The Blade Runner Sequel: “a benefit or a hazard”?

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Have to preface this entry by saying that I am a Blade Runner fan(atic).  Saw the original on home video in the ’80s, and like many others, it grew on me, slowly but surely.   Much later on, I read the Philip K. Dick source novel as well (“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”).  I was hooked.

The story is, despite its mystique and reputation, deceptively simple:  In 2019, Los Angeles is an acid rained-soaked, dystopian nightmare.  Pollution keeps the sky a murky brownish hue as giant factories belch fiery waste into the air like dragons.   Flying cars (“spinners”) hover about the city ominously.   Blimps bombard the inhabitants of LA with huge LED billboards promising a “new life” in the “off-world colonies.”

Replicant humanoids created as a slave labor class are used “off-world”, and several of them have violently hijacked a shuttle back to Los Angeles because they seek “more life” from their manufacturers than their limited 4 year lifespans allow.   Former “blade runner” (android killer) Deckard (Harrison Ford) is called back into action to “air ’em out.”

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Normally, that plot description would be more applicable to a cheesy, made-for-SyFy channel movie and not one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made.  But like Ridley Scott’s previous ALIEN (1979), this simple story yields a far richer lived-in universe than such a story would ordinarily merit.   In this case, a universe of spinners, replicants, vid-phones (phone booth versions of Skype), giant skyscrapers, and artificial snakes and owls.   The characters are equal to (though at times surpassed by) the production design and the gorgeous trappings of this world.  That’s not to say characters like combat replicant leader Roy Batter (a very memorable Rutger Hauer) or Sean Young’s Rachel aren’t interesting or vividly acted; it’s just that the production design is so absurdly gorgeous that it vies for the same level of audience attention.   That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either.   If one is not taken with the characters?  One can simply let one’s eyes soak in the vivid, gorgeously-realized future-noir surroundings.   Or if one likes both?  It doubles one’s enjoyment.   “Blade Runner” is an embarrassment of riches.

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In the mid-1990s, I saw the director’s cut of Blade Runner (aka ‘the international version’).  This was the version without Harrison Ford’s admittedly bored-sounding narration and the tacked-on ‘happy’ ending with Rachel and Deckard driving off into a green, lush paradise that was in complete contrast to the gritty, murky, hellish noirish-reality we’d seen in the other 98% of the movie.   The cut was a very different experience, and that was the version of the movie I really fell head over heels for.   It was one of the first DVDs my wife (a fellow Blade Runner fan) and I bought in the early days of the format.

Then I saw the Final Cut in 2007, supervised by Sir Ridley Scott himself, and that was it.  This was Blade Runner perfected.   The new color timing was gorgeous (more blue-hued than murky brown); and there were minor corrections in the FX such cables hoisting the ‘flying’ spinners were now digitally made invisible.  The embarrassingly obvious stuntwoman in Zhora’s death scene was now seamlessly blended with Joanna Cassidy.   There were even minor logistical corrections in the movie itself (Capt. Bryant now gets the number of replicants-on-the-loose right, and lip movements match dubbed scenes more accurately as well).

There was also added fuel to the speculation that the character of Deckard is, in fact, a replicant himself.  Deckard’s ‘unicorn dream’ is shown in this version; so just how did his ex-partner Gaff (Edward James Olmos) know to place a origami unicorn at Deckard’s apartment door at the end of the movie?    Did Gaff access Deckard’s dreams, just as Deckard accessed Rachel’s implanted memories of a childhood she never knew?

And Deckard’s eyes get that same strange optical effect as Rachel’s and the artificial owl in Terrell’s office.   Not to mention it could be the leverage that Bryant used to keep him from fully quitting in the first place (how can a slave quit, right?).   It would also explain how Deckard has such natural intuition with hunting replicants (‘takes one to know one’), and there was also Rachel (Sean Young) asking Deckard if he’d ever taken the replicant-detecting “Voigt/Kampf’ test himself; he hadn’t.  Hmmm

Needless to say, I’m totally onboard with the Deckard-Replicant theory (a theory bolstered by the director himself, I might add).   At any rate, it’s speculations like this that keep the movie alive in memory long after the credits roll to Vangelis’ amazing, hypnotic score (his best since “Chariots of Fire” a year earlier).   There is much to chew on…forgive the pun.

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To any newcomer to the movie?  Skip over the rest and head straight to the 2007 cut of the film.   The previous other versions are merely rough cuts of the 2007 masterpiece.  The 2007 Final Cut of the movie is all you’ll ever need.

Which brings me to my next point:  a sequel to Blade Runner is on its way,”Blade Runner 2049,” coming in October of 2017, and it stars Ryan Gosling and yes; a gray haired, scruffy looking nerf-herd–er, Harrison Ford (who also revisited his filmography-past very memorably in 2015’s “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens”).    My nagging question is: do we Blade Runner fans really NEED this?

See for yourself on the link below:

Blade Runner 2049: teaser trailer

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This trailer is the very definition of mixed emotions for me.   There are many reasons NOT to want this sequel:

  • Blade Runner is a perfectly contained movie, and runs the risk of a sequel only serving to dilute its uniqueness and originality.
  • Blade Runner 2049 shows Deckard as an old man, but the international cut strongly hints at Deckard being a replicant himself; this is a point that Scott himself confirms in the audio commentary of the Final Cut of the movie.   If Deckard is indeed a replicant?  Then he shouldn’t be an old man… unless that point has been ret-conned away (?).  Hope not…
  • The 1982 (and 2007 final cut) effects are amazing and timeless; CGI versions of them will probably lack the tactile, lived-in feel of the original visuals (mostly done with miniatures and painstakingly produced optical effects).
  • The original was set in 2019… two years from now (!).  A sequel only serves to further disrupt the fragile, soap-bubble reality of this alternate universe;  a universe which never yielded replicants or spinners, but did put vid-phones in our pockets.
  • “Blade Runner” also inspired/influenced the cyberpunk genre, as well as countless Japanese anime (“Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell” being the most obvious).   A sequel will only seem like ‘a copy of a copy’ if it mirrors the original too closely.  This was a problem which struck the otherwise intriguing “John Carter (of Mars)” in 2012; John Carter of Mars was a pulpy, century-0ld book series that inspired Star Wars, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers… only to look like a pale imitator of Star Wars and Flash Gordon by the time the 2012 movie (finally) came out.    Will a new Blade Runner run the risk of looking like a tired retread of its many imitators?
  • Can there ever again be dialogue as memorable as Rutger Hauer’s partly improvised (and utterly brilliant) “tears in rain” death scene speech?   Seriously, this scene is animated poetry: Blade Runner: Roy Batty’s “Tears In Rain” speech.   It’s hard to imagine this scene ever being equalled, let alone topped.

Now, for a bit of balance, here are the reasons I’m actually intrigued by what I’ve seen in the admitted teaser trailer for “Blade Runner 2049”:

  • Harrison Ford is back.   This is the guy who brought tears to this old fan boy’s eyes with one line, “Chewie… we’re home!”  And while Rick Deckard doesn’t have near the warmth or charisma of Han Solo, he IS one of Ford’s most iconic roles.  It’s amazing that they got Ford to come back, considering the actor was reportedly less-than-enthused with “Blade Runner.”
  • BR 2049 is also being directed by Denis Villeneuve, the director of my favorite movie of 2016, “The Arrival.”  From what I’ve seen in his work on “Arrival,” he has the perfect eye for this project.   His use of twilight/predawn-lit landscapes and an overall sense of melancholic foreboding are a perfect match for the universe of Blade Runner.   He is also no slouch when it comes to mixing tactile-looking CGI into his live action shots (a must for a future Blade Runner project).   The music in “Arrival” also succeeded in creating an alienness that would be very much at home in the universe Ridley Scott so expertly established in the original.
  • Respect for the original seems to permeate the teaser trailer; from the use of the original’s memorable sound bites to the golden-lit look of the Gosling/Ford face-off scene (reminds me of the lighting in Tyrell’s office).   Little touches like that are appreciated.
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He is even using the SAME GUN he used in the 1982 original movie… yes, little details like this matter, folks.

I suppose the correct response to news of the Blade Runner sequel is to wait and reserve any and all judgment until either more trailers come forth, or until the release date (October is only nine months away from the time of this writing).

It would seem that Blade Runner and Batty want the same thing:

“More life… f–ker!”    (hehe)

Despite any misgivings, I would love to see a sequel to one of my favorite science fiction movies succeed.   Mixed emotions are to be expected, but at the end of the day it’s further exploration of one of the most vivid realized science fiction universes ever created.   I can’t help but feel just a little white knuckled anticipation over that.

Let’s hope Blade Runner’s newly increased lifespan is worth it.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sim says:

    When I first saw Blade Runner, it was a grainy VHS copy of the Director’s Cut (I think), on an old 4:3 tube tv. I was underwhelmed … “really, this is the movie so many people are praising?”

    I didn’t understand the praise until I got a Blu Ray copy of the Final Cut two years ago, watching on a decently sized HD tv set. Wow! The visuals are indeed astonishing, the atmosphere. This, and of course Harrison Ford, made watching the movie, for the first time in a setting half-way appropriate, a memorable experience.

    As far as I am concerned, I’m ready for the sequel. In the best case, it will be a worthy modern adaption (and another point in Ford’s farewell journey), and in the worst case… well, it won’t make us unsee the original. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having just seen the sequel, I’d like to add that my initial misgivings about the sequel were all wrong. In fact, I’m wolfing down a large slice of humble pie as I type this. Oh, and on my earlier point above that a replicant Deckard shouldn’t be an old man? There are nexus replicants in the new movie made with indeterminate lifespans, so there is no reason that Deckard couldn’t be a prototype of that later series.
    My new blog on the sequel: https://musingsofamiddleagedgeek.blog/2017/10/09/a-sequel-thats-more-blade-runner-than-blade-runner/

    Like

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