Blade Runner: 2049 will ruin Blade Runner.
There’s going to be a lot of caveats to that, in fact most of this article is going to be caveats, but first let’s just get it out of the way: that statement is true. I don’t even love the first Blade Runner (which I know, as a fan of science fiction, is total sacrilege) but I’m in a lot of ways sorry to see the new Blade Runner being made. Well, maybe not that it’s being made. I’m mostly sad that it’ll feature Harrison Ford’s Deckard.
The beauty of the first Blade Runner is its ambiguous ending. Spurred on by a truly powerful speech about teardrops in the rain (I wish I liked the original, because it really is a superb movie) Deckard returns home and leaves with Rachel. As Gaff says: “It’s too bad she won’t live, but then again, who does?” No one. The power of Deckard’s ending is his dismissal of the divide between replicants and humans. Is he replicant? Is he human? The answer is that it doesn’t matter, but it only doesn’t matter because he has decided it doesn’t matter. We can’t know, so we must make a choice. The power of this ending rides entirely on the audience being in the dark as much as Deckard. And of course seeing Deckard alive in the trailers for the new one totally eradicates this ambiguity and this powerful choice.
Blade Runner: 2049 can go two ways. It can confirm Deckard is a human, or it can confirm he is a replicant. At first my prediction was that he is human (because replicants are supposed to die within four years) but now that’s changed a little – it’s possible he, like the replicants in the original intended to do, extended his life – supported by the quote in the second trailer “this breaks the world” (if replicants can live for over four years/fear death suddenly the morality of using them as free labor becomes a whole lot darker). But in truth it doesn’t matter which way the movie swings. It will ruin the first by giving it an “answer”. And it’s not just the denouement of the original that flourishes in the ambiguity – it’s the whole movie, and as a result this certainty will reverberate back and decay the entire movie much in the same way that the current ambiguity echoes backwards and enhances the movie once we’ve reached it. (And, of note, Villeneuve has promised the new film won’t spoil the ending of the original, but I honestly can’t imagine a way around doing just that… I’m suspecting more a scenario when we were promised Khan was not the villain in Star Trek: Into Darkness).
So now, the caveats: first off, I’m not opposed in the least to returning to the world of Blade Runner. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is such an incredible and also off-the-walls bonkers book, and the original movie didn’t even do 1/4th of what it could have with the source material. It doesn’t look like 2049 is pulling heavily from the original text – instead expanding on the universe of the original film – but both are ripe for further exploration. But, if we’re going to return to this universe, why include Deckard at all?
It’s a double sin. In the original Blade Runner Deckard was just one cop of many – good at his job, yes, but not the secret to the universe. In 2049, everyone is looking for him. Why? Because he’s played by Harrison Ford. We don’t need flippin’ Deckard to further explore where morality, individuality, consciousness, and empathy originate in humans and in robots. But the studio definitely need Harrison Ford to do a sequel to Blade Runner. And I understand why, but still, we probably would have watched it without Ford. It probably would have been, in all honesty, a better story without Deckard. Just leave well and well enough alone, go back, and do a thematic echo. My next caveat: Ford has blossomed from a decent actor to a genuinely pretty good actor, so I’m excited to see him in this movie. He just shouldn’t be in it.
That’s the way I feel about pretty much the whole movie. I understand why it’s happening. And everyone on board understands why it’s happening. And if it’s going to happen (it is) this is a great team to take it on. Denis Villeneuve’s films are really strong (even if I sometimes find them almost too clean) and he’s a good man for the job, especially in his approach to it. As he told THR: “I came on board because the script was very strong. But no matter what you do, no matter how good what you’re doing is, the film will always be compared to the first, which is a masterpiece. So I made peace with that. And when you make peace with that, you are free.” And that’s a strong suggestion that this will be an expansion and not just a sequel that retraces the original concepts. I don’t know if it was his choice to include Ford. But again, I’m left with the repeated caveat: I think Denis Villenueve is the best man for the job, I’m just not sure it was a job worth doing.
Another caveat: I’m not even against the grist mill that is the reboot of old franchises. I mean, I am, but it is something I have (like Villenueve) made my peace with. And I don’t think we are unable to revisit franchises and add something new. Look at how much Sam loves the new Planet of the Apes film! I think something new and good can be said in the same universe as an old film, but I know most of the time we’ll just be repeating the same stuff. Blade Runner is unique because it is one of the few films that can be actively ruined by a sequel.
And the final caveat: it wouldn’t bother me if I weren’t so damn excited. As much of a shrug Ryan Gosling gets out of me (sorry, Ry) the rest of the creative team is strong. Ford, Villeneuve, Deakins… it looks to be shaping up to be a masterful movie. The most recent trailer got me all kinds of psyched. It looks like the sort of movie you should see in a theater, the type of movie I probably will see in a theater. And it’s only because of all those positives that I’m focusing on the negatives.
But I guess we’ll just have to see. After all, the only thing we know for certain about it so far is that Jared Leto will be awful.