When Blade Runner was released in 1982, audiences weren’t ready for it’s eerily prophetic prediction of a dark, dystopian future. People living through the dying remnants of the seventies, in a bleak Reagan-era present of economic crisis, wanted the feel-good promise that films like E.T. and Star Wars offered to them. Scott admitted that it can be just as damaging to be ahead of your time as behind, and Blade Runner is a case in point for this. People didn’t want to be faced with a world of over-crowding, acid rain and slave-driven terrorism – they wanted to be able to lose themselves in fantasy, in happy-ever-after endings (which is exactly why the original version was spliced with such a finish as it was). What was produced has taken on a cult status: listed as one of the AFI’s greatest American Films of all time; more than most, this film is beloved by it’s followers – there are no casual Blade Runner fans.
Director Denis Villeneuve admitted to being “intimidated” at the thought of making the sequel which is understandable. In the thirty-five-year gap between films there has been no real demand for a continuation of the story. So why do a sequel and why now? Today, cinema is full of gritty drama and hard-hitting action. We are used to being shown a black mirror that reflects the darkest sides of humanity and the consequences of our actions, with many different takes on possible futures (Interstellar, Looper, even Wall-E). Maybe we are more prepared now to revisit Philip K. Dick’s version of the world than we were before, and see what has happened during the story’s thirty-year interim.
Villeneuve implored people to reveal as little as possible about the plot. And to do it full justice, that wish must be respected. There are some familiar names in the cast and crew, not just Harrison Ford’s, but also the original Dangerous Days screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, who moulded the first film out of Dick’s book and produced the concept for the second. This continuity is comforting – I’m sure there are many nervous fans out there who were dreading the possibilities that could come out of this second episode. When Harrison Ford read the new script, he is quoted to have said it was “the best he has ever read”. With Ford being notoriously unyielding to social niceties, it took efforts from Ridley Scott to get him to read it in the first place. So, he must have seen something special in it to start with. This doesn’t feel like a cash-cow scraping together enough story to force the continuation of a franchise. This is an intelligently and naturally expanding story that builds on the foundation of the first and unfolds into a new chapter.
Blade Runner 2049 adds so much to the original story
2049 feels closer in spirit to the original concept of Dick’s 1968 novel - while the first Blade Runner referenced certain aspects of climate change and genetic modification, the second film brings it home. This is a world where the “real” is coveted for the lack of it - where food, clothes and resources are all synthetic - and where all the prime members of the human race have left Earth for a new life in the Off-World Colonies and those left behind question the authenticity of themselves and those around them. Although we might be far from the realities of this story, we now live in a world where the artificial is becoming more acceptable, where relationships are based in social media and we rely day-to-day on the services of Siri and Alexa. Today, Joi (Ana de Armes), an A.I. construct companion, is so much more tangible than she would have been in 1982. And the questions around her own indeterminable independence is more relevant and relatable. What’s makes something or someone real? These philosophical musings resonate throughout the film, asking the important questions of who we are as a species and what we will become. Like the original, the action is intense but sparse, moving at a slow, deliberate pace. Ryan Gosling’s casting as Officer K is an intelligent choice and he gives a standout performance. Harrison Ford is also truly great in this. It could so easily have been an opportunity for him to simply cash in on what he did the first-time round, yet it feels like he puts his heart and soul into this. It is incredibly satisfying to see him take on the role of Rick Deckard once again and bring such emotional weight to every one of his scenes.
Blade Runner 2049 adds so much to the original story. It is thematically rich, visually stunning and superbly performed and I would urge you to put aside all conjecture and just go see it with an open mind.