Blade Runner 2049: More than a Tribute, More than a Sequel

BY MARSHALL McCANN                                   ONLINE CONTRIBUTOR

In a high school film course, my teacher brought a Blade Runner VHS tape to class. He sat down on a desk and held the tape in the air. “This is one of the greatest films of all time.”, he proclaimed. All of us groaned. He had said the same thing the week about an independent noir film that was a thematic nightmare and displayed some pretty unpleasant sex scenes. He slid Blade Runner into a VHS player hooked up to one of those massive roll-in TVs and the film began. Now, I knew who Ridley Scott was before I watched Blade Runner because I had seen Alien, Matchstick Men, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. Most people do- he’s been in the industry forever and has been a part of most films that people widely consider as classics. So, when I saw his name pop up as the director, I paid far greater attention to the TV.

What initially captivated me were the intricacies of this futuristic world the film offered. Despite the limits of filmmaking technology in 1982, the details of the film carried a sort of inclusion and reality to it. Surpassing the film’s aesthetics was how the story was communicated—so much was visual, so much was left for the viewer to interpret. I left the class that day more bewitched by the camera than ever before. Fast forward five years and a sequel arrives. Denis Villeneuve, a French-Canadian director, captained the effort to revive the cult classic with another Canadian, Ryan Gosling, as the lead role. I had no doubt the aesthetic would be present. It would be hard to imagine that with today’s expansive technology (and Ryan Gosling’s undeniably solid performances) they would not be able to recreate or enhance the signature Blade Runner world. The aesthetics of the original film are famous for their pseudo-noir style and its sort of electric futurism. There are no doubt expectations from critics that those very aesthetics to be sustained.

However, I was more interested in the story. How was Villeneuve going to create a continuation of such a classic? Not to mention, the original Blade Runner was sort of wrapped up and tied with a bow to make things all pretty at the end. The audience had been lead to believe that the protagonist had found peace, or so it seemed. Despite this seemingly concrete ending, Blade Runner: 2049 created something thematically separate from the original film, yet aesthetically related. The sequel felt like it was of the same world and of a related story, yet still played by its own rules and was not limited by the previous narrative. Throughout the film, I was searching for answers just as the characters were. The moment I believed I knew something, the script flipped upside down and ideas ran awry. As I had presumed as well, its visuals and auditory aspects were hauntingly beautiful. I was eerily taunted by the colours, the characters and the diverse sounds. Loud booms filled the theatre on seemingly peaceful moments to depict the sort of technological disarray of the protagonist’s environment. Neon scattered across a blanket of smog and snow. At each moment, there was something on screen that engaged the viewer. I left the theatre satisfied—still thinking of the robust narrative and the gorgeous visuals. I have read headlines that this film is not receiving much viewership from younger audiences which I find so peculiar. I like it in the way I like Black Mirror and Stranger Things- it’s that sort of science-fiction that removes you from reality for a short time to introduce you to a different and exciting new world. It is entertaining as a viewer, inspiring as a filmmaker, and offers some considerations for the near future in reference to the progression of technology and the condition of our environment.