The Sci-Fi genre has saturated multiple avenues of media from books, TV, board games, video games, and the big screen. A sub genre within Sci-Fi that has also had a mass influx in popularity is Cyber Punk, in which many of the themes that I connect to the most: What makes us human, the nature of humanity, and humanities relationship to our technology and its advancement are explored and pondered upon in an intellectual and mature manner. Many of these themes can be found in Phillip K. Dick novels in which he attempted to elevate science fiction from the penny pulp novels that mostly children read to a setting that could be admired and respected by both children and adults. One such novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, would do just that, but not in its original form. In 1981 this book would be adapted into a movie, and become an inspiration to the film industry, a cult classic to many, and one of my personal favorite movies of all time, BLADE RUNNER.
BLADE RUNNER takes place in an alternate version of our world where corporations have taken hold of the over populated, suffocating polluted Los Angeles of 2019. Technology means power and with that power the Tyrell Corporation plays god. Dangerous off world exploration, wars, or menial tasks are the occupations of artificially created humans called Replicants. In this world, Replicants are slave labor, of varying models, that only live for about 4 years and then expire, or are “retired” by specialized investigators of the LAPD called Blade Runners.
I did not know if I liked the film the first time I watched it, however, this is the status quo for many viewers. However, within viewing the many versions of the film in which there are several, I found myself entranced with the aesthetic, the lighting, the setting, and the themes. The mystery of the main character, Rick Deckard, is always what is always a fun topic amongst the hard core fans. Is Deckard a Replicant; I am of the opinion that he is one, but there are arguments against my point of view that do hold water. Ridley Scott’s film separated it’s from Dick’s original work, and yet pays perfect homage to the core of what the writer always addressed in his work, and achieved a passionately following throughout the decades.
When I heard that a Blade Runner sequel was in the works, I was critical of the film out right. Would it keep the look, the music, would it have some ham-fisted plot? I was mostly worried that in this soulless remake, reboot hungry film industry that is so willing to settle with pre-existing intellectual properties as easy money makers, and that Blade Runner would be the next victim walking into the slaughter house. I was not able to see BLADE RUNNER 2049 in theaters at the end of 2017, but after receiving it on Blu-ray as a gift on Valentine’s Day in 2018, I jumped in with anticipation and reluctance. I finished the film loving it more than the original in a few different ways.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 is set thirty years after the original where we follow our protagonist K, Ryan Gosling’s character, as he encounters a farmer who is a rogue Replicant. This scene squashed my fears of the new film team not caring about the property. This opening scene was written and storyboarded for the original Blade Runner film; only those dedicated of fans that delve into the pre-production of the 1981 film would know this scene, and it put a big smile on my face. Ironically, K is a Replicant Blade Runner sure of who, and what he is, and is set in his role within society as a “skinner”. All is “well” with K until an investigation leads him to question the very core of who he is, and his past. I refuse to spoil the film, but I will give what the original does best, what the sequel does better, and what both do great equally well.
While I like the music in the sequel, the original score by Gail Laughton is iconic and perfectly encapsulates the sound of a neo-noir setting. The visual backdrop of the original film, while matte paintings and miniatures, was more tangible and are always able to fool the human eye better than any CGI back drop in the 2017 film. The lighting and sets stick with me more than anything in 2049, not that the sets in the sequel are uninteresting, but it is more of a testament to the production and set designers having to experiment and contort the look that 2049 uses itself. With having no template to go from, the film achieves a unique look that is unmistakably its own. With all of these pros, I have to admit to the cons that fans need to come to grips with about this otherwise great film.
With Blade Runner, as visual spectacular, and as deeply as the story touches upon certain hard hitting themes, it does not have an emotional satisfying structured story. What I mean by this is that characters don’t have their own motivations, nor are there characters arcs, only from what the viewer must write between the lines. This both works for and against the original. In 2049, the protagonist is set up beautifully; we understand his motivations, his wants and desires, his fears, and in turn we can relate to him in a much better. The antagonists are also fleshed out enough to the audience to truly be despised, when they succeed you grit your teeth, and when they fail, you celebrate.
While these two films have tangible differences that take away from their individual experiences, both films share so much that add to the universe of Blade Runner. I have touched upon the themes that intrigue me the most about the genre of Sci-Fi, the biggest being surrounding the human condition, and the Blade Runner films never forgets these staples. Replicants represent humans that have no choice, born for a set purpose, and looked down on by society, yet they are still technically human that are born, live, and die, however are hunted and “retired” if they seek any independence. Replicants are given false memories of a life that never existed before their creation, yet they are aware of what they are and their short existence. Within in the 1981 film, we are constantly asked is Deckard a Replicant, but in the 2017 film, we are asked does it really matter.
My biggest fear was that Blade Runner 2049 would fall into modern film making story tropes and scenarios that would have made me roll my eyes, but I am happy to say that every expectation I had was subverted and surpassed in original ways. At the end of it all, I felt satisfied and excited to share my experiences with fellow movie viewers and other fans of Blade Runner. I will always love the original Blade Runner, but Blade Runner 2049 took me on an adventure both in an external sense, as well as in an internal sense. It asked me to look at ones purpose, not what we were born to do, but what I chose to do with my life. Is the newer model better than the old, in some regards yes, but you can’t improve something if it never existed in the first place. There would not be a Blade Runner 2049 without the original Blade Runner.