Blade Runner sequel Blade Runner 2049 has been a critical smash, with the Denis Villeneuve-directed sci-fi achieving near-universal positive reactions and reviews so glowing they’d put the billboards of futuristic Los Angeles to shame.
All this praise brings us to an obvious question – how does the new film compare to the Ridley Scott’s original? Given the great buzz, could Blade Runner 2049 be even better than its predecessor? Well…
Yes, it definitely is
Let’s get something out of the way – the first Blade Runner was not a perfect movie.
When it first came out the film received mixed reviews, with some critics citing its slow pace and underdeveloped human storyline as drawbacks from its irrefutably impressive worldbuilding and Vangelis’ gorgeous synth score (as well as that incredible monologue from Rutger Hauer).
While the film grew in stature and become a cult hit over the years, it was never seen as a flawless production. Against director Ridley Scott’s wishes, a voiceover by Harrison Ford’s bounty hunter Rick Deckard was added to the film to help explain the plot to the audience, while scenes that ambiguously suggested Deckard could be a replicant were excised and a “happy ending” where he and Rachel (Daryl Hannah) drove off into the mountains (created with stock helicopter footage of the countryside from The Shining, fact fans) was added on to the end.
This studio interference became woven into the fabric of discussion about the film, along with its multiple released cuts – seven in total – the most important of which were the 1982 Theatrical Cut, the 1992 Director’s Cut (not actually directly supervised by Scott) and then 2007’s Final Cut, now largely agreed by fans as the definitive version (ending more ambiguously and adding more uncertainty about Deckard’s origins).
In short, the original Blade Runner isn’t a model film – far from it. Drawn out, opaque and almost punishingly obtuse, it can be a slog unless you’re in the right mood for it, and its tortured production means that few have seen any one, perfect version of it.
By contrast, Blade Runner 2049 is a much easier, cleaner watch. While considerably longer than the original, the story (which sees Ryan Gosling’s Officer K track down a mysterious figure and eventually come into contact with Ford’s now-aged Rick Deckard) zips along in a recognisable, noir-esque format, cutting away a lot of the drawn-out dialogue scenes that kept the original so slow and ponderous.
This is a more mainstream Blade Runner, a Blade Runner more conscious of its blockbuster status but still able to create a beautiful, dark and twisted futuristic world and poignant storyline (my heart went out to Gosling’s K in a way it never did to Deckard) within that format, palatably delivering its tale to a wider audience.
And of course, the higher production values and advances in technology mean that the futuristic world looks better than it ever could in 1982, taking Scott’s original ideas to their full potential in worlds of neon-drenched snow, dusty post-apocalyptic ruins and grim, clinical protein farms.
Blade Runner 2049 might be a brilliant, emotional film that’s an easier watch than the original – but it’s not Blade Runner. Blade Runner was groundbreaking, thoughtful sci-fi that resisted interpretation; as much as that can be a less pleasant watch it still makes it a more significant work of art than Blade Runner 2049 ever manages.
Where Blade Runner 2049 tells a great story, the original Blade Runner creates a world, uncompromisingly forces you into it and watches you flounder as you try to catch up. Blade Runner can be infuriatingly dense and – overdubbed voiceovers aside – refuses to hold the audience’s hand, but that’s part of what makes it great.
Even its multiple, contrasting cuts add a certain mythic quality to the production, with few films in history so tinkered with, Star Wars possibly excepted. And in that case, the older cuts of Star Wars aren’t readily available to view for comparison in the way that Blade Runner’s are.
In short, while Blade Runner 2049 might be the better film, it’s not the better work. And that’s OK – it’s a great movie that expands the original movie’s world, and is probably a better sequel than we had any right to hope for.
But hey – it’s not BLADE RUNNER. C’mon.
Blade Runner 2049 will be released on Thursday 5th October