What has always made Blade Runner (the original) so amazing was that it exists as a visceral memory for me. It left me in awe and wonder as a kid.
I was fourteen, and my best friend's father got us tickets, walked us in, and then I am pretty sure he left, but he is not in the memory once I am in my seat. What I vividly remember was the opening minutes of a movie that would commit me to the sci-fi genre for the rest of my life. It would commit me in a different way than Star Wars did a few years earlier.
If a single movie could have such a huge impact on a generation it really begs the question: Why did Blade Runner need a sequel?
Blade Runner Was Dark
Blade Runner would commit me to a darker perception of the world at a time when I was beginning to intellectualize the world around me. Even crazier, it seemed to validate perceptions I had already begun to visualize. It was the 1980s. A time of great change every day. I know that sounds silly to the new generations being introduced to the awe of Blade Runner. It is a very strange thing to be part of a generation living through the dawn of technology, the digital revolution, and the birth (or at least much talk about the birth) of AI.
When your imagination becomes reality overnight, the first impressions, the first visuals are the ones that stick. The imagination of a child buys into a vision that ultimately seems to be unfolding before its very eyes.
Seemingly though, Blade Runner had served its purpose in film history. More importantly, it had achieved cult status. Its director, Ridley Scott, has become a living legend.
But I had to ask last year when I first started reading about Blade Runner 2049; Why would anyone believe we needed a Blade Runner sequel? Other than the fact that everyone else seems to be intent on damaging iconic films with poor remakes that are killing original movies, there did not seem to be one. There were many speculations on the Blade Runner sequel and the future of the replicant, but its true purpose was never entirely clear.
Effects of Blade Runner
I have seen Ridley Scott's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's book so many times in so many versions that I can dream of the world from Ridley Scott's mind. It is the cause of a number of effects that have stood out in my life. Now that may sound dramatic, so let me simplify.
- I have watched every Ridley Scott movie, good or bad, dozens of times. That is a great deal of hours, but it pales in comparison to the amount of time I have spent talking about Ridley Scott and his movies. Could be thousands of hours.
- Other than in the first bullet point, I had never actually admitted that there were bad Ridley Scott movies.
- It was 1 of 5 movies I asked my wife of 27 years to watch before we got married. That was once a thing, but my kids tell me not so much anymore. I recommend that partners watch each other's top 5 films before any documents are signed. It's just good advice. Yes, The Godfather and Scarface are on the list.
- It was at the top of my list of films to make sure my son saw before the rest of the sci-fi film universe bombarded him with thousands of imitations. Yes, I showed him The Matrix and Star Wars too.
Blade Runner Wasn't That Good
My favorite sci-fi movie, one that left me in awe and wonder, was not that good according to critics and did not perform well at the box office. Over the years, that has hurt me a bit as I have watched others from a younger generation take shots at a film that I knew inspired me but, when pressed, I could not explain why beyond the obvious. But I could never get enough of those incredible Blade Runner visuals and I would listen to the classic Vangelis album over and over.
As films go, it was not a great plot, not much action and in 1982 it was confusing to see Han Solo looking like the homeless guy who would squeegee my dad's car on the way out of New York City. For many sci-fi fans of the Millennial generation, Ridley Scott is part of a distant era of the imagination evolution and CGI history.
Greatest Sci-Fi Film Director
Though I am a huge fan of both old and new, most recently Scott's reimagination of the Alien origins had even some of the purest of fans showing doubt in the legacy of my generation's greatest sci-fi film director.
Without question, the original movie not only shocked me, but it inspired me. The fact that, as time went by, I wanted to understand more about a film universe that seemed to offer very little beyond the surface only increased my admiration of the original.
Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard had his eyes finally opened to the realities of his future, in the final act of the original. Sean Young's Rachel was experiencing love and the Tyrell corporation lost its founder, Dr. Eldon Tyrell.
On a bigger picture level, the cinematic world Ridley Scott had created was heading for a classic sci-fi conundrum; what exactly constitutes a God, and does creating life immediately get you the job? Then, what happens when humans create AI?
If humans can engineer life, do they get the job? If the AI then figures it out, are they not Gods?
Let alone, are the off-world colonies and the android labor in Alien the same as in Blade Runner? Scott was opening a previously unseen door in our imaginations and he was doing it with brilliant cinematography and editing.
Blade Runner postulated deep questions about sentience, consciousness, and empathy. Blade Runner 2049 has not answered these questions, but it has made the paradox clearer. Instead of getting a story of survival, we get a story of evolution, discovery. If we look at the two films through the lens of the Voight-Kampff test, we must consider whether they elicit an empathetic response in us. Who do we care about, and why? In the original, the sides are drawn in the dirt. You either care about the android's plight, considering them to be alive, or you do not. At the end of the film you get a hint that Deckard may himself be an android. If he is, then anyone who cared about his fate, has cared for an android. This turn is the very reason Scott created his final cut. But this point, arguably the most pivotal moment in the film, could only be a conclusion. Now we have the follow-up. A film that fleshes out the questions that the viewers were left to ponder after the final moments. No direct answers here, and for good reason, I am being enigmatic.
The Blade Runner Question
Having seen Blade Runner 2049, I can finally put to rest the age-old question of how such a visually stunning, intensely scored, deeply cerebral movie like the 1982 original could be so good and at the same time not so good.
This riddle’s existence is ultimately why it needed a sequel.
It needed a sequel that would flesh out the ideas presented so long ago. A sequel that could confirm that Ridley Scott was on his way to a masterpiece with the original, but got lost along the way.
The art that is Blade Runner and the artist Ridley Scott were not finished in 1982. The master was only half done with his masterpiece. That is why it needed a sequel. Scott himself clearly needed to validate his work for the classic it had become. Rather than leave art interrupted, he decided to finish what he started.
Denis Villeneuve Is the New Master
But it would take a new breed of director, someone who could respect the past and envision the future, to help Scott complete his work. The film would need to both stand on its own and bridge the divide of a quarter of a century. Denis Villeneuve, who was fifteen when he saw the original Blade Runner film, was the perfect advocate to assume the responsibility.
I had seen Sicario, an intensely paced film, and was mesmerized by Arrival. But I could not have anticipated the perfection that Villeneuve would pour into Blade Runner 2049.
With the help of an amazing performance by Ryan Gosling that oscillates into emotion so rarely that when it finally does, you feel his anguish inside your gut, Denis Villeneuve seamlessly completes a 25-year-old story. From start to finish, it is a perfect film.
I have listed below a series of short films that Villeneuve had made to both bridge the two films as well as expand the Blade Runner universe. I recommend watching them after you have enjoyed the new film. Another suggestion would be to watch the un-narrated version of Blade Runner before watching the new film. Technically I think the film is best viewed on the largest screen possible with the most up to date sound system. Be prepared for nearly three hours of an incredible sci-fi journey.
Blade Runner 2049 - "Black Out 2022" Anime Short
In 2022, an EMP detonation has caused a global blackout that has massive, destructive implications all over the world. Directed by Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo's Shinichiro Watanabe, Blade Runner Black Out 2022 is a new and highly-anticipated animated short which serves as a prologue for the feature film Blade Runner 2049.
Blade Runner 2049 - "2036: Nexus Dawn:" Short
Welcome to 2036. Niander Wallace introduces his new line of replicants. Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
Blade Runner 2049 - "2048: Nowhere to Run" Short
Journey into the world 2049 with a replicant on the run. Dave Bautista is Sapper Morton.