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Blade Runner 2049: Part update, part remake, and part new. But not bad at all

If you’ve seen the original 1982 film Blade Runner, you’ll probably understand why the makers of the sequel borrowed so much from it. 

The look and feel as well as some of the storylines… so much of the new film, Blade Runner 2049, released last year, is an update and continuation of the story and style of the original.

And who can blame the studio and director for that? The original is regarded as a cult classic. It was based on a short story called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, written by Philip K. Dick, widely regarded as one of the best science fiction writers ever. It was directed by Ridley Scott and starred Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young – all at the peak of their skills and charisma. 

It could probably be thought of as a great film, and certainly makes most top 10 lists of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, although it went through a lot of hassle to get there – what with the arguments between the studio and Scott over the final edit and so on.

Scott eventually won that argument and the “Director’s Cut” version of the original film is probably what most sci-fans would prefer to remember, even though it’s significantly longer than the version that was initially released by the studio.

But do audiences want to be reminded of the original all that much in the new film? I’m not sure.

blade runner lab

One of the main reasons why the original is regarded as a classic is probably because it depicted the urban landscape of the future in a way that was believable and yet slightly horrifying – but very different to most if not all other sci-fi movies until that time.

The 1980s was sometimes called the “Designer Decade”, ostensibly referring to graphic design, architectural design and aesthetic things like that. And Blade Runner is nothing if not a feast of eye candy for the fans of set design, which is probably why it has influenced so many background designs in computer games over the years.

Blade Runner’s downbeat portrayal of a future world full of giant, illuminated advertising billboards providing what seemed like the only lighting for the dark, dingy urban sprawls beneath was probably seen as an accurate prediction given what was happening in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Some call it “neo-noir”, which suggests dark shadows and slivers of light dominate the film – which they do. But there are scenes full of light as well, but a strange and unusual light.

It was said to have been shot in Budapest, Hungary, and I wonder if the light is always like that over there.

Each country or geographical region has its own light, depending on the angle and proximity or intensity of the sun as well as the local climate, whether it’s cloudy or whatever. And on this evidence, Hungary was made for Blade Runner movies.

But enough about the look of the film, the story is always the thing that makes a film a classic or not.

Blade Runner 2049 may be considered a classic in time, just as the original took time to achieve that status. Certainly, its underwhelming box office performance echoes what happened when the original was released.

However, whereas the original was, obviously, the original, the new one only contains some originality – it mainly just borrows it from the original.

It does seem like Ford was brought in to try and attract film fans of a certain age, pressing that particular commercial button.

And though Ford is as reliable as ever, Ryan Gosling does a good job of playing the lead, carrying the film along a particular journey, until it clashes with the old one. And then Ford sort of takes over.

Jared Leto should probably have been given more screen time in order to explore the aims and ambitions of his messianic cult – actually, a super-wealthy company – as well as its conflict with the underground rebels.

jared leto in blade runner

The conflict wasn’t really explored much but as far as I understand it, Leto’s character wants technology that will enable his company to produce replicants or androids that can procreate.

The basic story, or starting point of the film, is that replicants are manufactured, not “born”.

Replicants are used as slaves on colonies in space, but generally not on Earth. Rogue replicants, however, are present on Earth and the underground has found that it’s possible they can reproduce just like humans do.

In the original film, Hauer’s replicant character fell into a murderous rage because he wanted an answer to the problem of death – he couldn’t understand the reason for mortality.

Thirty years on, no one else has found the answer to death either, but procreation is a good second-best.

As the Leto character observes, his corporation could use procreation to produce billions or even trillions of replicants and androids to populate colonies and planets all around space.

He could have started with Earth.

But even though the film comes in at more than two hours and forty minutes long, there didn’t seem to have been enough time to develop that storyline and see what such a nightmarish world might be like.

Maybe there’s another film planned. Wouldn’t be a bad idea.

elvis in blade runner

This wasn’t a bad film. In fact, I thought it was a very good film, very interesting, thought-provoking and it had what seemed to me like flawless action and direction.

The actors were all very good and played their parts well.

It probably lacks the thrills that some might expect or want, but that’s the whole mode of the Blade Runner style – it’s too cool to provide thrills, cheap or otherwise.

Having said that, action sequences – when they happened – made for compelling cinema.

But if there was anything that perhaps undermined the gut-wrenching feeling that you might have wanted or may have experienced if the film had gone down that route, it was the subtle humour – the references to Pan Am, Elvis and so on.

Maybe it wasn’t subtle enough, but humour or light relief is probably not what I expected from a Blade Runner movie.

I didn’t need it. I can concentrate on one idea and feel one way for three hours at least – I don’t need commercial breaks within the film itself.

One of the themes which was explored quite well was the idea of loneliness, or the nature of companionship.

The Gosling character has a virtual girlfriend, played by Ana de Armas, who was many, many generations and upgrades better than the one in the film Her.

In Her, the virtual girlfriend can only talk – it’s just a voice. But in Blade Runner 2049, she has a holographic virtual body. And the Gosling character is very happy with her.

The Gosling character’s reluctance to get involved with “real girls” probably could have been explored further, but then, this is meant to be an action film, and the romantic interest that was offered was significant enough, I suppose.

It does, however, seem to be a theme that was central to the film, what with the Ford character reminiscing about his love interest – if that’s not a politically incorrect term – from the first film, played by Young.

The Leto character offers Ford a clone of the Young android exactly as it was in the first film to try and persuade him to co-operate.

To say that these things are among the many tools and techniques of control and torture in the real world of today is probably to regurgitate what most people already know.

Maybe saying it has some value, but nothing and no one – no matter how good a writer or filmmaker they are – has yet produced anything like an answer or solution.

blade runner urban overview 2

Rather, we seem to be expected to accept the world of Blade Runner as our reality, if not now, then at least in the future – minus the advanced technology, which probably serves as the carrot to the stick that is the deprivation of what used to be considered natural relationships and conventional life, and clones and androids taking over the world.

The problem with scum like the Leto character, of course, is that any deal they offer is worthless because they’ll do whatever it is they want anyway, whether you accept or reject them. They may be deviants, but they don’t deviate from their deviancy by very much.

Blade Runner 2049 is set 30 years after the first Blade Runner, and after some sort of nuclear conflict has taken place.

And it seems like a very well worked out – almost calculated – progression. The scenes, the world, the clothes and everything have all developed a little bit but not much.

You would think that in 30 years, a lot would have changed, but it seems that the citizens of Blade Runner world are quite conservative.

What may have been a factor is the human tendency to want too many choices all at the same time which provides no time for anything other than a perfunctory evaluation.

In the way the Gosling character’s virtual girlfriend changes her clothes several times a minute, Blade Runner 2049 wears many garms and is always beautiful, but perhaps too changeable to form any meaningful impression.

There’s plenty of heart too, more so than in most action movies, but ultimately it’s a reasonably straightforward summary of life today in metaphorical form.

It’s a fine movie, but if a woman made that much effort to make herself look as good as she can, telling her she looks fine is probably not a good idea.

But that’s often the condition of the inarticulate male, and may not indicate how he actually feels deep down inside.

The truth is I could have watched another 10 hours of Blade Runner 2049, and would have liked to. There’s so many things about the story, characters and world I want to know.