Entry updated 6 May 2022. Tagged: Film.
Film (2017). Columbia Pictures with Warner Bros and Alcon Entertainment presents a Scott Free Productions film in association with Torridon Films, 16:14 Entertainment and Thunderbird Films. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, based on characters from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) by Philip K Dick. Cast includes Hiam Abbass, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Sylvia Hoeks, Carla Juri, Jared Leto, Edward James Olmos, Robin Wright and Sean Young. 163 minutes. Colour.
California's future Dystopia came true: the crumbling Cities, freak weather conditions and hoi polloi held in thrall to corporate Technology that formed the visual language of Blade Runner (1982) so affected the development of Cyberpunk and the everyday depiction of Climate Change in the media that it hardly seemed possible for director Denis Villeneuve, fresh from the commercial and critical success of Arrival (2016), and producer Ridley Scott, whose detailed understanding of the first film shows in every frame of this, to live up to the cultural impact of Blade Runner. That they have done so by reprising Blade Runner's pictorial verve rather than by extending its Conceptual Breakthrough can hardly be considered a failure.
The Wallace Corporation, led by Niander Wallace (Leto), bought up intellectual property of the bankrupt Tyrell Corporation after the events of the first film and has used this Cybernetic research to construct a new generation of replicants trained to obey human controllers by using an automated clearing system superficially similar to that used in Dianetics. "Every leap of civilization was built off the back of a disposable workforce," cyber-eyed Mad Scientist Wallace intones from his corporate Keep amid the ravaged urban wilderness of twenty-first century Los Angeles. An underground movement of older-model replicants wants its freedom, however, and the assimilation of other replicants bound in Slavery into the society that relies on their labour for the Colonization of Other Worlds. K's investigation into the movement leads him to a protein-farm run by rogue replicant Sapper Morton (Bautista), where he finds the remains of a female replicant which forensic analysis reveals to have died in childbirth. "Replicants are the future but I can only make so many," says Wallace, identifying the remains of bespoke model Rachael (Young) from the first film as the means by which he might retrofit later-generation replicants to the conditions of human Biology.
"Am I the only one who can see the fucking sense, here?" asks K's boss at the Los Angeles Police Department, Lieutenant Joshi (Wright): "This breaks the world, K." "The ancient models give the entire endeavour a bad name," says Wallace's corporate enforcer and later-model replicant Luv (Hoeks). This is the way mid-twenty first century Earth is organized: cops, renegades and production units. Any production unit that goes renegade is "retired" (i.e. murdered) by a Blade Runner, itself a production unit of a system of Crime and Punishment that exists to protect the commercial interests of the Corporations. The tripartite power structure mirrors the Subhuman/Protagonist/Übermensch methodology of mid-era Philip K Dick, which Dick himself laid out in a long letter to fellow sf writer Ron Goulart in the summer of 1964: "The entire dramatic line of the book hinges on the impact between [the Übermensch] and [the Subhuman]," Dick is quoted as writing to Goulart in Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick (1989), "... the personal problem of [the Subhuman] is the public solution for [the Übermensch]." Here, the "miracle birth" McGuffin of Rachael's lost child Messiah – a common motif in the work of Philip K Dick, whose dedication to a Drug-fuelled Jungian version of the Gnostic Religion only intensified over the course of the 1960s – is used to relate the domestic concerns of K, and those of the protagonist of the first film, Rick Deckard (Ford), to the world-sized problem faced by Niander Wallace, the Übermensch who replaces Eldon Tyrell in Dick's schema from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968).
The interrelationship of the domestic and world-sized theme works well enough here, particularly when punctuated by a noir-flavoured Pulp plot that uses a who is it? variety of the whodunnit to deliver a daddy-comes-home denouement fairly typical of North American Cinema, but Blade Runner 2049's Sense of Wonder relies on the visual allegory of K connecting his Inner Space to the degradation of his everyday environment: we, in the real world, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, find it easier to depict the End of the World than to face up to the truth of what our Economics are doing to the Ecology of our planet. The film functions most effectively when it renders humanity's false consciousness onscreen as a piece of religious art. A shame then, perhaps, that the pure and noble anima of Dr Ana Stelline, a Scientist who, as the adult daughter of Rachel and Deckard, strives to provide the childhood Memories that give meaning and purpose to the drudgery of the later-model replicant, and who spends the entire film sequestered in a hologram paradise as a subcontractor of the Wallace Corporation, is the only major female character in Blade Runner 2049 to escape the fate typical of Women in SF: mother, murder victim or sexual lure. The conflation of Sex and pornography that forms so much of the social backdrop of Blade Runner 2049 would be far easier to interpret as Satire of the Politics of the Internet if there were any dramatic counterpoint other than the 1950s-housewife dynamic of K's relationship with hologram girlfriend Joi (De Armas). Dick's own female characters were very often foils to his male protagonists, sometimes appearing bare-breasted, sometimes with scant apparel lingeringly described, but never without humanity or emotion, and no less possessed than their male counterparts of agency over the plot or inclination to open the doors of Perception, as with nubile "inertial" Pat in Ubik (1969), a novel about the Linguistic deconstruction of consensual reality through Time, or to teach their murderous ex-husbands a much-needed lesson, as with Mary Rittersdorf in Clans of the Alphane Moon (1964), a novel about tribes of the neurologically-atypical stranded in the Alpha-Centauri star system. "He was not writing science fiction so much as wildly plotted fictional exercises on the nature of God and/or reality," writes Fay Weldon in her introduction to the Voyager paperback edition of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1996). "The sense of running laughter, I think, is what we get from Philip K Dick; it underlies his narrative, his descriptions of minds and worlds at the end of their tether, and makes the intolerable wholly and enthrallingly liveable." If Blade Runner 2049 lacks anything, it is this fusion of freewheeling terror and Humour that so informs the tone of Philip K Dick; the film is, however, more solid as a result of being altered to suit to the materiality of Genre SF and nowhere is this more apparent than in how the splendour of Roger Deakins's digital cinematography combines with the ruins (see Ruins and Futurity) of Ridley Scott's mise en scène from Blade Runner.
Blares of orange and blue communicate the film's New-Wave intermingling of the Psychology of its artificially-created workforce with the Anti-Utopia of feudal capitalism, here given more of the flavour of an Alternate World than a Near Future warning of what could happen by the presence of such corporate has-beens as "Atari" and "Pan Am" in the brutalist rubric of the Los Angeles skyline. If the script occasionally belabours its comparisons between the "good" and "bad" angels of the replicant workforce and those of Christian Mythology – Wallace himself is much given to portentous exposition – the film's aesthetic delivers on every conceivable level: the corporate skylines the 1982 film appropriated from the great cities of China and Japan now communicate the planetary domination of the multinational, its watery modernist interiors connote a Zen-like fluidity of selfhood attendant to the efforts of Postmodernism to escape the total commodification of human life, and the reliance of its artificial lifeforms on the representation of Memory – dates, dreams and photographs propel much of the plot here, as in Blade Runner – the hunt for some kind of real experience that is not manufactured by the same corporations that construct the workforce. "Is the dog real?" asks K of Deckard, when he finally catches up with him in the blasted remnants of an irradiated Las Vegas. "I don't know," replies Deckard: "Ask him." The dog is one of many pictorial quotations from the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, to join those from the science fiction cinema of Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and those of older vintage, such as Fritz Lang. Everything here is made of something else; elegiac, lost, as broken as the stuttering holographic reminders of what Elvis, Marilyn and Frank Sinatra did to earn their Money in the good old days of Vegas. "I know what's real," insists K when he confronts Ana Stelline with the memory implant on which the story of Blade Runner 2049 hinges, its fragmentary reminder all the more meaningful for being immaterial and uncommodified. "We remember with our feelings," says Stelline. It is a beautiful film, somewhat degraded by the politics it attempts to depict.
Additions to what looks set to become a Blade Runner franchise have already begun: the short film 2036: Nexus Dawn (2017), scripted by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green and directed by Ridley Scott's son Luke Scott, was released as a six-minute promotional prequel to Blade Runner 2049, as was 2048: Nowhere to Run (2017), also scripted by Fancher and Green and directed by Scott, and starring Dave Bautista as Sapper Morton. Blade Runner Black Out 2022 (2017) is an Anime written and directed by Shinichirō Watanabe, director of animated tv series Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999). K W Jeter wrote the novelized Sequels by Other Hands Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human (1995), Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night (1996) and Blade Runner 4: Eye & Talon (2000). The title "Blade Runner" derives from the sf novella Bladerunner: A Movie (1979) by William S Burroughs but the films Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 otherwise have nothing to do with the contents of the Burroughs story, which itself began life as a film adaptation of Alan E Nourse's novel The Bladerunner (1974). [MD]
- Paul M Sammon. Future Noir: Revised & Updated Edition: The Making of Blade Runner (New York: Dey Street Books, 2017) [covers both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 films: hb/]
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