Déjà vu.

It’s been a few weeks since I wrote about how the new GITS live action film resonated with my interest in the franchise from way back in my medical student days. The same goes for Blade Runner, as I finally got to see the long-awaited[1] sequel a few weeks ago.

When Blade Runner 2049 was first announced, I had some doubts as to how good it would be. I think Ridley Scott was up to his eyes with his Alien sequels at that time. The director was Denis Villeneuve[2] and interestingly the original writer Hampton Fancher was back – which to me, meant there was some hope for a good yarn. Surprisingly, Harrison Ford had been saying aye to these sequels of late[3], which implied that the script was good enough for him to agree to be in this.

I first saw Blade Runner in 1982 at the Sentosa cinema in PJ’s Section 17, one of those “let’s go see a film” moments with my late mom[4]. I probably convinced her to go because I wanna see it as it had ‘Han Solo’ in it, and it was sci-fi. However, I came out of the cinema not fully understanding the story, and mom said everything was too dark. I was 12.

A friend at school then lent me the book. It had the Blade Runner cover on it but it was Philip K Dick’s actual Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It wasn’t a con (the original title by Dick was on the cover) but remember, this was me at age 12, and “adapted from the novel” to me at that time meant the film will be like the book, but just a little different. It was a difficult read (I tried having Ford’s image/voice as Deckard in the book but things got a bit difficult when I had to factor in Deckard’s wife and a robot sheep in my imagination), unfortunately. Yet again, I still wasn’t getting what it all meant.

Fast forward to my med school days, I bought myself the VHS of the original cut to the film. The four-year Nexus 6 lifespan. Tyrell’s inability to prolong Batty’s lifespan, and cityspeak[5]. But I didn’t know how to spell Voight-Kampff until we had the internet. And yes – I finally got it. I was 21, so I should have. As the years went by, the film began to manifest itself as different cuts – first the director’s cut and then the final cut. And yes, Deckard is a replicant – so says Scott. But whatever, the gist of the film is the same as far as I was concerned.

And this didn’t matter in 2049. I watched it at the local IMAX and dang this film was loud[6]. The feel of the Blade Runner world was ever so familiar that you’d think Scott was back at the helm. LA in 2049 is still crowded like mad, dark skies and this time, snowing. There were a few daylight scenes, which felt unusual. The skinjobs in the current film had improved to Nexus 8, and the protagonist (Ryan Gosling) who is a blade runner named K is one. At first, I didn’t know how Gosling’s K will fit in all this. To have a lot of Deckard in the story would make it rather pointless, and I am glad to see K’s role is pivotal in conveying the story. As for the story’s other players, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) feels like an evil version of Rachael from the 1982 film. I was surprised that Joi (Ana de Armas) was actually a hologram accompanying K in his small apartment, and it is somewhat scary that this is pretty much and may well be a near-future extension of the reliance of current day humans on apps to make us feel good.

The story was well-written in my opinion. The writer wasn’t trying to redo the entire ethical should-we-or-not premise from the last film, but the consequences of said premise were dealt with in 2049. Do we need to have seen the 1982 film? I think yes, although it didn’t really matter which cut one should watch, and it doesn’t really matter if Deckard was a replicant or not[7]. Also, do check out the official shorts available on YouTube – two (Nexus Dawn and Nowhere To Run)by Luke Scott (Ridley’s son) and one by Watanabe Shinichiro. These short stories add a little context to the film.

Music-wise, Hans Zimmer did quite well to produce a score that felt like the second part of the original Vangelis opus. The continuity in the music, sights and sounds prevalent in 2049 made me think Blade Runner was released only a few years ago. I’d like to add there’s more blood in this film. I remembered how Pris and Zhora were shot by Deckard in the 1982 film, but the knives in 2049… ouch. Check it out if it is still playing in your local cineplex. Or play it loud when you watch it on your TV when it comes out for domestic release.

[1]Not that the original was supposed to have one.
[2]Not seen any of his work. Yes, I don’t watch films that often these days.
[3]Star Wars and Indiana Jones V!
[4]Coincidentally, this was how I first discovered the Indiana Jones franchise.
[5]This – http://www.mybladerunner.com/faqs/4-7-3-translation-of-the-noodle-bar-scene-dialogue-with-comments/, and this:

[6]Did absolute ‘wonders’ to my predilection for being easily shocked.
[7]In my books, I don’t think he is, regardless of what Ridley Scott says.