Ben: I guess, before we get into Blade Runner 2049, we should start by discussing the original Blade Runner. What are your thoughts on that film and its impact on both cinema and the science-fiction genre?
Rick: I just watched the original film prior to the sequel. I love the idea of this dark future and the replicants; however, as a storytelling piece I think Blade Runner lacks anything memorable except for the visuals and soundtrack. I felt that the film dragged making it a tough sit through. I wanted to identify with the replicants and understand them. They feel misplaced due to a lack of character development. Blade Runner looks cool but lacks substance at least in my opinion. As a sci-fi flick, I can see why it’s talked about, the visuals. No one really recalls the story. In 1982, sure it’s impact would’ve been big just as Star Wars and Alien, but those films had cool characters and memorable moments. Ridley Scott is a master at storytelling, but Blade Runner dazzles our eyes instead of giving us a complete movie package.
Parker: It’s funny, when I first saw the original Blade Runner, I hated it. I felt that it really dragged story-wise, very little actually happened, Deckard was kind of an unlikable character, and other than impressive visuals, there really didn’t seem to be much to it. The second time I watched it was several years later, and I had a very different response. I think that it’s much more of a conceptual film than a story- or character-driven piece. The idea of replicants existing and being difficult to tell apart from humans is fascinating, and the movie kind of lets you chew on that concept for a long time. Obviously, in a visual and atmospheric sense, the movie really helped to establish the cyberpunk genre and contributed to the look of several future-set movies in the decades since its release. But, I think that beyond that, the main reason the movie stands out is because it really asks you to look at non-human beings as individuals rather than objects. You may not get to know the replicants very well on a personal level, but you see them experience very human moments that make them seem anything but artificial. Roy Batty’s final monologue at the end really hits this point home, a scene that impressed me much more on the second viewing.
Daniel: Hello everyone! I wish I could answer the first question with any kind of sincerity, but I have yet to see the original Blade Runner, which makes my opinion on the new Blade Runner 2049 a bit different from those who have seen it, which may make for an interesting discussion.
Ben: The original Blade Runner, to me, works better as a visual/atmospheric experience than an actual film. Stylistically, I loved the grimy futuristic world and found a number of its themes, including the question of what makes someone human and the consequences of corporate/industrial ethics, were fascinating. Unfortunately the story just kind of… happens. It’s a combination of sci-fi and noir but nothing ever feels completely noir, despite some dips in the genre. Deckard has his task of killing the Replicants, Roy Batty wishes to find his creator, and everything else from there is one drawn out hunt between man and machine. I did find Batty an excellent villain and am still moved by his “tears in the rain” speech, but I will admit a lot of the events in between the first and third acts never fully stand out to me. The romance between Deckard and Rachael also doesn’t really work for me, as it felt forced and tipped way too often into Deckard acting rather unlikable. That being said, I’d still give Blade Runner an A for what the film manages to accomplish and would definitely rank it up with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Ridley Scott’s own Alien as one of the most important sci-fi films of all time.
Riyad: It seems that recurring theme of many of our first memories of seeing Blade Runner is disdain. I have to admit, it too took me years to begin appreciating the film. When I first heard about it (from my father no less) I assumed it was a geeky and long-winded sci-fi film that too much talking and not enough shocking. And my first impressions were right–it was boring, convoluted and bizarrely edited. It was only in my teens that I began realizing why the film was the hubbub that it was among cinephiles. Blade Runner was not only one of the first postmodern films, it was most certainly one of the first sci-fi ones. And as a kid who grew up in a world of postmodernist humor (irony sure is cool nowadays), Blade Runner fit into that paradigm, albeit in a different genre. But that appreciation took some time, for in order to appreciate that postmodernism, you had to be familiar with the modernist classics—the Star Wars, the Star Treks, the Encounters of a Third Kinds. And that only happened much after my first exposure to Blade Runner. Those watersheds first films allowed postmodern films like Blade Runner to intellectually flourish and instill a deep sense of existential introspection. But beyond the philosophical ruminations of self-reflectiveness, the film’s production design, neo-noir aesthetic and expansive attention to detail ensured that it would enter the lexicon of simply gorgeous cinema. It was a film that earnestly showcased the phenomenological curiosity of film. And it was the combination of the two that facilitated my deep love for the Scott original.
Ben: Ok, we clearly all had a lot to say about the original Blade Runner. It’s status in cinema alone probably made a lot of people hesitant when we learned that Blade Runner 2049 was in production. So I guess the first thing we should ask is this: how did the film work in the context of Blade Runner’s universe and does it push the franchise in a direction worth pursuing?
Riyad: I think it’s safe to say that this should be the end of the Blade Runner franchise–the numbers certainly back that notion up. Also, 2049 just simply wasn’t as amazing as everyone believed it would be, especially with the rather ostentatious 2 hour and 45 minute runtime. Sure, every single shot was a beauty of its own and yes, Harrison Ford does somehow still kick ass, but the film just did not live up to expectations. Maybe that is primarily due to the fact that the original is such a cult classic. In my memory only two sequels have ever surpassed the original: Terminator 2 and Godfather Part II. A strange dichotomy of genre, I admit, but the fact that it occurred both in shlock big budget Hollywood and auteur-driven art cinema is a testament to the idea that a great sequel is not exclusive to a single genre. But beyond that, I think the simple cult status of the film is in danger of being erased once a universe is continuously explored. With each new sequel, TV series, webisode and so on, there is less room for introspection. And the danger that lies in that is that introspection drives curiosity, which in turn drives cultural obsession. Having to ruminate and piece together puzzles left behind by a director is perhaps one of the best parts to any diegetic world–particularly when concerned with richly atmospheric ones like Blade Runner. The only thing that saved this film from having everyone collectively roll their eyes was Denis Villeneuve’s involvement (fresh off his stellar Arrival effort) and the return of Harrison Ford (plus who doesn’t love a little Gos).
Parker: I respectfully disagree, or at least have a different opinion of Blade Runner 2049. I think that there was a lot riding on this film, and the high expectations for it sort of manifested in two very different reactions. We had the hardcore fans of the original who couldn’t possibly imagine a sequel ever living up to the first film and were thus worried, and then we had the general audiences who felt that the first film was too alienating (or had never seen it) and didn’t want to subject themselves to another similar cinematic experience. I think that this accounts for the film’s lackluster box office gross. But when I saw Blade Runner 2049, I felt that it did a pretty miraculous job of living up to its predecessor, while also functioning as more of a plot-driven vehicle that could entice casual viewers or newcomers to the franchise. I like that while the original movie focused on Rachael as a replicant who has been led to believe she’s human, the new film sort of reverses this concept with an individual who has been led to believe he’s a standard replicant, then learns that there’s a possibility he could be much more than that. I felt that this was a worthy idea to justify a sequel, and in Gosling’s character, as well as the Joi character, I saw just as much opportunity for philosophical speculation as the first movie offered in Deckard and Batty. I also liked the fact that, like the original to an extent, the new movie called into question whether Deckard is a replicant or not, and gave us a chance to really speculate there. Ultimately, I felt that Villeneuve was able to pull off a sequel that, while maybe not quite as visually iconic as the original film, certainly lived up to and even expanded beyond its predecessor in terms of its plot, characters, and the philosophical questions it raises.
Ben: The art of making a sequel is definitely tough, especially when the previous film is regarded as a classic, because you need to create a film that honors its predecessor but never feels like a retread. We’ve had a number of films in recent years that manage to pull this off quite well (i.e. Mad Max: Fury Road, War of the Planet of the Apes) and I’d argue that Blade Runner 2049 has also miraculously surpassed the original film. It keeps the ethical morality themes alive and expands the psychology of humans and replicants alike in a direction that’s worth exploring. While I’m not certain how much of this film we should spoil, given that every detail is basically a spoiler, I really like how Denis Villeneuve managed to tie in this new character, K, to the Blade Runner world and to Deckard’s character in the third act. Villeneuve has proven himself one of the top directors of this decade, with amazing titles like Enemy, Sicario and Arrival under his belt, and Blade Runner 2049 definitely joins them as a masterpiece. The visuals were a major highlight once again, using bleak grey and orange colors during the daytime sequences to emphasize the world’s desolate state, as well as neon hues at night to highlight the extent of corporate influence in everyday life. The world still feels alive after twenty-five years, and that says something about BR’s lasting appeal.
Riyad: I agree, Denis Villeneuve is certainly one of the most talented directors out there today. His track record certainly attests to that. And I am not saying that Blade Runner 2049 is a bad film–far from it. I think it’s one of the best sci-fi films to have come out in recent memory. I guess I am one of the die hard fanboys of the original, clinging to the false hope that Harrison Ford won’t look like an old man hobble-running his way toward the futuristic car. Somehow, I imagined he would still be his rugged self. And yet that is not the case. Somehow, I felt that the nostalgia that I feel when seeing the 1982 original will reawaken in the ontology of the new film. But it never did for me. But that is not Villeneuve’s fault. It doesn’t matter if Tarantino, Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alexander McQueen or even the maestro himself Ridley Scott took the helm–I would always have the biased opinion that the sequel will never live up to the original. Perhaps I am wrong in that belief (I have a feeling I am) but the truth of the matter is that the groundbreaking play on noir conventions and sci-fi tropes of the original Blade Runner would seldom be replicated in today’s reimagination of a world that only works in early 1980s contemporaneity. And that is what I felt I was seeing in Blade Runner 2049: a desperate attempt to relive the aura of a bygone world.
Riyad: It seems that there is a sharp divide between us. I believe that there was no way that the new film could surpass the original (simply because of nostalgia’s sake) while many of you believe that the new one did just that. What are some other aspects of the film that stood out as being memorable?
Daniel: I think because I have never seen the first film, I believe my opinion has a different kind of weight to it. I am only able to analyze the film from a film standpoint than a sequel or franchise standpoint (if that makes sense). That being said, I believe Blade Runner 2049 is a spectacle to behold. The visuals were extremely impressive, but to delve deeper, the lighting specifically is absolutely powerful in the storytelling and the atmosphere. The dark, brooding blues of the main city gave me the feeling of sadness, a sense of depression and inescapable circumstances. The orange lighting of Vegas gave me the feeling of a desolate desert wasteland, and in my head I was able to decipher that the location was in fact Las Vegas even though it is never explicitly stated. That is another point in its own. The script was very complex and provided a ton of implications without having to force feed me information. I think the script also helps push the themes of the films, which are strong and in your face throughout the entire film. Being able to seamlessly put these various factors together in an almost 3 hour film is absolutely mind-blowing to me. While I do think that some of the characters were not truly fleshed out, I think that could feed into the theme that no one’s life is truly important in the world of Blade Runner. Just getting by appears to be the goal of many in the world, and the fairly one-dimensional characters, save a few, help to push this theme. Overall, I think the film is an absolute must-watch whether or not you have seen the first or not. On a side note, I do need to watch the first film to possibly give more input as a sequel/franchise film.
Parker: It’s really interesting to hear your perspective, Daniel. I feel that Blade Runner 2049 definitely functions well as a standalone film, since it allows the audience to sort of discover Deckard’s story along with the K character. This was a smart choice story-wise, as it allows new audiences who are not familiar with the plot of the original film to follow along and understand Deckard’s character, without becoming overly-expository and totally re-hashing what happened in the first film. I also agree with Riyad that this film probably never could have captured the nostalgic feel of the original simply because it is the second film in the series, and the first film inspired so many visual copycats over the past several decades that the look and feel of the sequel could never have felt as fresh and new as the first movie. However, I think that both the lighting and the soundtrack really blew me away in the new film. Particularly in the scenes set inside the Wallace Corporation’s headquarters, the use of light reflecting off of water really evoked the strange, alien feel of a company that builds artificial people. These scenes struck me as very similar to the scenes set within the Tyrell Corporation’s headquarters in the original Blade Runner, as the lighting and color scheme matched nicely. In terms of the soundtrack, the heavy use of synthesizers seemed to almost cross the line and become overwhelming, but I don’t think that they ever quite got there. The score complemented the action and emotional state of the characters really well, and the way it was punched up in scenes with minimal dialogue, synchronized to match the beautiful visuals the film offered, worked extremely effectively. Particularly in the movie’s final moments, the score felt as vital to the emotional impact of the sequence as Gosling and Ford’s performances. I think it matched what I saw as K’s realization that life, any life, is inherently valid and meaningful.
Riyad: The visuals of the film were certainly one of the strongest points. That I can wholeheartedly agree with. Villeneuve and his frequent collaborator Roger Deakins ensure that there is seldom a dull visual moment. Even when there the world is still, shadows are ever present and color washes over, the beauty is awe-inspiring. If past collaborations between the two is anything to go by, Blade Runner 2049 will certainly be in line for a few Oscar nods during the campaign. But as you alluded to Parker, I think that one of the few ways that the new film holds up to the original is the breathtaking score. Vangelis famously scored the first film, which proved to be one of the most iconic and mesmerizing scores in cinema history. Vangelis was also slated to return to filmmaking scoring (having last done so for the atrocious El Greco back in 2007) with Blade Runner 2049 but unfortunately backed out during post production. It was a heavy setback for Villeneuve, who was not only relying on Vangelis’ score to instill wistfulness in diehard fans and rightful intrigue in newfound viewers, but also to bring his usual symphonic, electro sonic sounds to the diegetic world he helped build. And when I heard that Hans Zimmer (most notably of Christopher Nolan fame) was to fill in Vangelis, my heart filled with dread at the idea of trailer-inspired loud earthquake sounds filling the auditorium to instill feelings of dread and cosmic nothingness. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised that Zimmer did not force his own scoring style onto the film, rather using Vangelis’ style to ensure faithfulness. Again, this is probably the fanboy in me, but that was perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of the film—legacy was still a big part of Villeneuve’s vision.
Ben: One thing that I think this film did better than Ridley Scott’s original film was that it genuinely felt like a sci-fi noir, rather than taking bits of influence from film noir. There is a genuine mystery to this story from start to finish, and the ramifications that it has on the human/replicant world feel impactful, especially in relation to the business/legal status quo. It’s a combination of mystery and thriller that keeps you guessing as to what is a clue in the right direction and how these clues impact the characters. This definitely applies to K, whose role in the film serves as a centerpiece for 2049’s moral dilemma: can one choose to be something that goes against their designated protocol. The primary story arc is about K’s desire to have purpose, a replicant who gradually begins to rebel against his original purpose in the name of something beyond a single individual. That premise might sound stock, but the film adds enough clever twists to make it seem fresh and Ryan Gosling’s performance works in conjunction with the script. It’s definitely a more nuanced performance, with only a handful of scenes involving a wider range of emotions, but overall he pulls of the noir hero extremely well.
Parker: Well I think we can all agree that, whatever we thought of Blade Runner 2049, it certainly gave us a lot to mull over. Like its predecessor, the new film leaves you with a lot to think about and definitely makes a lasting impression. I think it was interesting to see how our opinions of the first film differed coming into this one, which seems to have impacted the way that we digested 2049. But I’m glad we got to discuss our perspectives, and I’m sure we’ll all be anxious to see how the film fares during the rest of its theatrical run, and ultimately where it will stand in the pantheon of science fiction cinema.