There are few who can deny the impact of Blade Runner. To some, Ridley Scott’s troubled 1982 cyberpunk thriller is iconic, a masterpiece of directorial authority, unique visuals and noir sensibilities transposed onto a new genre. To others, it’s a dark, depressing mess, frustratingly ambiguous and too full of its own self-importance.
You’re both right.
I’m biased. I love it. I’ve loved everything cyberpunk since stumbling across Japanese anime as a kid, and over the years as I learned more about Gibson, Dick and Sterling, I dived deep into the mirrorshades pool and loved everything I found. I devoured the Cyberpunk 2020 role-playing game. I spent far too much cash tracking down import VHS and DVD of Bubblegum Crisis, Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed. I never looked back from the day I discovered industrial music, the soundtrack to the high-tech, low-life urban sprawls of the near future. Heck, I even kinda liked the 1995 Judge Dredd movie (but yes, of course Dredd was infinitely better).
So in theory, I should be over the moon at the impending Blade Runner 2049, right? I couldn’t stop grinning all the way through this year’s Ghost in the Shell live-action remake, and news of Channel 4’s season of Philip K. Dick adaptations, Electric Dreams, sounds like music to my Black Mirror-loving soul.
Truth be told, Blade Runner didn’t need a sequel. It was a beautiful, tragic, open-ended and self-contained story of a beaten-down man scratching out a living in a world that didn’t care if he lived or died. He stopped the bad guys, but there would always be more, worse villains out there. He got the girl, but it’s too bad she won’t live. Stories of a sequel have been circulating for almost twenty years, as the careers of both Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford waxed and waned. Who would direct? Who would star? Would it be a reboot to satisfy modern Hollywood’s fear of the unknown? A continuation that would frustrate decades of speculation about the true nature of Rick Deckard’s humanity?
As of right now, we still know very little. Various trailers seem to suggest a film of two halves – the first purposefully similar to the original as Ryan Gosling’s Officer K pounds the rain-slick sidewalks of LA, on the trail of a mysterious criminal. Jared Leto’s Wallace feels very much the progeny of Dr. Tyrell, and shots of freshly-birthed replicants sliding from protective sheeting suggest a similar sequence of mini-boss fights as K edges closer to the true villain of the piece.
And then there’s the trip out to track down Deckard, now a recluse living in a sandstorm-obliterated outer limits (which feels a clear nod to our present day climate change difficulties). The suggestion of a conspiracy that could upend the world as we know it. And a fight scene with Dave Bautista that needs to drop a Batista Bomb or I am straight out that damn door.
The film could go either way. 2017 Ghost in the Shell may have got there first with its rendition of a city of the future, all gigantic hologram adverts and lasagne-layer slums, but the key element here is Ridley Scott. Again, his credentials speak for themselves – BAFTAs, Emmys, Academy Awards and Golden Globes across a 40-year career making movies. yet among that is a troubling sense of ownership of the worlds his movies create – his stewardship of the Alien franchise has given us two distressingly weak movies, yet he seems impervious to the criticism of them. For every Gladiator, a Hannibal. To Thelma & Louise, a Robin Hood. Were he still attached, I have no doubt how the film would have ended up – a purposefully abstract mess of reheated ideas and concepts, and a third Act full of intelligent characters doing boneheaded things in the service of the plot.
Instead, we have Denis Villenueve, a relative newcomer to big picture entertainment but with a proven record of making intelligent, mature stories with all the ingredients required in the mix for Blade Runner. Noir stylings, antiheroes and femme fatales, questions of identity, crime versus order and, in 2016’s Arrival, a demonstrable vision for delivering high-concept ideas in accessible, memorable ways. The forthcoming Dune retelling feels very safe in his hands, even if adapting such a mammoth work is far from an enviable task.
Scott may have lost his edge to many commentators, with the success of The Martian his only real critical success of the last ten years, and so much as the Star Wars franchise is benefitting tremendously from prising it away from George Lucas, so too should Blade Runner deliver the goods with a fresh director behind the lens. We could look at the Star Wars prequel trilogy’s damage to the brand in the same way as Prometheus, Alien Covenant and the planned follow-up will do for the xenomorphs. And let’s not forget, neither Alien nor Blade Runner were works Scott had any hand in writing.
Sometimes, the best thing a creator can do for their work is to let it go. Allow it to find its way into the hands of other minds, and see what new delights they can infuse it with. With a little luck, Blade Runner 2049 may send a message that could also save Alien from creative extinction, before it too is lost, in time, like tears in rain.
Do you feel Blade Runner 2049 is worthy or folly? Are you looking forward to it? Let us know!