‘Blade Runner 2049,’ starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, hits theaters 35 years after the original.
Fall 2017 will go down in history as the season that brought us Blade Runner 2049. Thirty-five years since its release, the original movie has finally been granted a sequel. The first Blade Runner is hailed by sci-fi buffs and movie critics alike as undoubtedly one of the most seminal science fiction films produced in the 20th century. “Look at Dark City, Total Recall, Brazil, 12 Monkeys or Gattaca and you will see its progeny,” the late Roger Ebert noted in his review of the director’s cut. Written, directed and edited by British action-epic virtuoso Ridley Scott, the 1982 cult classic is famous for its immersive and detailed environments. Though Scott took on the role of producer for Blade Runner 2, allowing Denis Villeneuve to take over as director, the trailers suggest his signature style is still emblazoned on the screen.
To recap, the 1982 Blade Runner stars Harrison Ford (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope 1977, Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015) as bounty hunter, or “blade runner,” Rick Deckard, Rutger Hauer as android “replicant” Roy Batty (Batman Begins 2005, Sin City 2005) and Joe Turkel (The Shining 1980 and Paths of Glory 1957) as Dr. Eldon Tyrell, the mastermind designer behind the replicants and founder of the Tyrell Corporation. Deckard is tasked with tracking down and “retiring” a rogue band of these “replicants” who have escaped a labor camp on another planet, led by Batty, and have made their way back to Earth in search of their designer, Tyrell, seeking revenge and refuge from their sorry existence. As he makes his way through the side streets and seedy underbelly of the city, Deckard gradually reflects on the brutality of his work and the surreal, almost impossible, distinction made between humans and their slaves designed in their own image.
Rachel, a replicant assistant to Tyrell, is practically untraceable as an android, almost deceiving Deckard when she takes his “empathy” test — a means by which humans and androids are supposedly distinguished from one another. Inevitably Deckard falls in love with Rachel, and his pursuit of Batty and co. concludes with Hauer’s character reflecting on the violent hypocrisy of their situation. His final monologue is a piece of cinematic history which, by itself, makes the movie worth watching.
When it was first released in 1982, Blade Runner amazed sci-fi fans and critics alike with its stunning visuals and haunting soundtrack. But more than this, the movie captured people’s imaginations because it tackled some of the more profound philosophical problems that have continually preoccupied our species.
Admittedly, the original release incurred tinkering and meddling by studios to make it more Hollywood-friendly, foregrounding its romance ahead of its dystopianism. Some 25 years later, however, Scott negotiated a re-release “Final Cut,” such that the movie was afforded a proper conclusion which kept the eerie ambiguity of the original story intact.
As interpretations of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the original Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 both approach a set of philosophical problems laid out in the book, each from a slightly different angle, such as the following: What does it mean to be a human being? What are human rights? Who is granted such rights? These questions obviously carry a certain significance in trending contemporary discussions about the rise of AI, but they’re also historically rooted in the practices of racial profiling, slavery and consumerism, past and present.
According to its Facebook page, Blade Runner 2049 picks up where the last movie left off, “thirty years after the events of the first film,” when “a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling (Drive 2011, The Big Short 2015, La La Land 2016), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos.” Uniting the old and the new, Gosling tracks down an aged Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for 30 years, in the hope that Deckard might be able to provide him with the answers needed to prevent catastrophe. Villeneuve’s movie will hopefully contextualize the ideas present in the previous film in the specific events and concerns of the 21st century.
The team joining him boasts a cast that not only brings together Ford and Gosling but also Robin Wright (Forrest Gump 1994, House of Cards 2013-17), Ana de Armas (War Dogs 2016, Hands of Stone 2016), and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club 2013, Requiem for a Dream 2000).
Villeneuve’s track record over the last couple of years includes 2016’s Arrival, another Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, and Sicario (2015), which dealt with the drug war in the borderland between the U.S. and Mexico. Of the pressure involved in taking over from Scott, Villeneuve explained to the Hollywood Reporter that the movie has been his “biggest artistic challenge” to date. However, the British filmmaker kept a generous distance from the project, offering help when needed but ultimately giving Villeneuve the “biggest gift of all, which is freedom.”
As for the screenplay itself, the two ends of the Blade Runner universe were directly combined. Michael Green, who wrote this year’s Alien Covenant (also one of Scott’s) collaborated with the writer of the 1982 film, Hampton Fancher.
Aaand before anyone asks: no, Vangelis is not doing the score. To many Blade Runner aficionados, this might be a little as if they’d set the new movie in Disneyland. But never fear: Jóhann Jóhannsson (with Hans Zimmer backing him up), who worked on Villeneuve’s last few movies, is a reliable replacement. And if the Blade Runner 2049 trailers are anything to go by, Vangelis seems to still be there in spirit.
With any sequel there’s always the worry that it just won’t come close to its predecessor. We tend to fetishize the “original” as the only authentic version of a story. There are probably a bunch of hard-core purists out there just trying to kid themselves that their favorite sci-fi masterpiece remains the only of its kind, biting their fingernails in anticipation of the release. Well, no one can yet say for sure what will result from the effort, but if it’s any reassurance, Villeneuve himself has acknowledged precisely this tendency to expect the worst, explaining how he had to “make peace” with the fact that a Blade Runner 2049 would inevitably be compared to the original, which he described as a “masterpiece.” So no one’s laboring under any illusions, and clearly credit’s being paid where it’s due.
When the actors and crew got together at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, all fans themselves, they discussed their surprise and gratitude for the movie’s simply having been made, pointing out that it’s been in the pipeline since 1999.
Now we have the chance to see what came of almost two decades of trial and error. Where and when can you see it? Well, in the build-up to its release, Alcon Entertainment have been working with Oculus VR to share virtual reality content by way of promotion. But most importantly: theatrical versions will be available in both 2D and 3D on October 6. Whether it’s just a replicant of the last movie or something entirely more human — or what those terms even mean — are all questions we can decide for ourselves. Let us know what you think!