Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Hampton Fancher and Michael Green; story byHampton Fancher; based on characters from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Cinematographer: Roger A. Deakins
Producer: Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Bud Yorkin, and Cynthia Sikes Yorkin
by Jon Cvack
I haven’t seen the original Blade Runner (1982) since college, and while it was a pretty good film, I remember wondering what the big deal was. The world was vivid, the characters were interesting, yet for a film that has been revered as one of the finest sci-fi films ever created, I was left disappointed. Of course the first thing people tell me when I this is to watch the Director’s Cut, which I was about to do until I couldn’t find the disc, with even Amazon having a six week delay and charging $30.00 for the Blu Ray. However, with Denis Villeneuve behind the director’s chair I was thrilled to see this movie, confident that if anyone could continue, or in my case improve the world, it would be this guy. He has continually pushed his abilities with each film he does, and while I also didn’t really like Arrival it was clear that Villeneuve was on track for great things and Blade Runner 2049 came pretty close to maximizing that potential.
A book that most aspiring filmmakers read is "Shot by Shot" by Steven D. Kartz which includes a storyboarded scene from the original script that was cut from the film - which Villeneuve recreates shot for shot (or so I’ve read and would have to confirm, though is strikingly similar to what I remember). Replicant “K” (Ryan Gosling) lands his police cruiser in the foggy farm fields in order to hunt down another rogue replicants. For those who don’t know (cause I couldn’t remember), in the future enslaved robots were bioengineered to have as many of the same features as humans, varying from an ability to blink to an ability to bleed, with some becoming self-aware, going rogue, and leaving other replicants to hunt them down. These hunters were called Blade Runners.
The first thing you notice is the meticulous production design, with the wardrobe and props having an unbelievable amount of detail. I had read Shot by Shot many times while growing up, and though I hadn’t picked up the book in years, everything I watched seemed strangely familiar - the bizarre farm equipment, the dark and lonely house, and especially the tea kettle. I didn’t know the reference going into the film and was surprised to see it, with that strange familiarity suddenly making sense. While the scene itself was far from the most inspired idea (a fight breaks out between the detective as he tries to detain the rogue), and yet it was how it was done, with each shot looking flawlessly designed, providing an endearing throwback to Ridley Scott, which opens all kinds of questions and fun thoughts as to how filmmakers could take an older generation’s work and honor by incorporating it with all of their own skill and craft.
After the fight, K discovers a coffin buried beneath an old, dead tree, containing a rogue with a foetus inside. He reports the information back to his superior Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) who orders him to destroy the evidence, professing how disastrous it’d be for the world.
There was a recent article in The Atlantic that mentioned how few sci-fi films are continuing its foundational mission to imagine a world far into the future. The many comic book and Star Wars franchises, being dependent on older properties and universes, are inherently limited in scope, as veering too far from the base material risks what has made them successful. The only element that ultimately changes and improves in the films is the technology used to make them. When I look up the best sci-fi movies of the 2010s what I get is Looper (2012), Interstellar (2014), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), etc. and while all of these films are great, few of them have portrayed anything particularly new or insightful about the future they inhabit. The movie that’s best advanced this conversation was Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) and possibly The Martian (2015: though The Martian is more of a modern day film, taking place just a few years into the future). Everything else I look up fails to really examine where the world would be and what that would mean for humanity. Think of what The Matrix (1999) did - and still does - for the genre and the general conversation about man and machine’s relationship.
The thing I think I might have missed when I first watched Blade Runner is the comparison between any marginalized group versus those in power. I can imagine a world where one day people from all types of backgrounds could live in relative peace, and while I think it’ll take far longer than thirty years, it does open the question: if we ever achieve a tolerant world, should we extend that same tolerance to machines who develop consciousness? It’s such a generic idea and yet it as a robot in China gains citizenship, Boston Dynamics invents robots that scale obstacles, run, and can work in warehouses, AI is increasingly developing and replacing low skills jobs, and soon it seems such machines - whether drones or robots - could be ubiquitous. In which case - should they achieve self-awareness, what rights should they ultimately have, especially if they’re far more intelligent and powerful than any human being?
Continue to Part 2...
BELOW: Pretty close to what was storyboarded by Ridley over two decades prior
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