In the interest of full disclosure: When I first saw the original “Blade Runner,” I was not a fan.
Admittedly, I was 17-years-old at the time, arguably less sophisticated than I am now, and I saw it on the small screen at a friend’s house when it aired on cable (which was kind of a big deal in the early 80s).
Keep in mind, the original “Blade Runner” came out at a time when Harrison Ford was equal parts Han Solo and Indiana Jones, so the presumption was that he would be equally as roguish, tough, and wise-cracking in whatever “Blade Runner” was, right?
Instead of what I was expecting — I dunno, something like Indiana Jones versus the Runaway Androids — the original “Blade Runner” was nothing like I thought it would be -- humorless, dreary, punishingly slow-paced, overly-packed with endless dialogue, and not terribly exciting.
Oh, and Harrison Ford’s character got beaten up. A lot.
It wasn’t until later, much later, than I rewatched “Blade Runner,” and, although it was still all those things I mentioned — slow, dark, humorless — I became more intrigued by the ideas that the movie presented about the nature of man, what defines us as human, and if androids dream of electric sheep. More than entertainment, “Blade Runner” was a starting point for discussion.
Fast-forward 30 years to “Blade Runner 2049,” and, while it may be visually more stunning, it’s like the first movie, less a film to watch to be entertained by it than it is to challenged by it, and to later discuss it, which can be good or bad, depending on your expectations.
Despite my late appreciation of “Blade Runner,” the melancholy sequel, produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Denis Villeneuve is similarly visually gorgeous, and likewise admirable for its elevated themes, if it sometimes — most of the time, in fact — comes off a bit sterile.
The action is set 30 years after the events of the first film, with replicants (bioengineered humans) still making up a major portion of the workforce in the dim, usually rainy dystopia that America has become.
A blind technocrat named Wallace (Jared Leto) bought what was left of the company that used to make replicants, found a way to make them more obedient, and gave them fixed lifespans.
But there are still some of the old models running around, the ones that aren’t as pliable and can theoretically live for decades if not forever. It’s the duty of the “blade runners” (police) to find these and “retire” (kill) them.
Our chief blade runner is an LAPD officer played by Ryan Gosling, nicknamed K because his real name is a serial number because he is a replicant.
The movie tells the audience this right up front, perhaps so they don’t get hung up on the possibility like people did with Harrison Ford’s character in the original (long story -- Google it). K knows what he is, knows his childhood memories are just part of his programming, and is (mostly) content to spend his evenings at home with his hologram wife, Joi (Ana de Armas), who’s very loving, though she pauses when he gets a phone call.
Intrigue arises when K finds a 28-year-old box of replicant bones and the doctors determine that the replicant they belonged to died while giving birth.
If replicants can reproduce, well, that would be a significant game-changer. K’s boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), orders him to track down the replicant child, if it is still alive, and kill it.
“I’ve never retired something that was born before,” K muses. “Being born would almost, I don’t know, mean it has a soul, wouldn’t it?”
It’s a procedural, then, much like the first film was. K’s investigation takes him to Wallace’s headquarters, where he learns that a blade runner named Deckard (Harrison Ford, who appears in this movie) had a forbidden relationship with the same female replicant who evidently went on to give birth, and where he does not learn (but the audience does) that Wallace wants to increase production of replicants so he can use them as slaves on Earth’s colony planets.
K also meets a scientist (Carla Juri) who designs the fake memories that are implanted in replicants, who tells him that all memories have a hint of their creator in them.
If any film could get by solely on its cinematography, it would be this one. Cinematographer Roger Deakins — who’s been Oscar-nominated 13 times in 22 years without ever winning —captures the forlorn and dismal future with spectacular depth and clarity, giving it more life than, probably, the real 2049 will have.
The original film’s “ruined future” aesthetic is expanded upon, enhanced (but not overshadowed) by CGI, and it effectively complements the ponderous tone of the story.
Villeneuve was an apt choice to direct, and he takes the job seriously. Though there are references to the other film, there’s no winking fan service or conspicuously wedged-in callbacks.
But movies, perhaps like replicants, need fixed lifespans. If you let them go on too long, they’re bound to cause trouble.
As deep and worthy as this film’s plot is on paper, it wears thin when stretched over 163 dreamlike, ethereal, but exhausting minutes. Methodical and sad, it’s a film with plenty of mood but little emotion, and which may ultimately be most remembered for the discussions it provokes.
“Blade Runner 2049” is rated R for language, a bit of nudity and moderate violence.
“Blade Runner 2049” is now showing in Rogers County at the Claremore Cinema 8.