What a luxury in life– and the movies– to get a “do over.” No mistake remains uncorrected, no last word is ever really final. That’s how it is with the most celebrated screen adaptation of Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner. A new – and final, they promise – version of this fantasy favorite from 1982 is now available on DVD. Dick is the most successful dead writer working in the movies today, and even though the track record on adapting his work is spotty at best, hopes are always high when a new one comes out. That’s why the newest Philip K. Dick inspired film, Next, had people talking. Question is: does it rise to the level of greatness the original Blade Runner reached a quarter-of-a-century ago, or is it just another wannabe?
In Next, Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is a low rent Las Vegas magician who performs under the stage name Frank Cadillac and states his life goal early on: “Leave me alone and let me live some semblance of a normal life.” Fat chance. He has this… gift… allowing him to see his future two minutes ahead. Not much time, but enough to let Cris rack up small consistent winnings at the gaming tables undetected. Or so he thought. FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) wants Cris to help recover a stolen nuclear weapon; terrorists want to kill him. Cris obsesses over a young teacher, Liz (Jessica Biel), and imagines different “futures” to organize a random meeting. These elements combine and Cris must use his powers to save himself, save Liz and save Los Angeles from nuclear disaster.
The Defending Champion
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, Blade Runner also features a reluctant hero in a much different story set in the future. Semi-retired cop Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) takes on one final assignment: “Retiring” (kill) a handful of renegade clones.. replicants.. escaped from an off-world colony and now at large in Los Angeles. What a place: This is 2019 Los Angeles, blanketed in eternal night and rain whose population is a diverse cultural stew and the common tongue is a polyglot cityspeak. Deckard visits the company that designed this series of robots, and meets Rachael (Sean Young), an experimental replicant that believes she is human. Along the way he falls for Rachael and ponders what it means to be alive and human. In due course bullets fly and replicants die–but not before one of them, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), saves Deckard’s life. The original version of Blade Runner ends with Deckard on an upbeat note; a later version implies that Deckard has a big surprise awaiting.
Both films substantially alter Philip K. Dick’s original material. In the realm of science fiction and speculation, consistency goes on hiatus… and Next scores low. It’s implausible that international terrorists would earmark Frank Cadillac– of all people– for death. Perhaps they caught his lounge act. Moreover, his two-minute “future view” doesn’t apply to Liz. With her, Cris has a longer view of events and this unlikely distinction pushes the storyline to its conclusion. Luckily, Nicolas Cage isn’t alone in moving the dramatic freight. Julianne Moore offers fierce intensity in role that needed more character development. Jessica Biel handles emotion and naivete believably. Harder to believe is her character’s attraction to Frank Cadillac. Highly unlikely. Perhaps best of all a pair of chase sequences: through a casino and away from a motel at the Grand Canyon. Both are masterfully staged. The film making is generally solid. By comparison, Blade Runner scores heavily on different levels. It takes place in a special world only vaguely resembling our own. Beautiful atmospherics and production values, if a little dark. It touches on globalization, climate change and genetic engineering. Rutger Hauer delivers a soliloquy on the rage for life as touching as anything I’ve heard: “All those moments will be lost like tears in rain. Time to die.” These strengths come out no matter which version of the film you see.
This one goes to Blade Runner in a swift TKO. A better question might have been whether it was as good as Minority Report or as lame as Paycheck, but that’s a Smackdown for another time. So is the new final Blade Runner. Next is not a poor film by any means: Director Lee Tamahori tells the story well and the film craft is remarkable in spots. I think the film is wrongly criticized for showing Nicolas Cage cloned over and over in the dramatic payoff sequence. This compressed actions that otherwise would have killed the pacing. With Next there’s not much percentage in being too fussy. Especially when compared to Blade Runner. In the 25 years since its theatrical release, it became a cult favorite and spawned specialty video games and comics. Actress Joanna Cassidy (Zhora) says some of her scenes were reshot for Ridley Scott’s final Director’s Cut. Next is not likely to get a “do over.” The best thing to say about Next is… next!