Literarily predisposed as I am, I rarely look forward to new film releases. But for Blade Runner 2049, the long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal work, I made an exception. As a lifelong Philip K. Dick fan, I could not help but love the original film when I saw it for the first time. I was captured by Scott’s vision of a world that was recognizable, yet utterly alien. Would a reboot of that world turn out to be a great idea, or a disaster worse than the escape of Roy Batty and his peers? Yesterday I took off to the cinema to find out.
One of the things I loved most about the original was its style. I dislike science fiction films that look like they’ve just been pulled from an Apple assembly line. Our world doesn’t look like that, so why would the future be any different? Luckily, Blade Runner 2049 maintains that gritty, rough-around-the-edges aesthetic. Even when he’s just left the shower, Ryan Gosling looks grimy, and everything in his world seems about to fall apart.
Gosling, I should point out, does a very good job. I had my doubts about his casting as the male lead – although I adore him as much as the next person, I wasn’t sure whether this would be the right role for him. But I was wrong: he brings a great sense of emotion to his role, which gives his replicant character much-needed depth. I’d also like to make the Oscar-case for Jared Leto, who plays a small but terrifying role as the mad scientist who replaces Tyrell as the film’s main antagonist. I won’t give away too much detail, but he’ll definitely haunt me in my dreams.
Of course the original film had that magnificent Vangelis soundtrack – I like to listen to it while I meditate. 2049‘s soundtrack is less present, but similarly supports the film’s key moments. When Leto’s character inspects his latest replicant prototype, the drone that accompanies his disturbing speech nests itself into your unconscious like nobody’s business. And the film’s use of pianos as a red thread is a nice nod to its heritage.
So was there anything about the film I did not like? Of course there was. Few works of art are flawless. Blade Runner 2049 will, of course, never be able to compete with the novelty of its predecessor. It’s a sequel, and to a degree, we’ve seen this all before. The plot is good but, in hindsight, not great. The characters are well-portrayed but lose some of their complexity towards the end. And although I had no problem with the film’s whopping 240 minute run time, I can imagine some viewers may find it a tad long.
Despite these flaws, I loved this film. As I’m typing this I’m looking at the film poster on the wall facing my desk, and I can’t help comparing the viewing experience to a dream. I’ve rarely seen a film that uses light and colour to such strong effect. It’s hard to put into words – even as a writer – so I urge you to go out and experience it for yourself. The film’s look reminds me of German Expressionism, of M.C. Escher, of Don Lawrence. Even if you don’t follow the plot, or if you don’t like sci fi, you’ll still enjoy the film as a work of video art.
And the film’s main philosophical question, what makes us human, is only becoming more relevant. With AI on the rise, and Elon Musk warning us of its possible effects on society as we know it, I can’t help but think how much of a visionaire Dick really was. The film adds more emotion to this debate, portraying Gosling’s character as a replicant who wants nothing but love and a soul, in a relationship with a holographic woman who is no less real than himself. It’s genuinely touching, and while love stories always run the risk of becoming a cheesy distraction, it works well in this film.
I admit, the rumours that more Blade Runner films are on the way reek of greed and exploitation. It would be a shame if the film’s makers would let its success get to their heads and go for the big money in lieu of producing good films. Watching the trailers before 2049 was due to start, I could not help but think that yet more forgettable trash is the last thing we all need. But it would be fascinating to see how how Dick’s legacy could evolve if handled by the right people, for the right reasons. I for one will be keeping an eye on future developments.