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New film: Blade Runner 2049

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to see “Blade Runner 2049” and so, in anticipation of that, I re-watched the original theatrical release version of “Blade Runner.” That might not be the best version of the original film to watch but, frankly, it was what was easily available to stream on Amazon and so that’s the one I used for my pre-sequel refresher. It’s also the one with the cheesy noirish voice over and, that aspect at least, doesn’t hold up very well.

But it’s still the same interesting take on the nature of humanity in a futuristic Los Angeles (although our own timeline has now almost caught up with the 1982 version’s view of 2019) in which a group of bio-engineered but almost perfectly human-appearing “replicants” have come to Earth to find their maker. The extra complication being that replicants, by that time, have been banned on Earth and “blade runners” are tasked with “retiring” them on sight.

One of the lingering questions from the original film is whether or not the central blade runner, played by Harrison Ford, was himself an unaware replicant – with assorted clues varying between the different versions of the film.

In the new film, the equivalent role is played by Ryan Gosling in a world that has jumped 30 years into the future while our own has jumped 35. Replicants have since been banned and then reintroduced after being made more compliant, but earlier models are still hunted and retired. And it’s in this context that he tracks one unauthorized replicant, only to find more than he had bargained for.

It’s hard to get into too much detail without spoiling the film. And, with that in mind, the studio has requested a certain amount of vagueness in early reviews so as not to detract from the viewing experience. But I thoroughly enjoyed the film – even if I can’t fully explain why quite yet.

In re-watching the 1982 film, I was surprised to find myself thinking that there wasn’t a great deal going on much of the time. And it opened to at least some reviews at the time which criticized its pacing. That actually caused me some concern walking into the sequel the following morning, with 47 minutes more content causing it to clock in at 2 hours and 44 minutes. But this one hums along at a far jauntier pace. At one point I checked my watch, thinking we must be about an hour into the film and more than an hour and a half had gone by. From my perspective at least, it didn’t feel much longer.

There’s simply more going on this time around. It may not be as groundbreaking or fundamentally profound, 35 years later, but it also doesn’t stop at questions of the nature of sentient, self-aware life in the human/replicant comparison. Instead it takes those issues at least one step further, in the process offering new twists to some of the existing quandaries. It’s not entirely original in that regard but it’s very well done. And more self-awareness goes hand in hand with more self-doubt and introspection, neatly balanced by enough action to satisfy those who didn’t come for a philosophy lesson.

The entire cast performs well without any weak links and the production quality is top notch. While it’s probably fair to say that I lowered the bar a little by watching the worst iteration of the first film, I actually enjoyed the second film more. It’s one of the better time-lapsed and long awaited sequels I’ve seen.

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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