When Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was first released in cinemas back in 1982, it was met with lukewarm reception critically and financially. With critics even calling it ‘Blade Crawler’ (a jab at the film’s pacing), as well as an uninspiring overall gross sitting at $33.8 million USD (against a production budget of $28 million USD). The theatrical cut of the film however, was heavily compromised due to studio meddling, altering many of its story elements and changing the film’s ending altogether, opting for a happy ending for the story instead.
The film has since garnered a strong cult following. Audiences were mesmerized by the world of Blade Runner and the timeless themes that it evoked, with many yearning for Scott’s original vision of the film to come to fruition. Finally, in 2007, the definitive version of the film titled Blade Runner: The Final Cut was released, the ultimate edition that was overseen by Scott himself. The final edition of the film was met with widespread critical acclaim, with many calling it one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made, cementing its status as a Neo-Noir classic.
In an era where Hollywood is increasingly dependent on endless sequels, spinoffs, and reboots, it is only inevitable that the Blade Runner series will follow suit. But there’s a difference between making a sequel because it needs to be made to ensure even more sequels/spinoffs down the line, as opposed to making a sequel because there’s a story to tell. And where does 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 fall between these categories?
Upon first glance, it is easy to assess Blade Runner 2049 as a disappointment. Over the weekend, Blade Runner 2049 opened to a mere $31.5 million USD domestically at the box office, a figure far below expectations and one that looks particularly upsetting when you start factoring in the film’s $150 million USD budget. However, does that mean that the latest entry in the Blade Runner series is a complete failure?
Blade Runner 2049 follows the story of its protagonist, a Los Angeles-based Blade Runner codenamed “K” (Ryan Gosling), tasked with the responsibility of ‘retiring’ replicants from the previous generation (bioengineered androids that are almost indistinguishable from humans). Following an otherwise routine mission, K stumbles upon a secret that, should it become known, could danger the fabric of the already vulnerable world. As K unravels the mystery in an effort to realize that there is someone who is at the center of it all, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who retired and vanished decades ago. It thus falls to K to track down Deckard and find out the truth before other competing force do.
Within the opening minutes of the film, Blade Runner 2049 is packed with breathtaking cinematography and ominous music. Director Denis Villeneuve perfectly captures the atmosphere of the neon-lit urban landscape that is famously informed in the original movie. However, instead of repeating what was done before, Villeneuve expands upon the mythology that was established in the original film, introducing new characters while also transporting audiences to various new locations and set pieces.
Like Blade Runner, everything about its sequel reeks slow-burning art film (which might put off audiences who crave for flashes and spectacles), and the performances of the film definitely compliments that, Gosling’s performance as a conflicted protagonist is beautifully captured in the nuance of his acting. Perhaps one of the most anticipated aspect of the film, is the return of Harrison Ford, who portrayed the protagonist of the first film. And boy, did Ford deliver, portraying a more seasoned but subtly more vulnerable Deckard.
Delving into themes like the nature of emotion, consciousness, and ultimately what it means to be human, emotions are often cold throughout the film. In a world where artificial beings instill more warmth than the flesh and blood surrounding them, Blade Runner 2049 dares the audience to question themselves on the authenticity of humanity. Much like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is an intricately crafted piece that pose philosophical questions in disguise of a visual feast of a film.
For those expecting a fast-paced Sci-Fi film with countless action sequences and explosions are bound to be disappointed, as they were sparsely used in the film. However, when they were utilized, they were used to elevate the tension of the film, increasing the conflict that the characters built throughout the film. Like Villeneuve’s previous directorial efforts, Blade Runner 2049 takes time with its pacing, clocking in at a runtime of 163 minutes, with many establishing shots of buildings, skylines, and long drawing sequences that centers around dialogue exchanged between characters. Instead of telling you the story, Blade Runner 2049 lures you into its world.
There are many reasons as to why the film struggles to gather momentum at the box office. Unlike Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or Jurassic World, which were crafted to be strong standalone movies that serves as an entry point for newcomers who hadn’t seen the previous entries, Blade Runner 2049 was clearly marketed as being a continuation for existing fans than it was a new story. It was playing to a niche target audience, essentially.
In summary, despite its unfortunate struggling at the box office, Blade Runner 2049 is a dazzling cinematic experience that deserves to be seen in the cinemas, taking its audience on a journey through its thought provoking story. Blade Runner 2049 feels like a natural progression for the series, as opposed to a calculated rehash of what has come before. Blade Runner 2049 manages to deliver what a great sequel should. Much like The Empire Strikes Back, or Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Blade Runner 2049 expands upon the legacy that was firmly established by the first film while delivering a compelling narrative.