I saw Blade Runner 2049 on opening night. Now, a full week on, several friends have expressed surprise that I haven’t at least made a Facebook or Twitter mention of my impressions. I don’t think I will because I recognize that I’m uniquely unqualified to judge the film on its own merits. The original has meant too much to me. I couldn’t give an objective review its 35-year later sequel if I tried.
But I can’t say nothing about it, so I’d like to praise a bit of continuity world-building they brought forward from the original film into this one. It’s the wonderful juxtaposition of shiny new future tech and crumbling old tech, the overlay of androids and flying cars and 3D holograms over piles of broken junk and drifting dust.
Now, Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 are far from the only sci-fi films to give us a healthy mix of these two technologies. Even Star Wars works the angle; most droids in that universe look barely able to hold themselves together.
But few sci-fi films have given as much thought the lived experience of using technology as the Blade Runner universe. Stuff breaks in this world. It probably breaks more often than it actually works. Agent K’s shiny holographic AI girlfriend is a presence through nearly the entire film but rarely functions without major glitches.
Your iPhone looks like pure future magic until you crack the screen. But you keep using it anyway, running your finger over a spider web of broken glass, activating apps that display warped and spasmodic.
Blade Runner 2049 gets this right (as does the original). Wonderful bits of late and even mid-20th-century tech still operate right alongside the futuristic tech. The police force’s flying cars all look like rusted hunks of metal. Not only that, but each one is a French Peugeot. Peugeots! As this writer points out, those haven’t been sold in the U.S. since 1991.
Even better is the car cruising through the background of one of the streets in this future Los Angeles—a VW Beetle. Bless those things. They run forever.
One century does not bury the other; it coexists on the same plane like a big bowl of time-warped soup.
City scenes in the film are littered with giant, drone-projected 3D holograms. Fifty-foot human figures wander through the streets, stepping right into traffic. One would think a mammoth, glowing pink foot landing next to your moving car would cause a hundred wrecks, but one of the fun touches of this world is that people are so used to seeing them, they don’t see them at all.
For one, these giant holograms fascinate me because I imagine them as a version of our augmented reality future. We still aren’t even remotely close to producing actual realistic, free-moving holograms that can be seen with the naked eye. Those still require a control-environment lab and a ton of big, heavy machinery. But augmented reality could produce this, provided you’re wearing the right glasses (or eye implants).
Secondly, I’m always fascinated by the jump from one technological age to the next, and films like Blade Runner suggest there is no real jump, just an imprinting of one age onto the previous one.
Humans are endlessly capable of turning the amazing into the mundane. It’s why I think the appearance of autonomous, high-capacity robots—or even humanoid robots like Blade Runner’s replicants—in our reality won’t be a big deal.
The first time you see one passing by at a crosswalk, you’ll definitely do a double-take. But you’ll already have seen them in news reporting for ages. The second time you see one? “Oh, another replicant. Neat.” The third time, you won’t even notice.
The fourth time is when you buy your own.
Everything around the android will be familiar to you, and that help your brain transition the new into the mundane. The replicant won’t be driving a flying car, it will be walking by a VW Bug with half its paint turned to rust.
So yes, Blade Runner 2049 is gorgeous. That’s cinematography, but it’s also the choice to avoid making a CGI world of uniformly clean lines and shiny, dirt-free surfaces.
This place looks like a real world—let’s just hope it doesn’t eventually look like ours (gorgeous on film doesn’t necessarily mean desirable).
So did you see the movie? Like it? What did you find realistic or unrealistic? Do you drive a VW Bug? Let me know!