With the release of the sequel to my favourite film of all time, having a discussion on what Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 means to the film industry felt important to me. Money is an underlying factor when it comes to making films, that for sequels to happen a film must make a nice profit. Yet Blade Runner as a franchise goes against this, with the studio spending upwards of $150 million to create a sequel to a financially unsuccessful original. Both films weren’t made for big profits and a long line of sequels – they were made out of passion for the medium, and as a vehicle to truly shake-up the Sci-fi genre, the meaning of originality, and what it means to be a filmmaker.
This article will touch on some spoilers from the original, but you will be safe for those hoping to see Blade Runner 2049 – I still recommended seeing Blade Runner: The Final Cut before seeing the sequel. Ridley Scott’s original is infamous for the trouble involved in production, from the terrible voice-over to the out of place conclusion – perfection was present, but spliced with confusing mediocrity. In 2007 The Final Cut was released, free from studio interference – it was Scott’s true vision of this world. Greeted by a set of rolling text, we are followed by a sprawling shot of this dystopian and desperate future of LA. This sets up a consistent relationship across both movies, the immaculate cinematography complimented by this ominous, haunting soundtrack – I’ve rarely seen two films execute this so well, leaving you shivering in awe of what your eyes are witnessing, it is true art.
When I watched Blade Runner originally, I thought Harrison Ford was atrocious at acting, and it took me repeat viewings to realise the actual direction of his performance. A central theme of both films, especially the sequel, is what does it mean to be a human, and who is truly human – with this, Ford’s character of Deckard is the personification of this question. Deckard is a blade runner, who hunts down replicants, but his blank and mundane personality contrasts that of those he hunts who exert bombastic and colourful expressions throughout the film. Scott ties the movie close with symbolism, and the use of origami, lighting, and set design tell as much a story as the actions and dialogue of the characters. Interpreting symbolism is subjective and should encourage debate, so do question me on this if you think I’m wrong.
One of my favourite connections between both films was the contrast and similarities between Tyrell and Wallace. Tyrell in the original created the replicants, and he lived in this pyramid structure amongst the rest of the city – he resembled a God who gave new meaning to life. By the end of Blade Runner, Tyrell is ironically (SPOILER) killed by his own creation, Roy Batty – who disturbingly gouges his eyes out. Comparing this to the current situation when we start Blade Runner 2049, we see that the collapse of the Tyrell Corporation allowed the rise of the Wallace Corporation. Visually, as a character, Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace shares an uncanny resemblance to that of Jesus Christ, and further to this we see that Wallace restarted and innovated the production of replicants, saving their race – he is their saviour and this rebirth led to a new period of expansion for the human race as they found new colonies off Earth. Wallace represents this Messiah for everyone. Wallace is blind, and this reflects the gouging event from the original Blade Runner. Even if we look at where Wallace resides, we can see the dormant Tyrell corporation being towered over by an even larger complex that seems to tower up to the heavens. This symbolism of religion is littered throughout both movies, and it enhances the experience – while I may have only seen the sequel once so far, it is safe to say that the overload of visual and vocal storytelling requires multiple viewings before you can fully digest both films.
The world of Blade Runner is so rich that we could have a host of sequels and spin-offs, but will we? Considering box office figures, probably not, unless China proves me wrong. And this is a total shame. With the amount of money poured into Blade Runner 2049, it provides the audience with some of the best set and sound design this year, and often leaves you lost in the world. Facilitating a risky sequel to a film that was released in 1982, especially one that didn’t perform well, is a bold move that deserves reward from audiences. It is hard to describe the effect both films have had; if we look at the original Blade Runner, it inspired so many individuals to get involved in film, Blade Runner inspired the likes of Ghost in the Shell, and the Matrix to be made. It even proved a favourite for the director of Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve. The original Blade Runner, even with its blemishes, was able to inspire a generation of directors and writers, so it begs the question of what we will see in years to come after people see the sequel. The failure at the box office represents the current makeup of general audiences, and that audiences don’t want to be left contemplating during a film, they just want things to unfold on screen and they don’t have to think about what that may mean for our characters or our plot.
Both Blade Runner films represent a different stream of thinking, that movies shouldn’t be self-contained, that it shouldn’t be a two-hour experience and that’s it, you walk out of the cinema and feel you’re done. These films are something where your feelings change when you think about it again. Neither film is about the sum of its parts, it is about the story each part has to tell – whether that’s the lighting in a particular scene, the symbolism used in relation to eyes, or the set design to tell us the makeup of society in this world – the list goes on, but this isn’t a simple affair. I have no doubt that Blade Runner 2049 will influence the coming generation of filmmakers like its predecessor, but it seems to be meeting a similar fate where the general public refuses to see it regardless of critical acclaim, and that is a true shame, as it is the best film of this year in my eyes without a doubt. The future for Blade Runner as a franchise is clouded right now, but this likely represents a stopping point, and both films in the series will likely be forever known as these cult classics that shouldn’t have happened considering their budgets. But their impact on those willing to create worlds like that of this dystopian planet will be felt for an amount of time none of us can measure – they will be timeless.