Directed by: Ridley Scott [BR], Denis Villeneuve : Produced by: Michael Deeley [BR], Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Bud Yorkin, Cynthia Sikes Yorkin 
Screenplay by: Hampton Fancher [BR, 2049], David Peoples [BR], Michael Green  || Starring: Harrison Ford [BR, 2049], Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James [BR]; Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto 
Music by: Vangelis [BR], Hans Zimmer, Benjamin Wallfisch  || Cinematography: Jordan Cronenworth [BR], Roger Deakins || Edited by: Terry Rawlings, Marsha Nakashima [BR], Joe Walker  || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 117 minutes [BR], 163 minutes 
Few movies in cinematic history have been as misunderstood as the Blade Runner franchise. I say “franchise” now that the property is, for better or for worse (depending on whom you ask), among the 2010s pantheon of soft reboots, long overdue (or forced) sequels, and re-adaptations of cult favorite films from decades’ past. I also claim both of these films, both the 1984 original and this 2017 sequel, are misunderstood and shall continue to be so for some time, though not always for the same reasons.
The original Blade Runner was another cerebral, thematic, visual moodpiece from Ridley Scott, an overlooked science-fiction noir hybrid distinctly out of place amongst the buddy cop pictures and commando action blockbusters of the 1980s. Some of its misplacement was deserved, given the original cut’s infamous voiceovers and studio-forced happy ending, as well as a simplistic screenplay and lackluster starring performance from a typically charismatic Harrison Ford in the prime of his career. Still, Blade Runner (henceforth, BR) could never and will never be critiqued from a visual standpoint; it set the benchmark for futuristic sci-fi metropolises, if not speculative sci-fi worlds in general, with unparalleled special FX and a production design so staggering it impresses to this day. BR, more so than even the original Star Wars films (1977, 1980, 1983), is the definitive technical masterpiece of the pre-digital FX era. Every shot looks like a God damned psychedelic painting.
The original BR is further complimented by a masterful, unique synthesizer score that is as identifiable as any vista or monologue. It is a fitting noir soundtrack for a world that screams artificiality, because its decayed, artificial nature forms the core of this film’s thematic overtones. Vangelis’ potent riffs, which range from soft and soothing to seductive and nightmarish, wash over the unforgettable visuals to create some of the most effective audiovisual combinations within any genre film I have ever seen. From a stylistic perspective, Blade Runner is as sexy and suave as the most charismatic noir thriller from the 1940s.
That being said, time has not been as kind to BR’s story and characters, nor has every re-edit (the film exists in no less than seven official versions) changed its theatrical release for the better. BR is a sci-fi noir mystery with almost no mystery; every single major plot-point is established within the first twenty minutes, and no further revelations occur during the remainder of the film, save for a couple puzzling cuts that question the biological origins of our hero (Ford’s eponymous robot-hunting detective) for no good reason. Making matters worse is the forgettable supporting cast, most of whom act like deadpan weirdos with none of the expected dry humor. Hampton Fancher’s catchy dialogue assists the casts’ uninspired performances where it can, but to say the original BR lacks a human touch is to put it mildly. At its worst, BR is almost like George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels (1999, 2002, 2005) except with less irritating characters and wonderful FX.
At its best though, it’s an intriguing, inventive cinematic achievement that shows far more than it tells, which separates it from wholly terrible films like the aforementioned Star Wars prequels. That the film remains misunderstood by non-cinephiles and sci-fi fans alike to this day is the main reason why its long awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049 (henceforth, BR 2049), is also underperforming at the box office. The fact of the matter is the brand is virtually meaningless to general audiences under age 40, its very style and pacing preclude it wide appeal, and its own core audience (not to mention the people making the film) fail to understand why the original title bombed in the first place. In hindsight, no wonder BR 2049 isn’t connecting with general audiences, especially when your average 2010s blockbuster hit is something like
Furious 8 The Fate of the Furious (2017).
That BR 2049 is a better, more complete, and far more emotional movie than its predecessor will have to suffice for sci-fans; Denis Villeneuve, perhaps the world’s best working director, has endowed this stylish sequel with all the digital prowess of modern movie-making magic such that it carries Ridley Scott’s imaginative sci-fi diegesis to new heights. That BR 2049 also boasts a memorable, heartfelt, and personable story is what makes this visual powerhouse stay with you long after you leave the theatre, and is the true surprise of this film.
First and foremost, BR 2049’s story is a veritable detective story, unlike the half-hearted narrative of the original. Both the inciting incident and central mystery of this film are captivating, gluing you to new protagonist Ryan Gosling’s development from the start. As he, and by extension, the viewer, slide down the noir rabbit hole, the plot thickens and BR 2049’s slow pace and ravishing style enhance the plot. This is a world, much like the one of its 35 year-old predecessor, that is meant to be absorbed, digested, and appreciated in detail. Its mysterious, intriguing narrative unfolds at a deliberate pace, allowing us to learn more about our principle characters and how this sad yet fascinating, artificial yet beautiful, dying yet dynamic setting molds their personalities and understanding of themselves.
One of Hollywood’s most charismatic, versatile good-looking faces, Ryan Gosling delivers another stellar, subtle performance that peels back thin layers of his character over the film’s considerable 163-minute running-time. His arc is incredibly emotional and the story’s conclusion, immensely satisfying as a result. From both a larger, thematic perspective and a smaller, intimate relationship with memorable costar Ana de Armas, Gosling’s replicant detective establishes himself as the premiere neo-noir character since Jack Nicholson in Chinatown (1974). This is a stoic crime drama bad boy who earns his reserved charm and strong, silent demeanor.
At this point in time, I believe Denis Villeneuve can do no wrong. He is as versatile as any filmmaker working today, with the dramatic strength and precision of David Fincher and the visual prowess of Christopher Nolan. He took an ambitious but flawed science-fiction classic and improved upon it in every aspect, from the story to the characterizations to even the visuals. He made a nearly three hour-long movie in which I was engaged for every second, and can’t wait to see again. As far as I am concerned, he should be given the keys to every franchise classified as “nonredeemable” or “unadaptable” from Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965) to the Aliens (1986) sequel we never got. As good as Ridley Scott was in his prime, Villeneuve is better, and the same goes for Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Ridley Scott’s original sci-fi noir is far from a masterpiece, but it is an influential, groundbreaking genre-hybrid that established many sci-fi and fantasy tropes fundamental to modern genre filmmaking. It is the benchmark for production design of the pre-digital FX era, more so than Star Wars, Alien (1979), or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
That being said, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, though it leapfrogs off the original’s creativity and sheer ambition, is the better, more complete movie. It improves the lacking performances of the original’s starring actors, while expanding its themes and narrative in an engrossing, captivating manner.
—> Blade Runner (1982) is RECOMMENDED, but Blade Runner 2049 (2017) comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Plan your weekend around both of them, why don’t you?
? All the best memories are hers.