A sequel of a beloved sci-fi classic coming 35 years later is going to elicit comparisons. Which film did what better? Is this new iteration faithful and obedient in replicating the original? Will the 2.0 version make the earlier film obsolete, or can the past uphold its legacy? And what of our memories–how will knowing this new chapter in the life cycle of Deckard (Harrison Ford) affect our remembering of his origins? Thankfully, Blade Runner 2049 is a strong addition to the universe created by filmmaker Ridley Scott and screenwriter Hampton Fancher based on a Philip K. Dick story. Deliberately paced, with a strong sense of atmosphere and compelling visuals, this is a sequel which builds upon the original foundation without ever quite surpassing it.
Blade Runner 2049 is wonderfully nostalgic, evoking the unique aesthetic of the original film while crafting its own visual style and narrative structure. Cinematographer Roger “Give him an Oscar already” Deakins is at his finest here, working with Denis Villeneueve to create awe-inspiring, spectacular images within the frame. The score from Hans “Make It Louder” Zimmer and Ben Wallfisch draw upon the technological hums and drones of the original Vangelis score while adding a bit more of a sinister tone underneath the enormous “WHOMMMMM” sounds shaking the theater seats. The environments of the futuristic Los Angeles have a lived-in feel to them which is right in step with the original film’s dark-and-grim aesthetic. Some sequels or prequels, such as Blade Runner 2049 producer Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, suffer from technological amnesia, where the technology within the film reflects the era of the film’s production more than the world within the film itself (e.g. How come the spaceships in Prometheus are more technologically advanced than those in Alien?). Blade Runner 2049 wisely keeps with the Atari- and Russian-filled details of its predecessor while adding a few key technological upgrades, such as hovering drones and hologram A.I.
This attention to technological detail is present within the very plot structure, as the opening scrawl of Blade Runner 2049 reveals that the world has recovered after a technological blackout, allowing for the creation of new obedient replicants and the need to hunt down and “retire” any older versions. The film centers on LAPD officer “K” (Ryan Gosling) in his film noir-like search for answers to the questions he’s having about the nature of replicants. Gosling’s performance is wonderfully muted and winsome, but it’s Harrison Ford’s moments as the older, grizzled Deckard which I found most affecting. It’s one of Ford’s strongest performances in years, at least since 2010’s Morning Glory. The way he carries himself, the few scenes which allow him to really emote–he’s softened over the past 30 years, and that’s a good thing. The snarky, stoic Deckard from 1982/2019 has matured into someone who can hold his own in a fight while being honed and refined by the passing of time.
The biblical allusions in Blade Runner 2049 are quite overt, with strong parallels to the Genesis story of Rachel and her son Joseph. There’s an oppressed group desiring freedom from their captivity, and a twisted creator/captor (Jared Leto) who makes a repeated reference to the replicants as “angels” in their human-like nature. These scriptural notions underpin the film’s philosophical questions: What does it mean to be alive? What is the nature of a soul, of the material body? How does technology affect our ethics, our sense of existence, and our need for community? Do our memories make up our identity, and if so, what happens if those memories are altered or lost? What does it mean to be real? I was reminded of a plethora of sci-fi films, ranging from the more recent (Her, Ex Machina) to those of decades past (A.I., Metropolis), and I think that’s in the film’s favor. It’s not aping the original Blade Runner film, nor is it copying previous sci-fi efforts (although one intimate scene does feel a bit too much like a moment from Her). Instead, Blade Runner 2049 joins the ranks of excellent big-budget sci-fi films in its world-building and prophetic capabilities. The best sci-fi doesn’t just make us think about the future; it’s a mirror for the present, provoking us to consider our situation and our souls. Though no moment outshines the iconic “tears in rain” scene with Rutger Hauer, there are glimpses of brilliance and wonder to behold.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856101/