal sci-fi movies ever made. Released in 1982, it tells the story of replicants—androids that are essentially indistinguishable from humans—running amok in 2019 Los Angeles, a dystopian hellhole of unending darkness and rain. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a special cop known as a blade runner assigned to “retire” the rebellious replicants. But their rebellion is rooted in their slavery and awakening emotions, raising questions about their rights as sentient beings and the morality of genetic engineering.

Now, 35 years later, the long-awaited sequel is hitting theaters. When I bought my ticket for opening night at my local Dolby Cinema, I noticed that the original was being screened in the same theater the night before—last night as I write this. So, I decided to see it there, followed by Blade Runner 2049 tonight. That way, I would have the original story fresh in my mind as I watched the sequel. Also, I was interested in how the original looked and sounded compared to the sequel in the same venue.

Blade Runner is set 37 years after the movie’s release date, which is only two years from now. I find it fascinating how much it got wrong in its vision of the future. We have no flying cars, our culture is not dominated by Japanese influences, we have not established off-world mining colonies, and there are no huge slant-sided buildings in LA. Perhaps most important, robotics and artificial intelligence are far from replicating human beings to the point of indistinguishability.

But the filmmakers did get a few things right—for example, voice control. When Deckard looks for a clue in a photo on a computer display, he tells the computer to track left, zoom in, pull back, enhance, etc. Of course, the display is an old CRT, and the response to Deckard’s commands is painfully slow, but the movie was made in 1982, after all. Another prescient aspect is that the replicants are bio-engineered using genetics, not metal, gears, and wires. With the explosive growth in genetics and 3D printing of body parts these days, it seems more likely that human androids would be made this way—though not by 2019!

As you may know, there have been several versions of Blade Runner over the years. The one I saw is called The Final Cut—no voiceover narration, no flight into the wilderness by Deckard and Rachel (Sean Young) at the end. Apparently, it’s the only version over which director Ridley Scott had complete artistic and editorial control—not the so-called Director’s Cut.

This version was released in 2007 with a completely remixed soundtrack, including the mostly electronic score by Vangelis. In the Dolby Cinema with Atmos, the sound was superb, much better than I would have expected from 35-year-old recordings. I was surprised to hear lots of activity in the overhead speakers, especially the sound of the incessant rain. Also, the music was often spread throughout the immersive soundfield. The remix from 2007 could not have been done in Atmos, which wasn’t available then, but an Atmos remix was performed for the UHD Blu-ray release about a month ago, so that’s what I must have heard last night.

Speaking of the sound, the levels were nearly 3 dB above reference: Leq (average RMS level over the entire length of the movie plus trailers) = 94.5 dBZ (flat), 87.9 dBA, 93.8 dBC; Lmax (maximum 1-second RMS level) = 117.0 dBZ; L10 (level exceeded 10% of the time) = 97.7 dBZ; L50 (level exceeded 50% of the time) = 84.9 dBZ.

Given that the soundtrack had been thoroughly remixed, I was a bit surprised that the image was not regraded in high dynamic range. It was clearly in standard dynamic range, with elevated blacks, relatively low contrast, and poor shadow detail. This is even more surprising given that the UHD Blu-ray is in HDR—which Ralph Potts praised in his review—so why not use it in a commercial screening? Perhaps because it was graded in HDR10 for the UHD Blu-ray, not Dolby Vision. I guess it might not have been economically feasible to regrade it in Dolby Vision for a limited theatrical run.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Blade Runner 2049, which was graded in Dolby Vision HDR and mixed in Atmos from the get-go. The original was set 35 years ahead of its release date, and the sequel is set 30 years later (32 years from now), with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Deckard and Edward James Olmos returning as origami-folding police officer Gaff. Stay tuned for my review!