After nearly two decades since talk of a sequel to Blade Runner was started, Blade Runner 2049 is upon us. The original, released theatrically in 1989, is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, science-fiction film of all time. It is a high bar to meet. Blade Runner 2049 rises to the challenge. With the help of director Dennis Villeneuve, and the writer of the original Blade Runner, Hampton Fancher, we are blessed with a film that not only rises to entertain at the level of the original; but also pays appropriate homage to Philip K. Dick’s source material “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.” Even down to the fine little details from the novel, such as the complete absence of animals on Earth - we see Deckard (Harrison Ford) with a black sheep dog.
Between making Prisoners, Scario, and Arrival, there couldn’t be a director more fit for the job of creating an epic sci-fi masterpiece then Dennis Villeneuve. Coming off of his latest masterpiece, Arrival, I was sure that even if I didn’t think that this movie would be a worthy sequel; we were going to get at least a good movie. Since Prisoners and Scario are primarily crime movies, Blade Runner 2049 fits right in Villeneuve’s wheelhouse since for most of the film we are watching a new Blade Runner named “Jay” (Ryan Gosling) make his way through this post-apocalyptic landscape in search for clues to solve a mystery. Blade Runner 2049 is just as trippy, visually arresting, and haunting as Villeneuve’s other movies - so if you enjoyed those, you’re in for a treat.
The visuals of Blade Runner take center stage. Although not as much of a treat as the original, as the use of CGI was more apparent, practical effects are still used when needed, but 2049 does not really have the same grit as the original film. We now have seen several movies like this quite recently, but the Blade Runner franchise continues to stand out and innovate as it takes us back to the neon lights of 2049 Los Angeles. Every post-apocalyptic movie has been influenced by Blade Runner, from The Fifth Element, Looper, Ghost In The Shell, and many more. The use of digital effects and CGI is jaw dropping. It is only aided by the supreme visuals of Roger Deakins. I was especially impressed by a particular scene involving the digital mapping of Jay’s Cortanna-like digital wife mapping her features over a real-person. We also get to see more of that creepy thing Hollywood loves doing now: bringing in the older actress, having a different actress as a stand-in and then digitally manipulating her face to play a character from the 1989 original. It’s weird. It feels wrong. But it is becoming a common thing in the movies and we’ve seen it in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ and in ‘Star Wars: Rogue One.’ It is very meta for a movie such as Blade Runner, with all the talk about replicants; almost like a science fiction movie inside a science fiction movie. But - If I was going to recommend a movie to watch while on drugs, this would be one of them. The fact that Villeneuve wanted David Bowie to play Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) would speak to that.
Although Philip K. Dick’s novel was published in the late sixties, the themes he has presented still influence science fiction today. This is not a detriment to this film, but we have so much content out there to ingest that some of the themes now are not as new as they once were during the time when the original Blade Runner was released. Excellent movies such as the Spike Jonze movie Her and the BBC show Black Mirror have provided a much more in-depth look at the human psyche and the apparent dangers of technology than even what a great movie is able to achieve in almost three hours. However, Blade Runner, without spoiling anything, does get to traverse some new territory. But the previous movies’ themes of what makes a person really alive, what is the purpose of life, and what power and responsibility do we hold to our creations - are all still here and serve to make an a beautifully deep movie.
I was surprised by how much of Blade Runner 2049 surrounds **Harrison Ford’s character Rick Deckard. As much of the fan fare surrounding the original has to do with the ambiguous ending of the original. Was he a replicant? Was he human? Could he pass the ‘Voight-Kampff’ eye/personality exam? You get answers to those questions, and it does take away some of the magic of the original. The one downside to this movie is that Blade Runner 2049 does not have that same ambiguity and is very explicit about what you are supposed to just ‘get.’ There was room for some ambiguity, which would have added to the film, but then some of the plot is retread just to make sure that all of us are on the same page. We got it. Even if we didn’t get it, that would warrant a second viewing and how is that bad?