Blade Runner has always been my favourite film since I first saw and became intrigued by its iconic trailer way back in 1982.
All that swirling smoke glowing through the mysterious gloom; Rachel’s glacial deportment and exquisite wardrobe; the swivel of an owl’s head and subsequent insouciant blink of its eye; but most of all dour, brooding Deckard prowling through LA’s perpetual crepuscular light.
The film didn’t disappoint either. I’d already read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And Ridley Scott’s motion picture preserved enough of the original story and its dystopian essence to make me feel I wasn’t being fobbed off with a whitewashed version. Yet, as everyone who saw it way back then before proper mobiles, the web, Whatsapp and droids became commonplace will tell you, what was most important was the way it looked and its incorporation of new technologies (flying cars, video phones, eye-scanning telemetry) into everyday lives.
Gone was the clean, flash, gleaming, Brave New World, 1950s version of the future. Instead, we got an image of a society slowly decaying into a noisy, dirty, untidy trash heap – cast aside while those who could, headed out to a brighter future off-world.
And I kept on loving the film through all its incarnations – with and without Deckard’s voiceover – through the Director’s Cut and 25th anniversary Final Cut.
And so coming to Blade Runner 2049 I felt conflicted – on one hand the omens were good with Harrison Ford back online, that most enigmatic of actors Ryan Gosling co-starring and director Denis Villeneuve, who had literally taken my breath away with Sicario and Arrival, at the helm. But, then again, could it ever live up to Blade Runner, or more importantly, my memories of Blade Runner when I first fell in love with it at a particularly momentous period of my young adult life?
The answer is both yes and no.
Set 30 years after its predecessor, it is even more visually stunning, magnificent, iconic and arresting. Los Angeles continues to drown in a never-ending drizzle, the pacific coast now protected by a huge sea wall against which the climate-changed ocean relentlessly crashes. Our new young blade runner, K (Gosling) employed by the LAPD, has advanced technology in the form of a detachable drone that deploys from his flying squad car’s roof and a beautiful (if virtual) AI girlfriend (Ana de Armas) waiting for him at home.
Later in the film the action switches to a deserted Las Vegas, now turned into a parched, arid landscape where the mega-hotels lie in piles of rubble and Deckard (Harrison Ford) is holed up among the empty penthouses and show halls, fuzzy holograms of Marilyn and Elvis playing to an audience of one. It is a scene both desolate and yet not full of despair because the mystery that has brought K on Deckard’s trail (and which the film’s makers have asked us not to divulge) holds a spark of hope for a very different future.
The film’s themes are timeless and huge; where are we going? What is it to be human? Can machines love? Can memory be trusted? And they are played out at a slow-burn pace that allows the audience to experience and savour every nuance and detail. Water plays a huge part in the movie’s DNA, making it resonate like ripples on a still pond and constantly reflect images back to the viewer.
It is an awesome thing, crafted with love, care and precision by Villeneuve and his team (especially director of photography Roger Deakins). It will surely become a cinematic classic as did the original. And yet, for me there is still a faint, almost untraceable, but. I watched with fascination and with admiration and a growing conviction that this is an important movie in an age where most science fiction films are of the trashy space opera mould.
But I don’t think it can ever be as important as the original was, well not for me at least. Because I’m not the same person at that pivotal moment in my life and the world is not in the same place. At times I felt I was watching an exquisitely beautiful glass paperweight; patterns and reflections caught inside for me to admire, but at one remove. Out of my reach forever, a bit like Roy Batty’s untraceable tears in the rain.