'Blade Runner 2049': A fresh take on a cult classic
Sometimes it feels like the only thing Hollywood likes more than making blockbuster hits is remaking those blockbuster hits decades later. "Footloose." "Star Wars." "Poltergeist." Every animated movie Disney has ever made. "Tron." At this point, it’s more shocking when an old classic hasn’t been reimagined for a modern audience than when it’s finally rebooted to cash in on nostalgia at the box office.
That being said, the announcement of "Blade Runner 2049" took me completely by surprise.
It’s not that a story about android “replicants” rebelling from enslavement (only to be killed off one by one by space detective Harrison Ford) is somehow less relevant to us now than it was in the 80s. If anything, modern advancements in artificial intelligence have only made that narrative more interesting, something "2049" actually touches on by giving replicant Ryan Gosling an A.I. companion.
Her humanity is constantly weighed and debated throughout the film, much like the humanity of Ford’s hit list was analyzed in the original. The fact that the original "Blade Runner" took place in the oh-so-distant age of 2019 also makes revisiting the world now an interesting concept (though why they couldn’t wait another two years to release the sequel itself in 2019 is entirely beyond me).
No, I’m surprised Hollywood would make a new "Blade Runner" because despite being a cult classic, the original had an infamously less-than-impressive theatrical performance. The film arguably only became truly popular in the U.S. when Ridley Scott released the director’s cut on VHS a decade later, removing the voice-over narration and “happily ever after” ending the studio had insisted on but Scott and his fans despised.
Thirty-five years later, the 2017 sequel isn’t performing all that well in theaters, either, earning about $20 million less than the $54 million industry experts projected for its U.S. theater release. I guess that’s what you get for thinking a movie that sold well on home video would be a box office hit if you just threw almost $200 million at its production, but it would be a shame if the low ticket sales of "Blade Runner 2049" scared filmmakers away from the genuinely good elements the movie brought to the table.
Unlike other belated sequels in recent memory (I’m looking at you, "Jurassic World"), "2049" doesn’t rely on callbacks to its source material to keep its audience entertained. It’s a new story that stands on its own, even while clearly building on the world of the original. "2049" doesn’t bend over to explain itself to viewers who didn’t watch the original "Blade Runner," and its plot is stronger because of it. The movie’s soundtrack creates an oppressive atmosphere to match its daunting (and clearly very expensive) visuals, but also knows when to keep quiet—a large swath of its 164-minute runtime is spent in suspenseful silence.
Unfortunately, those two hours and 44 minutes are also spent on a lot of filler. Sitting in the theater, I felt like I was already watching a bad director’s cut of the film, from the drawn-out shots of all the CGI scenery they spent that big budget on, to long monologues from a big bad who was never as interesting or intimidating as his hyper-efficient sidekick, to the movie constantly slowing down so you could better appreciate the meaningfulness of Ryan Gosling staring into space or at a bee or at one of the fifty million ads in future-not-Tokyo depicting sexy hologram ladies selling unknown products. Or maybe sexy hologram ladies are the only products in future-not-Tokyo. The movie doesn’t really specify; it just makes it clear how meaningful it is when people stare at them.
I enjoyed watching "Blade Runner 2049." It had a well-executed plot, engaging characters and clever dialogue, which, to me, carried the movie through its less-than-stellar pacing. But if you haven’t seen the first "Blade Runner" or you’re not a fan of nearly three-hour movies that take their sweet time getting to the point, I couldn’t recommend seeing this movie while it’s still in theaters. With any luck, director Denis Villeneuve will take a page out of Scott’s book and release a better version to DVD in another 10 years or so.