Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner is a cult classic, a film which combines sci-fi characteristics with the hard-boiled detective story made popular by writes like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane.
The film is set in a future in which androids termed ‘replicants’ have been created to take over labour and are treated as slaves since they have no ‘souls’ . Four of them have rebelled, captured a spacecraft and returned to earth and are searching for their creator, who is a bio-engineer. It is the duty of the detective Rick Deckard played by Harrison Ford (a ‘blade runner’) to ‘retire’ them. Blade Runner is a thoughtful film which questions the notion of ‘humanity’ and ‘creation’ being the prerogative of God. Deckard himself goes off with a replicant woman who helps him question his calling.
Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel which begins decades later. The rebellious replicants are now a thing of the past since a new version which is obedient has been created. The detective K (a replicant himself) here is engaged in hunting down the few remaining old-model replicants still capable of independent thought. It is at this point that he is asked to investigate something his superiors are unprepared for – about 30 years ago a replicant woman died when she gave birth to a child; it is presumably now grown up and its whereabouts are not known. The fact that replicants can procreate means that their offspring can have claims to be human, which could have political repercussions.
The original Blade Runner was spectacular for its time but it can hardly be compared with its sequel in its splendour. But Blade Runner 2049 is still proving to be a colossal financial flop and the reasons are not difficult to fathom.
Cinema has come a long way since the 1980s and one of the first things about new cinema is how narrative is driven by spectacle and sensation rather than plot.
Blade Runner 2049 relies enormously on visual stimuli but neglects to justify them adequately through convincing plot devices.
This means that we are left only with empty visual compositions without understanding why something is happening in a certain way. Agent K is given the task of tracking Deckard (Harrison Ford in a small appearance) who lives alone in an unpopulated space, its design perhaps inspired by the closing scenes of Kubrick’s 2001.
Most things central to the plot elude us through large parts of the film. When, finally, things have apparently fallen into place we have stopped caring about Deckard, agent K or the missing child. The moral is perhaps that visual spectacle and sensation mean nothing unless they are buttressed by narrative, something film-makers knew in 1982 but seem to have forgotten today.