[spoiler alert — if you don’t want to read about this movie before seeing it, go away now!]
In 1982, Ridley Scott directed what would, for me, become the most memorable movie of all time and yet, because of my age when it was released, and being wholly absorbed in Star Wars for my childhood years, it took until 1987 until I saw a shaky recorded-from-TV copy of the movie on VHS. I immediately fell in love with the ambience, the dirty, dysfunctional near-future we thought the 1980s was going to turn into. I fell in love with the way it was not like most other movies of its time: it was linear, the plot wasn’t too deep and it felt like you had walked into a story that was already well under way.
Then I discovered that it was based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick. I had already read a couple of his by this time and so when I picked up a paperback of the novel, I read it quite literally in 12 hours cover to cover — and wondered how anyone had scraped Blade Runner out of it. As it turns out, author Paul Sammon documented just that in his book “Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner“, a book I highly recommend if you have any interest in the original movie.
So now fast forward 35 years from 1982 and here we are in 2017 with the sequel, a follow on from the original movie, “Blade Runner: 2049”. I was going to write a review; a play by play if you will, but then I realized there were already 100,000 of these published and another would bring nothing new to the table. So I decided I would instead just meander on some of thoughts having seen the movie just the one time through.
35 years is an absurd amount of time from one movie to the next and I was totally skeptical that this movie would ever actually be made. At first it sounded as though Ridley Scott was simply planning to do a remake (as is the fashion). Would make sense as computer and film technology has moved on exponentially since the early 1980s and there is a whole new generation who have never heard of the original. But it is the “work with what we have” attitude that made the original movie so clever and compelling. Redoing that same movie would just ruin it.
When the previews and teasers came out and I saw that (a) Harrison Ford would still be involved, (b) it was not a remake but a new story and (c) that they were not going to try to crowbar an aging Ford into the lead (I am still cranky that they killed off Han Solo as weakly and flippantly as they did). These things gave me some faith in the project and my skepticism waned some.
But not entirely. And now that I have seen the new movie, I have very mixed feelings about it. I’ve spent decades thinking about the what-ifs, and what-if-nots regarding the original. How did it really end (let’s not get into the whole debate about the various edits and versions of the movie itself) and where did the story go from that point?
It’s a pleasure of imagination to leave some of these questions unanswered; it gives fuel to the mind and makes great talking points among like-minded friends. Having someone come along and say “this is what actually did happen…” takes away that uncertainty and starts to force you into accepting a new canon. (Movies, books and comics have loved the whole canon-thing a while now. And there have been countless attempts to reboot, retcon and do-over some of those franchises). The new movie captured the original dystopian, post-cyberpunk feeling. The gloom and despondency, the general negativity that the world has become a place where people just exist unless they are rich enough to get off-world and go elsewhere. It scored 100% for me on the atmosphere and ambience.
The music was a homage to Vangelis’ original 1980s synthesizer-heavy work. I’ve listened to the soundtrack in isolation. It’s nice; but it’s not epic. The main theme and some of the incidental music is emotive but it could have been better. I’d give the music 80%. The sound design, that’s to say, the effects, backgrounds and ‘ambience’ of sound was, in the movie theater at least, 100% and the bassy suspense notes used at various dramatic moments reminded me of the music of Lord of the Rings.
The special effects, were the best part of the movie for me: 100%. I love a world I can feel like I could walk into for real. The mixture of old familiar items like ring-binders on the police desks and wall heaters in the Police Department made it looked lived-in, like the set designers were paying attention (they don’t always). I know I will watch the movie over and over at home and pick out more and more details from the backgrounds and scenery.
Now comes the problem: the set up and feeling of this movie were perfect, the depth and immersiveness were perfect; the premise was perfect. The story sucked beyond belief. The characters did not show any development over the duration of the movie and Harrison Ford’s Deckard was reduced to bumbling bit-part player. There were hints at a “middle story” (sort of backstory between the movies) but to me that would have been more interesting had they focused on that part more than the part they did. Overall it just felt pedestrian and lazy. So I’d have to give the plot and storytelling no more than 60%.
But, I can hear you saying, the original movie had a pretty wooden plot too. It bore little to no resemblance of Dick’s novel and we go through the emotions with the replicants a whole lot more than we do with the main characters; ironic if you know the plot. But there was enough in the original movie to make it instantly re-watchable. There were enough loose ends and questions to make you want to know what was going on, and why; this sequel doesn’t leave you with that feeling.
You should still watch this movie, over and over and over. I don’t think there is enough meat left on the bone for them to wheel out Harrison Ford (or Ridley Scott for that matter) and make another movie. But, like Star Wars, there’s enough depth in the world the movie created for there to be spin offs if the producers feel like it.