Science Fiction Repair Shop: I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe!

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-06 23:00:00 No comments

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When I first heard word that a sequel to Blade Runner was in the offing, I rolled my eyes. The book sequels to Philip K. Dick's own Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? had been ... passable, I guess (if nothing else, K.W. Jeter mimed Dick's writing style with unnerving precision), but I always felt there was no particular reason to try and follow up something that was sui generis.

I didn't want a sequel to Blade Runner. I wanted something entirely new that would provide the same electric jolt as the original.

But we got a sequel anyway. And, to my surprise, the decisions made with it along the way began to turn my head.

One of the original screenwriters, Hampton Fancher, was involved; ditto Ridley Scott as a producer. It was the choice of director, though, that really changed my mind: Denis Villeneuve, of Arrival and Sicario and many other good-to-excellent films that had the kind of icy splendor well-suited to a movie in the BR-verse.

I'm not against these kinds of follow-ups, in principle. It's just that most of the time they are motivated entirely by cynicism and greed, not by the urgency of storytelling. But Blade Runner is an odd duck in that respect; it wasn't a moneymaker, but it did cut a swath miles wide through the landscape of SF on film (and pop culture in general). So if they were going to make a follow-up of some kind, it would either have to be motivated by real need, or it would end up being as horrible and disposable a project as The Blues Brothers 2000.

Whatever the motives, I figured at some point I would watch BR'49, if only out of morbid curiosity. But it wasn't morbid curiosity that brought me to the first 7:00 showing on Thursday night at my local megamultiplex; it was genuine excitement, built by the sense that the people involved were not slumming it. By the time I walked out, that excitement had been replaced with the best kind of surprise, the kind where you say to yourself (to paraphrase a character in the film), "Now you've seen a miracle."

That said, I think it would be a bad idea to use BR'49 as an absolute model to follow — that just because Villeneuve & Cie. followed one classic with another, any other classic can be followed up on with enough sweat. I have to regard this movie as a happy aberration, and not as a blueprint, because the minute you start thinking about it as a blueprint, it becomes all the easier to not do the thing I mentioned at the top of this post — look for the genuinely new thing and create that, instead of capitalizing on the old new thing.

Still, this is a tremendous piece of work. So I won't spoil anything, I hope, by saying a few things directly about the film itself:

  • There are many ways the movie builds directly on the back of its predecessor — direct call-backs, certain characters referenced or presented or made part of the story. But it stands very much on its own, and moves into territory not even hinted at by the first film. (If humans use replicants for emotional satisfaction, what do replicants use?) You won't miss too much if you haven't seen the first film, but it will be useful.
  • There is never a moment when what is presented is not entirely convincing. It feels less like a movie creation and more like a very carefully photographed travelogue of places a camera simply hasn't been to before. In other words, we know what we're seeing can't exist in the real world, but it doesn't matter; it's too realistic otherwise.
  • The original film had a more straightforward story. This one introduces a twist or two, but they are derived from everything we see, and not imposed on the material gratuitously. That in part contributes to its longer running time (2h20± vs. 2h±).
  • Three characters from the original film make appearances. One is on the poster. One is nodded towards in the Blade Runner Blackout 2022 short film. The third ... the less said, the better.
  • Vangelis's score, arguably one of the finest ever made for any movie, is nodded towards and directly used several times. There, it was more jazzy/bluesy; here, it's more atonal. (I think one of the motifs was in fact an atonal version of the opening-credits theme.) I prefer the original score, but the new one is nothing to dismiss.
  • The movie absolutely deserves to be seen on a large screen. That said, one of the problems with seeing the movie in a theater is an annoying overuse of sub-bass effects. Once or twice was fine; but to have the entire theater shake on every single slam cut was annoying. (Maybe the theater was just miscalibrated?)
  • A door has been left open, in however tiny a way, for more stories in this universe.
  • There are a couple of moments that made my heart absolutely ache.
  • I think Phil Dick would have been proud.

Tags: Blade Runner Denis Villeneuve Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Repair Shop movies science fiction