In 1982, Ridley Scott brought to the screen a vision of the future that changed the way we looked at science fiction cinema forever. Blade Runner was loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, stripping out most of the philosophical and social commentary of Dick’s work and replacing it with a Film Noir approach and visual storytelling that hinted at the depths of the novel, but never quite reached them.
It was a deliberately-paced film, lacking in humanity. Even the main character, Rick Deckard – played by Harrison Ford with a delicate mix of soullessness and potential nervous breakdown – seemed less human than the Replicants (genetically-engineered slaves) he was brought out of retirement to exterminate. Needless to say, it flopped at the box office.
But it was resurrected by science fiction fans and film critics alike and is now generally considered to be one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. Despite some people thinking it is boring as fuck.
This past weekend, Scott and director Denis Villeneuve return to the world of Blade Runner with Blade Runner 2049, set thirty years after the original film and starring Ryan Gosling alongside Harrison Ford who reprises his role of Deckard. Here are some of the Psycho Drive-In All-Stars with their takes on the new film in relation to the original.
The love for cinema can be a lonely thing.
Oh sure, we all know the blockbusters. We could talk about Tom Cruise and just about everyone would nod their head at what makes a Tom Cruise movie: a cocky infallible hero, often with father issues, who ends up doing a lot of running. There could be endless chatter about Harrison Ford, too. The man, and some of the characters he’s played, are pretty much movie legends now. I mean, who doesn’t know Han Solo or Indiana Jones? Everyone from geeky teenagers to boring old housewives could have the same conversation about intergalactic smugglers or unlikely archaeologists. We all know that Han really shot first and that the scene where Indy blasts the big dude with the sword was an improvisation because Ford had dysentery. It’s common knowledge and pretty much universal appreciation.
But bring up Rick Deckard and BLADE RUNNER? Oh, hell no.
I used to have a kind of cinematic litmus test for anyone in whom I had a romantic interest. It wasn’t looks, hair color, or even political affiliations that made the grade. It was if the lovely lass could hang with me through a viewing of Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece. It was if her eyes were still open through those long, ponderous scenes of Harrison Ford scanning photos for hints about where to find the Replicants he’d been charged with retiring. It was if she too felt like Deckard being unable to wipe Rachel out of existence was just about the most romantic thing you could ever imagine. It was if her heart was similarly exhilarated, and then promptly broken, by those final scenes between Deckard and the most deadly Replicant, Roy Batty, brought to life by a never-better Rutger Hauer. These were the things that determined for me whether I should bother to fall in love with her.
But no one ever passed the test.
Of course, many tried valiantly, and some even seemed elated by the end of the film. But I knew it was really just because they were so goddamn glad that the movie was finally over. Most folks who have seen the original film, even those who really enjoyed it, remember it as a very long movie that didn’t move very fast. It was true that Scott and his editing team were not as concerned about pacing as they were about creating a world that seemed completely real, as in, futuristic, yet still dirty and seedy enough to ring true. But, no matter which one of the four existing versions of the film you saw, each one was still only about 117 minutes long. So, while I understood where my date’s objections came from (and the complaints of most critics at the time), I knew we just weren’t seeing the same thing, either on the screen, in the film, or probably in life itself.
Therefore, if I ever wanted to have another serious relationship, a meaningful date, or maybe even pointless sex with someone who claimed to love movies, I had to lower my standards in regard to this film. I had to give up on finding a shared love for all things Blade Runner in my love relationships. Anything else just meant a life spent alone.
Then I heard, in an interview with Ridley Scott, that the world of the Blade Runner would be coming back again. Oh, how it thrilled my poor, neglected heart to even consider such a thing, though I suspected there would be as much disappointment here as in almost everything else I once loved. Deckard would return, he said, and the Replicants would still be running amok. This was all too good to be true. The impression I had was that Scott himself would be taking the directorial reins again, which was another kind of emotional erection. Sure, his most recent efforts hadn’t thrilled me nearly as much as his early work, but this was still the same guy who made ALIEN, THELMA AND LOUISE, and, to a somewhat lesser degree, GLADIATOR. The skills were all still there, no matter how dormant they might appear to be now. Then I saw ALIEN: COVENANT and nearly all of my expectations were crushed.
But it wasn’t going to be Scott directing. It was this guy Denis Villeneuve, who had done a cool little foreign flick called INCENDIES that I picked up a few years ago. Then he did that PRISONERS movie, where Wolverine was just a regular parent ready to kill someone to save his child. That had some pretty intense moments. And there was SICARIO, which was just as good as a few people were saying it was. THE ARRIVAL didn’t get me as much as even more critics said it would, but I could definitely see in this guy’s style, approach, and even pacing, that he might have the chops to do some justice to my cinematic memories of 1982. So, with great reservations based on the knowledge that love and movies both are made up of almost nothing but disappointment, I allowed myself that one tiny, almost expectant flicker of hope.
I’ve been in a solid, reliable relationship for many years now, with someone who had already established that she didn’t really care that much for Ridley Scott, and especially not for BLADE RUNNER. Therefore, even when she saw the same trailers that I did, commenting that it looked really good and not at all like the first one, I knew she might not be the best movie date for the new one. Instead, a longtime friend who loved the original and its director enough to actually name his first child Ridley, he would be my cinematic companion. His film knowledge surpasses mine by a mile, his critical chops are top-notch, and I figured, as a married man with three kids, he had experienced as much disappointment and heartbreak in life as I had, if not more. We would, I figured, be of a like mind in seeing BLADE RUNNER 2049, both of us hopeful and appreciative, but probably pretty skeptical. Plus, as it turns out, he was paying for the movie, which is a good thing when love has made you as broke as it’s made me.
So the lights went down in the theater and slowly rose on the screen.
And, oh damn.
As with the first glimpse of a futuristic Los Angeles back in 1982, the opening shot of the same city now is just breathtaking. As our new hero, a Replicant Blade Runner by the name of K, flies above L.A. toward his destination, it is the burnt-out and polluted remnants of the civilization we know. It’s not the same exact place from Scott’s movie. Instead, it’s the same place it would have become in the actual real-life amount of time that’s passed between that film and this one. It was nothing short of amazing – beautiful even in its bleak destruction – and, just like the first time we saw it so long ago, completely convincing. There was none of the usual glittering sci-fi cleanliness on display here. It was just like the world Scott created back in the day, where all progress is hidden beneath layers of corruption, grime, and bad weather. You know, like the world we actually live in, but just a few decades on from now.
Then there’s Ryan Gosling. He’s a perfectly decent actor, capable of doing good work, though I’ve never been thoroughly wowed by anything I’ve seen. Through no fault of his own, he’s got those pretty-boy good looks and a heartthrob status (that I don’t think he even wants) which kind of interferes with him totally disappearing into a role. Lots of our most famous movie stars have the same problem of not being to shake their own star power long enough to convince us in the movies. With a few exceptions, Tom Cruise is the prime example, and even Harrison Ford is like this. Ford is always going to be Han Solo, or maybe Indiana Jones, except when he’s convincing me that he’s Rick Deckard.
Well, Gosling convinced me that he was not only a Replicant (albeit one who possibly has a soul), but a Replicant employed to track down other Replicants as a Blade Runner. There is a surface chill there, but with genuine emotion lurking just beneath, enough to make you question what he might actually be. He definitely has both the weariness and swagger of the android-hunter down in his performance, and he wears the clothes like Ford did in ’82. It’s hard not to look at him and see shades of the same character, though he’s not at all. While he and the movie itself are paying lots of homage to the original, they’ve got their own thing going on too. Critics of the original, including every woman I’ve ever loved, said that it was a pretty cold and unemotional movie. I’ve never gotten that from it, but admit (at least until Rutger Hauer is holding the dove at the end, with all those tears in the rain) that you do have to project some of your own emotion into the film. Not so much with this one, for the emotion is definitely closer to the surface.
Like that one scene, where K is looking at the thing and sees the stuff (spoilers, eh?), and his face kinda twists all around and his eyes well up, but . . . subtly. Wow, man, that was some powerful acting for any movie, much less a science-fiction movie about artificial lives. I doubt it’ll bring any Oscar nods, since the Academy has a huge corncob up their asses about sci-fi and horror, but it definitely should.
Speaking of Oscar snobbery, Harrison Ford is here too. It takes a while to finally see Deckard again, though I figured it would. While it all ties in and connects to him, it isn’t really a movie about him, after all. Kinda like FURY ROAD was still about Mad Max, yet not really. It was cool to see Han Solo again in the last Star Wars flick, but it still felt like he was showing up just for the fans, or maybe to finally kill off the character that Ford had wanted dead for the past three movies. But his appearance here is a totally necessary one for the new story, and Ford pulls it off masterfully. He manages to look both younger than he did in his last appearance as Solo and somehow more world-weary as the retired Blade Runner who’s gone into hiding. While neither Gosling nor he are fountains of blubbering emotion, each in his way is the emotional center of the film. Without hesitation, I can say that Ford pulls off some of his best acting in years.
And he has that great line about, “Sometimes, if you love someone, you’ve gotta be a stranger.”
There is no Roy Batty. Though there is great sadness in much of this film, there is no beautifully mournful final scene with the dove flying into the air in slow-mo while he bows his head and expires, at least not in the same exact way. But I had hoped there wouldn’t be. Maybe because a director and a couple writers (one of them, Hampton Fancher, who also co-wrote the original film) have finally figured out that some of us don’t always want a direct repeat of the same movie we loved. We want elements of it, sure, and themes maybe, but not the same plot over and over again.
So the main Replicant badass is a female, and she’s definitely not serving the same role. And Jared Leto is here as well, playing a character somewhere between Batty and his creator, Tyrell, from the first film. He’s a decent actor, too, when he tries but not too hard, and his role is one that could definitely be expanded in the future. For there have been rumors, you see, since that interview with Ridley Scott, that this might not be the only time we return to this world. While critical reception has been good, much better than it was in 1982, the opening box office scores have not been spectacular. Like the original film, this one won’t be for everyone. Most people don’t really like a slower pace, nor can they find the same kind of beauty in sadness and desolation that freaks like me do.
But I didn’t just like it. I absolutely loved it. I loved the way it looks and I loved the way it sounds, with that score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. Not so much a score as a soundscape, a deep bass that howled through my body as my eyes soared above the city and into the lives of characters both real and synthetic. I loved the characters and the story, and I loved that we were ever allowed to return to this world in the first place. It was everything I dared not hope that it could be. It was probably even better than falling in love.
I turned to my friend as the credits started to roll, wondering if he felt the same. He just nodded his head. “Damn good movie,” he said, and I knew I wasn’t alone.
— John E. Meredith
There are a lot of corpses in this movie. Not just the skin-jobs the runners take down, either. Agent K is already dead, living a life with only virtual companionship and no status in a miserable miasma of urban approbation. Edward James Olmos’ Gaff is near death, visited for information in a retirement home and nearly stealing the whole film in a powerful cameo. Ford is of course much older, and with the gravitas necessary to energize his scenes (many of which are action, and as usual he’s right in the middle), but he’s been the walking dead for a long time.
This film isn’t really about the action, it’s about the slow crawl. It’s about awe. Maybe the lack of it, maybe a self-satisfied parody of it, maybe about the hope for the dead world that used to be all around them. Only the things that are revealed are only echoes of the past, or illusions at a price. The wonders of LA are now enhanced by giant dancing girls borrowed from Japan. The mysteries of Las Vegas are covered under a haze of dry sand and giant girls on all fours from A Clockwork Orange. There are icy wastes of snow in the north, and no unicorns or green fields to be found anywhere anymore. Farming might as well be on Tatooine, and involves raising protein grubs. Other sequences take us to the detritus fields of Mad Max and Furiosa. If we blink we might see a smarter Priss, a spookier Zhora, or an even more mad scientist than Tyrell.
It’s everything we’ve seen before, blown up so big it’s become hollow and generically obvious. Niander rages about the need for synthetic armies, but kills at the least imperfection. The fembot in this film is impressive, but only in her homicidal ruthlessness. And the actual corpses that are revived, while worthy of their paychecks, take us down dead-end paths. The Vangelis score is by far the most consistent zombie, made to serve every knew scene of artificial life and glittering holo-tech in ways that exhaust its suggestive value. Where before we felt Rachel’s misery as she sadly played a piano theme, here the keys only hide secrets. Where once quasi-1930s ballads hinted at ancient history and futuristic style, now we get Sinatra and Elvis.
The film does have a nice one of those scenes where the hero goes to visit a wise woman in a forest. Whether it’s Will Smith or Tom Cruise, these sorts of movies always do. And her significance does have a special weight in the plot, but getting there and back is slow and ponderous, a closed loop that only hints at something more.
Shawn’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
— Shawn Hill
It’s confession time, dear reader. I do not love Blade Runner. In fact, I find it to be overrated and then some. I’ll freely admit that it’s been an extremely influential science fiction work and its noir-soaked depiction of a cyberpunk future has been the starting point for cinematic storytelling in that vein for decades. It’s got merits but I find the real merits to be its amazing use of production design, special effects, and the establishment of an overall atmosphere. It has some big ideas, yes, but it doesn’t know what to do with them, neglecting them for a slapdash story with some so-so acting. Rutger Hauer’s soulful yet doomed Replicant should have been our central perspective. I wish I enjoyed the film more but I cannot attach myself without nagging reservation, and that’s not even accounting Ridley Scott’s numerous re-edits and the harebrained idea to imply that Harrison Ford was really a Replicant after all even though that runs counter to the logic and themes of the film and Scott had to splice in unused unicorn footage from a movie he shot years later, thus proving this new twist ending was never part of anyone’s original story conceit. Anyway, what I’m saying is that the 1982 Blade Runner was not going to be an impossible hurdle to clear as far as I was concerned. The sequel 35 years in the making, Blade Runner 2049, is a better and more accomplished film experience and film story than the original, and it’s also one of the best, most visionary movies of the year.
Set in 2049, Replicants have been shuttered and replaced with a new breed of android slave labor controlled by the enigmatic Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). He’s after a very special kind of Replicant, one that will lead to even greater success, allowing mankind to reach further out into the stars. Agent K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner who finds himself looking for this same special kind of Replicant. He must find it before Niander does and K’s journey of self takes him right to the doorstep of retired Blade Runner, Deckard (Ford).
Apologies for the frustratingly vague plot synopsis above, but I’m trying to keep things as relatively spoiler-free as possible because I think that will improve the overall viewing experience. In an age where trailers and TV advertisements tell us everything about a movie in a zealous attempt to get our butts in seats, I was genuinely surprised at significant plot beats the 2049 advertising had successfully and deliberately kept under wraps. There are intriguing plot turns and character moments that I want to leave the reader to discover on their own. It will be worth the wait.
Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) has created a filmgoing experience that immerses you in feeling. Every set, every little corner, every minor character goes toward enriching this world and making it feel real, like we’re just dropping in for a visit. He builds off the iconography from Scott in the first film and creates a future that is hypnotic and eerily beautiful, aided by the greatest living cinematographer, Roger Deakins. Seriously, if Deakins finally doesn’t win his long overdue Oscar for this, then the Academy is just never going to favor him. The visual landscapes of this movie are jaw-dropping and the use of lighting is gorgeous. There’s a late sequence set in an irradiated Las Vegas where an orange fog hovers over the empty landscape of earthly pleasures. There’s a hiding sequence that takes place in a casino showroom, with holographic dancers and even Elvis fritzing in and out, static movements and bursts of sound that make for a dream-like encounter. Another wonderful hypnotic sequence is a threesome between K, a prostitute, and a virtual intelligence (V.I.) named Joi (Ana de Armas). Reminiscent of Spike Jonze’s Her, the sequence has one woman literally folded over another as hands caress, mouths kiss, and the whole sequence has an alluring disconnect during the acts of physical intimacy. This is a gorgeous movie to simply take in and appreciate the sumptuous visual brilliance. Villeneuve has quickly become one of the best big-screen visual artists we have today.
What separates 2049 and makes it better than the original is that here is a film that takes big ideas and knows what to do with them. This is an intelligent film that finds time to develop its ideas and to linger with them. This is a long movie (2 hours 43 minutes, the longest film so far of 2017) and one that many will decry as boring. That’s because Villeneuve and screenwriters Michael Green (Alien: Covenant) and Hampton Fancher (Blade Runner) commit to allowing the movie time to breathe, and scenes can take on an elegant life of their own becoming something of stunning power. Take for instance a scene where K visits the women in charge of creating the false memories for Replicants. Because of an autoimmune disorder, her life is behind glass, but she gets to create her own world to thrive in, and as we watch her fine-tune the memory of a child’s birthday party while K asks her questions over her work. He has questions over the validity of memories, and this opens up a deep discussion over the concept of self, authenticity, and ownership over memory, all while still being character-based. It’s lovely. It’s like somebody saw the potential of the original Blade Runner and added the missing poetry.
2049 is driven by a central mystery but it’s also an exciting action movie. The sequences are few and far between but when they happen they too luxuriate in the extraordinary. The way the Replicants are able to move again bring up that visual disconnect that can be so pleasing. A Replicant-on-Replicant fight is like a sci-fi superhero brawl. Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks is our chief antagonist, Niander’s muscle on the outside. She might not have the languid magnetism of Daryl Hannah or playful philosophy of Hauer but she more than makes for a memorable and impressive physical force. The action and chase sequences are minimal, but when they do pop up Villeneuve doesn’t put the rest of the movie on pause. The characters are still important, the story is still important, and Deakin’s visual arrangements are vastly important. 2049 is a movie at its best when it’s still and meditative, savoring the moment, but it can also quicken your pulse when called.
Gosling (La La Land) is uniquely suited for this character, another in the legacy of Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe. His taciturn nature is essential to his character. This is a man going from day to day. His only emotional attachment is to Joi, the V.I. projection, and even that relationship is called into question knowing she is a product meant to serve. This relationship is given a healthy dose of ambiguity so that an audience never fully knows whether Joi genuinely cares or is just following the dictates of her programming. Gosling provides a quiet yet impactful turn as a man searching for answers. In the opening scene, Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2) plays an older Replicant that K must “retire.” Bautista says the difference between them is one of faith, as he has seen a miracle, and this allows him to believe in something greater. This opening interaction lays the foundation for K’s character arc, as he searches for his own faith. It’s not necessarily a spiritual faith per se but definitely a belief in a renewed hope.
Another aspect lovingly recreated is the trance-inducing synth score from Vangelis, this time cranked up all the way to eleven by composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Walfisch (It). It comes in like waves, blaring loudly to the point that you swear you can hear the theater’s speakers rattling. It’s omnipresent and oppressive and it’s so freaking loud. I challenge anybody to fall asleep in the theater and actually stay asleep.
Blade Runner 2049 is one of those rare sequels that not only justifies its existence but also improves upon its predecessor (again, not the biggest fan of Scott’s movie). It’s reverent to the older film and its film legacy while still charting a path all its own that it can stand upon. It takes a far more interesting narrative perspective to jump forward, possibly serving as a corrective to the original. I was fully engaged from the start as it challenged and entertained me to its concluding image of snowfall (oh no, spoilers!). This is a long movie but your patience pays off and then some. This is a deeper dive into the themes of author Phillip K. Dick and a better development of them. See it on as big a screen as possible, make sure to get your bathroom visits out of the way before it starts, and prepare for your eardrums to bleed from Zimmer’s blaring tones. Villeneuve has created a thoughtful, mature, exciting, and absorbing work of art that will stand the test of time. It won’t be as monumentally influential as the original Blade Runner but it is the better movie, and right now, in 2017, that’s a much more important factor for me as a viewer.
Nate’s Grade: A
— Nate Zoebl