I rewatched Blade Runner last night as a sort of prep session before seeing the new Blade Runner 2049. The original is my favorite film (still) and has been for the past 20 years, so I’ve got the thing pretty much memorized, but it seemed fitting that I see it again. From this point on, any popular discussion of Blade Runner is going to center on the new film, or at least include it in a big way, and I feel a strange sense of loss as a result. Silly, maybe, but there it is, so watching the original was also about visiting this universe for a last time while remains the dominant version out there.
There is really nothing I can write about Blade Runner that hasn’t already been covered ad nauseam by other writers, bloggers, and nerds like me slowing your work productivity, so I’ll keep it to a few thoughts just based on my rewatch last night.
1) There is still no film that transports into another world like this one. Maybe I’m being curmudgeonly, but as the pace of filmed storytelling has increased (and in sci-fi especially), less effort is given to casting a spell over the audience. But Blade Runner was a cut above in this respect even in the early 1980s, so it’s no surprise that this aspect stands out for me now.
2) As more and more time passes between the original and the present (is that how time works? sheesh), my appreciation for the 1940s aesthetic used in much of the clothing and set design increases. There are still plenty of 80s design artifacts (Deckard’s geometric-print shirt and skinny tie) but entire scenes survive without feeling dated precisely because the filmmakers dated them backward instead of trying to match their contemporary era’s idea of what future clothing would look like.
3) I didn’t discover Blade Runner until the late 90s, a time when its visual influence had already bled liberally into mainstream filmmaking. Watching it now, it becomes even more difficult to imagine how radical and new that dark sci-fi cityscape must have appeared in the early 80s. We’ve seen so many of these black-palate technology-drenched cities in film now, they all sort of blend together. But it’s a credit to the design here that Blade Runner’s version can still blow minds.
4) The “love” scene is a problem, no getting around it. It’s the only scene I wish had been done differently (well, everything after the piano part, which is lovely), and it’s tough to watch now.
5) The film has become so dominant in pop culture that it has long since eclipsed the source material in the public consciousness. A televised adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is on the way with Bryan Cranston as Deckard, so we’ll see what kind of impact it has.
6) I re-watched Blade Runner in part because of this amazing Variety article about the making of the film. Anyone with even a passing appreciation for the film or classic sci-fi should read it. The best bit of trivia: Philip K. Dick had his idea for replicants, the (identical) non-humans living alongside humans, after reading an excerpt from the diary of an S.S. officer who worked at a concentration camp. The officer complained that the crying of the children was preventing him from getting good sleep, and PKD thought “This is not a human being. It is morphologically identical to a human and lives among us, but it is not human.”
7) Casting. They scored big with every single actor on this film, but above all, how perfect is Brion James as Leon Kowalski? There’s a good reason he’s the first replicant the audience is introduced to in the film.
8) Something that has always bothered me: one of the signature looks of replicants in this universe is a deep reflective glow within the eyes when the light hits them a certain way. Based on the trailers, the new film seems to have doubled down on this replicant marker. Yet replicants are supposed to be so human-seeming that Blade Runners need a special psychological test—a kind of emotion-sparking Turing Test—just to identify them. So what’s with the eye glow? I wouldn’t trade it for anything, it’s such a part of Blade Runner, but I could never reconcile the two. If I’m missing something here, please let me know.
So that’s it. If the reviews are any indication, the new film is a big artistic success. At 2 hours 45 minutes, it better be—that’s a long time even for a film fan to sit in the theater. Wondering if I should intentionally dehydrate myself on Thursday…
I don’t do reviews on this site, but since this universe is kind of my thing, I’ll probably drop back in and give some thoughts on the new one. Have a lovely week, humans.