For 35 years, the original “Blade Runner” has been my all-time favorite film. I haven’t experienced anything like it since its debut in 1982, and never again have I been as invested in sci-fi characters — many of whom weren’t even human.
After seeing an early screening of the long-awaited sequel, “Blade Runner 2049,” some of those feelings have changed a little bit, while others are holding steady.
Ridley Scott’s original has stuck with me for so long because, for as grim and hopeless as post-apocalyptic Los Angeles looked in its dark and rainy and neon 2019 setting, it felt so realistic. And nothing is better than a vision of the future — even a depressing one — that comes across as entirely believable.
“2049” director Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) has made a film as visually stunning as any I can remember. At more than 2 1/2 hours in length and at a pace that is painstakingly deliberate and bathed in masterful swatches of color and light, there seems to be nothing but time to soak it in.
But there is nothing happier about this place — Los Angeles, 30 years later — where Ryan Gosling stars as LAPD Officer K. He’s a blade runner for a new generation, and he’s as brooding and tough — and ultimately as caring — as Harrison Ford was as Deckard in the original (and again in this film).
Jared Leto stars as scientist Niander Wallace, whose backstory involves using advancements in genetically modified food to help stave off a global crisis brought about by a blackout in 2022. But Wallace’s God-like aspirations are more pronounced, and after acquiring the bankrupt Tyrell Corp., makers of the Nexus 6 model of replicants in the original film, he sets out to populate other worlds with a new line of “perfected” replicants.
“We make angels in the service of civilization,” he says in the flickering light of the Wallace Corp. headquarters.
Visuals are often the strongest character in any science fiction, and Los Angeles appears so much bigger in this new film. It doesn’t just stretch to the sky in dark buildings, but in all directions in what appears to be an effort to house all the humanity that hasn’t been able to get off-world. And outside the city, the blue, gray and orange hues of the California farmland and deserted highways stream by below K’s flying police car.
If you gain joy from science fiction that pays attention to details in set design, effects, art direction and props in the service of creating a realistic world, this is where “Blade Runner” scores again. From the inside of K’s cramped apartment to the brightly lit LAPD headquarters to a farm house to a deserted casino, there are numerous scenes featuring a mix of future tech and gadgets that appear like they could be just beyond our 2017 fingertips.
Part of my appreciation for that stuff comes from doing this job at GeekWire, but for those of you either working to create or simply anticipating what’s ahead, “2049” delivers autonomous vehicles and holograms and artificial intelligence and drones and so much more. The film is also drunk on data and the search for information. We even get to see how memories are manufactured.
And for all of “2049’s” visual beauty, the sound and score are again pitch perfect. Dead, suspense-building quiet stands out as opposed to endless machinery, gunfire, or even dialogue.
But forget the assumption that this future is a crush of people, both real and manufactured. There is a defining isolation and loneliness to this film, conveyed through any of several characters. And it’s tough to come away feeling connected to or invested in any of them without knowing enough about who they are or what they want.
The replicants from the original film — constrained to a 4-year lifespan — made us believe in them for how much they wanted to live and were willing to fight — to the death — for that privilege. The appreciation for life even led to the saving of Deckard’s, at the hand of Roy Batty.
While “2049” certainly presents characters whom we root for and against, there is a struggle to understand who is “more human than human” this time around.
And it is here that we can see past the beauty of what’s on screen and make the strongest connection to our modern, tech-fueled world.
How lonely will we finally be with our devices and gadgets, when we can no longer tell who is born and not made?