Blade Runner 2049
There is nothing as natural than for movies to spawn sequels. As inevitably as cats have kittens, successful movies will have one or more sequels. In typical fashion the adage, ‘strike while the iron is hot,’ is applicable. The follow-up movie will usually be released while the initial buzz created by the original is still in effect, usually within two to five years. Lately, several immensely popular action franchises have been reignited even though the principal actor were returning after a couple of decades absence. It remains a significant discrepancy between men and women in Hollywood, but the shelf-life of action heroes has been greatly extended. Last year one of the most controversial, enigmatic cult science fictions received a sequel, ‘Blade Runner.’ The original film, ‘Blade Runner’ was a loose adaptation of the 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick, released in 1982. That film rose to a level beyond a mere cult classic, through the highest echelon of Sci-Fi fandom to a zeitgeist-defining cultural phenomenon. It is far from unusual for a major studio movie to have numerous versions, sifted through and re-edited by the filmmaker to achieve the final product. Elaborate DVD and Blu-ray sets released becoming cherished collector’s items. ‘Blade Runner’ has enjoyed this venerated status for decades, and with the conclusion open to interpretation, many fans have hoped for a sequel. It took longer than most believed possible but thirty-five years that immortal monologue atop the Bradbury Building, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ has arrived. Set in ‘real time.’ i.e., thirty-five years after the original fans rejoiced when it was announced that Harrison Ford would reprise his role joined by one of the most popular actors of his generation, Ryan Remolds. Not only has this near-mythical film been made but the cast is ideal.
One of the goals for the film set by director Denis Villeneuve was to venture beyond extending the dystopic Blade runner universe to expand it. The visual impact made by the original change the way the future was depicted. The streets were crowded, rain seems to be constant and the looming buildings festooned with gaudy, animated billboard advertisement. The opening shot of this film depicts a car, on autopilot as its occupant, K (Ryan Gosling), waking from a nap. The wide-open vista of this scene contrasted with the start of the original tells volumes without needing dialogue. Although the landscape is bright with the palette sliding from blues to orange, the overall feel remains desolate, bordering on despair. K is a Blade Runner whose mission is to retire outdated or rogue replicants. There was a long-standing debate as to whether Decker (Harrison Ford), was a replicant himself. K is unmistakably one of the advanced models. The distain displayed by his fellow officers calling him the ultimate pejorative for a replicant, skin job. A crucial piece of exposition is provided when K confronts his target. The replicant slated for retirement is one of the last of the old Nexus models. Before returning to headquarters. He found a box containing the remains of a female replicant who died during an emergency cesarean section. Against their design specifications, replication has somehow obtained the ability to reproduce sexually. When K reports his findings to his supervisor, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), who is concerned that if this fact became general knowledge, it would result in a panic that would result in the war pitting humans against replicants. Joshi orders K to locate and retire the child replicant. K’s first destination is the Wallace Corporation, the successor to the inventor of the technology that replicants feasible, the now-defunct Tyrell Corporation, for help in identifying the maternal replicant. Through a thorough analysis of the DNA, it is determining that the sample belonged to an advanced model replicant known as Rachael (Sean Young). She was the seductively beautiful replicant who became involved with the original old school Blade Runner, Rick Deckard. Playing into the perennial favorite plot motivation, corporate greed is naturally infused as Wallace CEO Neander Wallace (Jared Leto) wants to discover the secret to replicant reproduction placing market share, profits and technological monopoly above any concern for the safety of humanity.
K has a holographic girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), who is formed using a projector on a free moving armature mounted on the ceiling. Besides basic companionship, Joi is capable of synthesizing rather substantial insight. When K discusses seeing a date ‘6-10-21’ carved in the trunk of a tree, he recognizes it as a childhood memory. In talking to Joi, he realizes that since replicant memories are artificial, Joi suggests he might have been born. This exploits a narrative device of plot convergence. The idea of replicant reproduction careering towards the origin story of the principal protagonist. This ignites K’s curiosity motivating his search of the LAPD leading to the discovery an unusual set of twins born on that date. K’s investigation has the added benefit of providing details about the process used to manufacture replications. Crucial to the process is the creation of the artificial memories, fans always knew the existed, but now the audience is introduced to Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri), a designer of replicant memories. There is no sense of contrivance as this new information seamlessly infused crafting a film that is satisfying to the most diehard fan of the original.
To be fully accepted by the fans a sequel is required to receive some indication that the new installment is ‘blessed’ confirming its status as canon. The fan could never accept this movie if Harrison Ford were not included in the primary cast the project would have been dead on arrival. This applies in general but after returning to his signature role, Indiana Jones and Hans Solo, after a considerable amount of time. His presence validates the movie permitting it to create its narrative. Instead of immediate dismissal ‘Blade Rubber 22049’ is the movie fans have been anticipating for thirty-five years. The theme of the story was unencumbered these ancillary concerns. Expanding some of the psychosocial questions raised by Philip K. Dick in his novel, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ the question under consideration is among the most ancient, what does it mean to be human? The defining qualities of humanity have been pounded by religions, philosophers, and storytellers since people first gathered around a fire at night questioning the unknowable fabric of nature. This has been one of the most popular topics in science fiction often viewed through the prism of robots and later androids. With the growing concerns over the singularity, public attention has intensified. Over the intervening thirty-five years, sentient artificial beings have gone from our conjecture to the realm of possibility. This was the perfect time for this film. Pragmatically, Mr. Ford is 75 years old and plans to extend too far in the future would not be feasible. From a narrative perspective, the singularity is a hot topic, the subject of intense sustaining in the hallow halls of academia in disciplines encompassing quantum physics, computer science, and sociology. Having the replicants gain the ability to autonomously reproduce an intrinsic quality necessary to define life, at the lowest possible level.
As a bonus surprise, Edward James Olmos reprises his role as the enigmatic Gaff. Over the years Mr. Olmos has grown from a highly sought-after journeyman character to an A-List artist capable of incredibly nuanced performances. Addition of an actor of this caliber helps in providing the gravitas to the film necessary of rising to the intricacies inherent in the themes, so many sequels, particularly those overly delayed, are little more than the studio executives seeking to pad the year-end profit report. There is a literary impetus behind the creation of this movie, a genuine need to return to the story that has been with many of us for most of our adult lives. As with any worthy discussion of depth and meaning, this portion of the story raised more question than an answer. It should give the next generation something of substance to consider.