‘Blade Runner: 2049’ (2017)

Blade Runner 2049:

Ridley Scott’s original ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) is one of my all time favourite films, and ranks alongside ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Metropolis’ and ‘Children of Men’ as one of the greatest Science Fictions films ever. The original Blade Runner’s genius was threefold: it’s revolutionary dystopian visuals, it’s philosophically complex questioning and it’s world creation/predictions of a future society.

Dennis Villeneueve’s sequel, hot off the success of his 2016 masterful ‘Arrival’, has in terms of aesthetics, cinematography and special effects matched the majesty of the original. ‘Blade Runner: 2049’ is one of the most artistic films, visually of any this decade. The Oscar for best visual effects should be in the bag. However the film doesn’t add much to the original philosophical questions. In terms of the future predictions: climate change and our addiction to the virtual feature beautifully.

It’s worth mentioning that the trap, when reviewing a sequel to a great classic original, is to entirely compare it without considering the film on its own terms. Where the film falls short of being a great film, in my opinion, has little to do with any comparison to the original. It’s weak spots come in it’s self aware solemn attempt to build a space opera franchise with a particular twist in the plot that turns the philosophical premise into a ‘family drama’. This franchise building exercise, that is inevitably going to lead to more Blade Runner films, diminishes the film, particularly towards the end, as you start to realise it is a long set up for future films. What worries me is a potential Matrix-esque mess in which a brilliant philosophical original becomes a launching pad for a ridiculous bloated trilogy.

The other shortcoming is the plot twist itself, which is mildly interesting, as an extension of the original films brilliant philosophical paradox regarding the nature of consciousness and what it means to be human. It is worth noting that the original film is based off the famous science fiction novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ by Philip K Dick which as its title suggests once a ‘being’ has consciousness it takes on ‘personhood’. So yes robots can become human, which is what the film also suggests as one character mimics the ‘robot/replicant creator’s motto: More Human than Human. Thanks to the original this is now a common sci fi plot point. As the hit tv series Westworld recently, in a very Blade Runner esque way, concluded that perhaps AI is the next leap in evolution, focusing on the consciousness of the ‘hosts’ in the themepark. Where I would have been interested to see this philosophical discussion go to is beyond a focus on the consciousness of the AI, to what are the implications for us? How would society cope? What does it mean to confront our own evolutionary end? The humans seem robotic, the robots human. Both films touch on this idea as earth and by extension humanity is slowly abandoned in favour off the ‘grand life off world’. Exploration of a new humanity in the off world colonies is a potentially interesting avenue for future films.

The best scenes in the film articulate ideas of artificial selfhood in sequences about the creation of dreams and in a new take for the film predictions about the our addiction to the digital world. Influences of recent great Sci fi film ‘Her’ (2013) are definitely present in the creation of digital companionship and a love interest for the main ‘Blade Runner’ played tightly by Gosling. The world of this Blade Runner seems bewitched by digital holograms that litter the dystopian city, the most distinctly 2017 aspect of the film, as we are all bewitched by our iPhones and Facebook and Apple are investing billions into virtual reality through at first our phones and then all around us. This is the film’s main prediction for the future, losing our minds to the beauty of the digital at the expense of nature and reality. The other main prediction that wasn’t in the original is the extent to which climate change will dictate our future world. Massive walls protect LA of 2049 from rising sea levels, the opening shot of the film is fields of solar farms abandoned under the thick haze, food has become a staple of synthetic proteins and algae. The original so cleverly predicted our multi-lingual future, our environmental decay, loss of culture and authenticity, advances in technology. The sequel feels sadder, with an unrelentingly somber tone throughout. Whereas the original shocked and horrified us, we now live in a time where this dystopia seems familiar and more and more likely.

Ultimately although the film is less shocking, sadder, a set up for another film, less philosophically interesting than the original it nevertheless is an exceptional sci fi film that needs to be seen on the big screen.


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