Is Blade Runner 2049 a worthy sequel to its legendary predecessor? Yes, if you are a Philip Dick reader or a huge fan of the 1982 production.
Blade Runner 2049 Synopsis
The year is 2049 and replicants are found throughout human society, though blade runners still exist for the purpose of hunting down and killing (retiring) rogue older models. K is one such hunter, working for the LAPD and living with his holographic companion, Joi, in a desolate apartment. After retiring a former military replicant named Sapper, K discovers human remains under a dead tree near Sapper’s hideout. Forensic analysis then reveals that the unimaginable might have happened with a previous replicant, a secret Sapper rather die than reveal. Fearful of a massive social backlash should the truth be made known to the public, K’s superior, Joshi, orders him to immediately hunt down and destroy all evidence related to the remains.
I’m going to say it out loud. As a long-time Philip Dick reader, I’ve long concluded that reading his works is often a mixed experience. Whether you end up loving or hating his stories largely depends on whether you know what his strengths and weaknesses are.
The man popularised the notion of altered memories, and incessantly challenged the human understanding of existence. Themes which scores of movies and television series continue to draw inspiration from. Yet, at the same time, it’s a hard fact that Philip was often lacklustre in plotting. While he never wrote anything that was downright awful, many of his stories (for me) simply do not live up to the grandeur of his concepts. If you were to compare Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep with Blade Runner (1982), you would immediately notice the ’82 movie weaved a more compelling and memorable story than its source material. Ironically, this result in movie adaptations of PkD works almost always being better than the books. To put it in another way, Philip provided the concepts and the frameworks. The collective creativity of Hollywood then grew the stories to their deserved complexities. Albeit decades later.
I highlight this not to diss the author or either Blade Runner movies, but because of something that happened at the end of the screening. While walking out, a couple beside me loudly complained about how boring the movie was. “It’s certainly no X-Men,” remarked the guy. As unpleasant as that sounded to me, I could understand where they were coming from. Despite the gorgeous visuals and breathtaking panoramas, this movie requires patience. It’s SLOW. And while it had a sly twist at the end, that wasn’t anything earth-shattering. (A true Dick fan would be able to predict the twist too) In summary, this movie is indeed “no X-Men.” Strictly speaking, it’s not even science-fiction, in the Hollywood definition of the genre. This is classic speculative storytelling. Deeply philosophical. Borderline arthouse in presentation too.
Conversely, if you are familiar with PkD concepts and paranoia, then the very fact that this is “no X-Men” is the single most compelling reason to watch the movie. In my opinion, the greatest triumph of Blade Runner 2049 was how it honoured, challenged, and expanded the concepts of the original story. Beyond empathy, what else defines humanity? What else justifies and demarcates it? Admittedly, in an age where these questions aren’t exactly unconsidered, the regurgitations by the movie might come across as trite and even neurotic. For a Philip Dick reader and movie fan like me though, they complete the examination began in the novel and in the 1982 movie. In this way, the best and the most disturbing from the author is again elevated to their rightful intricacies by the medium of cinema storytelling. K’s onerous journey for self and racial definition requires patience to watch but is ultimately fulfilling. If you approach it in the right way, with the right expectations, it would be so for you too.
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