I feel like the title of this post is almost in code, but I suspect and trust that the few people that understand it are the ones I’m aiming it at. I first watched the original BLADE RUNNER a long time ago. And watched and watched. The first Harrison Ford line in the movie is one of my favorite ‘voice-over’ sentences. I can quote it from memory: “They don’t advertise for killers in the newspaper. That’s me, Dekkard. Ex-cop. Ex-Blade Runner. Ex-killer.” Still today, when some sanctimonious expert shouts in my ear that ‘voice-over’ is a demeaning technique I recall this sentence in this 1982 film and ignore the… person. And then, in the Director’s Cut coming out much later, Ridley Scott took out the ‘voice-over’ and I was irritated until I found he needed to sacrifice it to give a whole other meaning to the movie. Was Dekkard a replicant? To preserve this possibility, Scott had to lose the ‘voice-over’. This way, Scott ended up making two different movies about 2019, not only one, and both of them very good.
I’m writing this post today because I just watched Villeneuve’s BLADE RUNNER 2049 a couple of days ago. And I loved it. If you read my post on ARRIVAL you probably already know Villeneuve is one of my favorite directors at the moment. He is clever, relatively slow in the pace, but profound in meaning. It’s always delicate to tread on the path of a classic and it was dangerous for Villeneuve to make a sequel to Scott’s BLADE RUNNER. But the director came out of it with flying colors. The warm x cold lights, the way the shadows move or design the scenes, the confrontation between old characters and new, between old concepts and new, all this multitude of vectors were harmonized in a skillful, masterly manner.
In the original BLADE RUNNER, based on a text by Philip K. Dick and set in 2019, Dekkard, played by Harrison Ford, is part of a police force, called Blade Runners, that pursue illegal aliens, escaped man-made people designed to work in other planets. This is one of Ridley Scott’s best movies ever, around the time he also made ALIEN and then THELMA & LOUISE. In my view, Scott’s work suffered since then and he has been making worst and worst movies for years (see, for example, the impossible KINGDOM OF HEAVENS), often spoiling the screenplays for whims alone. In BLADE RUNNER, however, Scott is in top form, creating a dark, oppressing future society and molding a classical filme noir cop-story in a clever and sophisticated scifi plot. In this phase of his life, just as in ALIEN, Scott’s movies had an intimacy trace of some sort. Harrison Ford and his nemesis Rutger Hauer were filmed up close and dramatic and action scenes were also filmed in a close setting, contrasting with the larger than life sceneries of a planet in decay and a society crushed by technology.
Even though Scott’s movie is all about cloning and humanoids’ dilemmas (even though the replicants are androids, they are so ‘human’ they might as well be clones), that’s not what we feel the most. At its center is the confrontation between Man and God. The replicants in BLADE RUNNER 2019 are trying to know how long they have to live and maybe even wondering if their makers can prolong their lives. At the end of the movie, as he leaves to live his love affair with a replicant, Dekkard shows how hollow that question is, stating: “We don’t know how long we have together. But then again… who does?”
BLADE RUNNER 2049, however, is a different animal. It’s a larger movie, not only in the way it is filmed but also in the conflict and plot. There are more characters and more intricate motivations. Now K, Ryan Gosling’s character, is a replicant that is also a Blade Runner, hunting other replicant criminals. He suddenly realizes there could be a replicant/human baby out there and is set to find it. It is a miracle and one that has deep implications, instigating various forces to kill it or nurture it. This movie is no longer about Man and God, about the meaning of life, but it’s about loneliness and race and persecution. K’s drama is deeper and he seems to be followed by everyone, but he is profoundly lonely and that impacts his mission – at a point he starts to suspect he is the baby himself – he is then looking for his childhood self.
All three movies (2019, Director’s Cut and 2049) pose different questions, all of them what I call Conscience Questions. Philip K. Dick was a master of these stories: where you are not sure what reality really is and the main conflict is between the characters and the ideas of reality in their minds.
Still, maybe to your surprise, I would say Villeneuve’s BLADE RUNNER 2049 is the better movie. It’s very well made, beautifully shot and very well written. I love Jared Leto’s character Wallace and loved seeing Ford as Dekkard once more. The virtual lover played by Ana de Armas is a wonderful character and the love affair with K is very very good as the portrait of today’s loneliness setting.
But, I would have to say, I still prefer the original Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER. It just has a special place in my heart. It’s more classical and yet groundbreaking in its filme noir style. It always reminds me of Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spilanne in a way this new movie is unable to achieve. And even as I really enjoyed the end of the Villeneuve’s film and Ryan Gosling in the snow, Roy’s death in the original BLADE RUNNER is still one of my favorite scenes. The way that dove gets freed from the grip of the dying clone in slow motion, as corny as it is, and Ford’s face as Roy stops talking, it still moves me and it makes me stop in front of the screen. “Moments lost in time, as tears in the rain.”
But this is my Blade Runner. It’s the way I feel about these movies. I’m sure others will disagree.