Review by Garth Jones
In 1981, Scott directed Blade Runner, a vexing, iconic work of noirish science fiction adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, a novel by author Philip K Dick.
Dick is presently enjoying a posthumous, contemporary renaissance – see Stan’s Philip K Dick’s Electric Dreams, produced by Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, for example.
Thirty six years on from the original release of Blade Runner – Scott’s original, critically tepid meditation on identity and humanity – has warranted a belated sequel.
Blade Runner 2049, released today, was not directed by Scott.
Scott, instead, opted to film a sequel to Prometheus, arguably the fifth film in the Alien franchise. That sequel, this year’s Alien: Covenant, could fairly be dismissed as an unfortunate cover version of the original Alien film.
In the annals of adult science fiction cinema – meaning we’re not counting The Empire Strikes Back – there are generally two classic sequels considered beyond reproach.
Terminator 2, written and directed by series mastermind James Cameron, raised the bar in terms of scale, special effects and blockbuster emotional stakes.
Aliens, which was also directed by Cameron – fresh from the original Terminator – adapted his military fetish while tweaking the nascent cinematic feminism of director Scott’s sophisticated horror aesthetic from the original Alien.
One wonders what would have resulted if the English director, like Cameron, had returned to film the sequel to Blade Runner, which has become, over time, his most critically dissected work.
Instead, feted French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who engineered last year’s timely, contemplative alien visitation film Arrival, is at the helm.
Frustratingly, the notion of simulacrum – the disappointing reproduction of an original – lurks at the heart of 2049, much as it does Scott’s Covenant.
Villeneuve’s film, like Scott’s recent, ill-considered remix, obsesses on creation myths, from the Bible to Shelley’s Frankenstein and onwards, prodding at the fringes of profundity whilst also wallowing in sophomoric ennui.
A character actually walks into hell, for example, whilst another expounds upon matters existential and then murders his own creation.
Philosophising on the notion of creation seems to be an especially de rigueur trope of late – see Darren Aronofsky’s recent mother! for another, considerably more histrionic example.
Blade Runner 2049, unfortunately, evokes thematic and aesthetic comparisons to this year’s heavily derided Ghost In The Shell – ironic considering the latter’s heavy debt to the former’s cinematic language.
Ryan Gosling plays the lead role of Officer K, a blade runner whose job it is to find and kill artificial humans ‘replicants’ while Harrison Ford returns as the original film’s contentious protagonist, the blade runner Rick Deckard.
It also features veteran actor Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica) and the frequently derided Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream).
Villeneuve’s film, whilst often visually arresting, is mostly akin to swimming through warm, slowly setting thematic concrete.
Typical of 2017 filmmaking, Blade Runner 2049 must conform to certain tropes – whilst also aspiring to the lofty bar set by the original.
Unfortunately, these tropes include the erasure of women, predictable fisticuffs and the confirmation of protagonists as somehow ‘chosen’.
Blade Runner 2049, whilst immaculately crafted and reverent to the original – to a fault – is a Greatest Hits album with a couple of extra tracks, begging the question: was it really necessary?
Blade Runner for a new generation
Review by Tim Lam
Many consider Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner a science fiction classic, but it didn’t really impress me when I first saw it on DVD as a teenager.
As a millennial, the much-lauded visuals of the original Blade Runner seemed somewhat outdated compared to the CGI filmmaking that is now an industry standard.
Fortunately, Blade Runner 2049 is an impressive standalone film matched with breathtaking cinematography. Newcomers to the Blade Runner universe can enter into the post-apocalyptic world of 2049 with little background knowledge of the 1982 film and its underlying mythology.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 is set 30 years after the events of Scott’s Blade Runner. Replicants – androids that are virtually indistinguishable from humans – roam the Earth. A new range of Nexus 9 replicants created by Wallace (played by Jared Leto) are programmed to obey their human masters.
Ryan Gosling plays K, an LAPD detective charged with the responsibility of hunting down rogue replicants. His journey leads him to a long-buried secret that may change the course of human-replicant history.
Fresh from his role rebooting Star Wars, Harrison Ford returns as the incurably jaded Deckard, the protagonist of the 1982 Blade Runner. While Ford does not receive a tremendous amount of screen time, his character is central to the plot of 2049.
A noteworthy addition to 2049 is the character of Joi, K’s artificial intelligence girlfriend, who is a combination of Apple’s Siri and Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha from Her (2013). With virtual companions becoming increasingly popular and intelligent, Joi touches on the question of whether machines can evolve to have souls.
While the 1982 Blade Runner was focused on the nature of humanity, 2049 is interested in the timeless debate of predestination versus free will. Do we have freedom to choose our destiny, or is our future constrained by our Creator’s design?
Blade Runner was renowned for its iconic recreation of a neo-noir Los Angeles and the rain-drenched, neon-glowing cityscape depicted in 2049 is equally impressive.
Every shot is meticulously framed by veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins and matched with detailed production design to evoke a bleak, dystopian world.
At 163 minutes, Blade Runner 2049 will test the patience of some viewers. It may be marketed as a blockbuster, but Villeneuve favours lingering, contemplative shots over fast-paced edits and he keeps the action sequences short and frenetic.
Despite its bloated runtime, Blade Runner 2049 is unquestionably a visually stunning spectacle that will introduce the world of replicants to a whole new generation of viewers.