Blade Runner (1982) is many things to many people. The original movie has had no less than five versions: the Workprint, the US Theatrical Cut, the International Cut, the Director’s Cut, and the Final Cut.
A making of featurette, Dangerous Days: Making of Blade Runner, available on many of the previously mentioned disc releases, runs nearly four hours long offering an exhaustive history of a film that, like so many cult classics, was almost never made.
Now an official sequel pops into theaters this weekend. Blade Runner 2049 advances the story in a manner that makes sense to a current generation that may have never watched the original in any of its incarnations as well as those who grew up loving the prototype Ridley Scott film.
Scott is still on board as Executive Producer, but there’s a new sheriff in town with Canadian helmer Denis Villeneuve, whose previous US films include Sicario, Arrival and Prisoners. Villeneuve likes films with one-word titles (other titles include Enemy, and Incendies) but he seems willing to expand to a three-word label that will no doubt be even more grammatically appreciated by whether the title’s year is pronounced Twenty-Forty-Nine or Two-Thousand-and-Forty-Nine.
Blade Runner 2049 runs long but never bores. Villeneuve obviously takes the source material and spins the sense of dystopian wonder to another level. The film looks gigantic in scale, and yet many of the scenes take place between two people. A blackout took place in the 2020s that affected institutional memory in following decades.
It’s fine with me if Villeneuve wants to take this particular space opera and treat it in the same terms as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. Steady pacing timed to end with a startling conclusion.
On a perhaps unrelated note, time has moved way past the year 2001 and there are no people talking via picture phones from the Moon to the Earth, and space missions have never embarked to other planets. Solaris goes to an unknown planet, but I would’ve sworn it resembles Venus. Films too numerous to list have gone to Mars. (Although a couple of my faves would include Angry Red Planet (1959) and Mission to Mars (2000).) The original Blade Runner was set in the year 2019.
The audience hears information during the first scene of Blade Runner 2049 that dictates how they will interpret character motivations. But such concepts are seemingly thrown out the window in subsequent big-reveal moments. Villeneuve makes the plot a bit of a puzzle, albeit a linear puzzle.
Future lifestyles are fully realized. People eat insect protein, but the food hides behind holographic images of steak and fritters. Nobody stares at their iPhone — all that worry about social media has been evaporated into companion holograms. Los Angeles still exists in a rainy gloomy atmosphere, while Las Vegas has been abandoned and possibly radioactive. That doesn’t prevent one character from living in their own private casino complete with unlimited whisky and an auditorium complete with a holographic Elvis. Holograms loom large in Blade Runner 2049, although we also saw similar apparitions in Ghost in the Shell (released last March).
Production design by Dennis Gassner and cinematography by Roger Deakins are perfect. Music by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer stays in the zone used by Vangelis in the original. Co-stars Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks compliment star Ryan Gosling to the fullest extent possible.
Blade Runner 2049 offers a world of delight to sci-fi fans in general and Blade Runner acolytes in particular.