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Film review

  • December 2017
  • Topics in science
  • Video
Blade Runner 2049

BLADE RUNNER 2049 – Trailer 2

Blade Runner 2049, a bold sequel that I never thought I needed, but now cannot live without.

By Denis Villeneuve

Review by Suzanna Filipecki, Project Manager at Ecsite.

Not much can be written about Blade Runner 2049 without spoiling the brilliant sequel to the 1982 classic. As in Ridley Scott’s original movie, the action takes place in a dystopian future where bioengineered humans called Replicants are used as slave labor. When Replicants become wayward, special cops called Blade Runners are responsible for “retiring” them (a terrible euphemism for killing). Set 30 years after the original, the sequel follows K, a Replicant Blade Runner who unburies a secret that could lead to profound disturbances to the current social order. It may sounds as an overused trope, where all characters chase after the secret McGuffin, but Blade Runner took many of my expectations and subverted them - as the original movie did when I first (and repeatedly) saw it years ago. Respecting the slow pace and meditative feeling of the original, the sequel explores and expands many of the originals themes and motifs.

The universe feels familiar. In line with the first Blade Runner, the sequel replays a 1980s vision of the future, where the technology revolution is centered on energy, and not communication. In Blade Runner 2049 there are flying cars and off-world colonies, but video-conferences look terrible and there are no signs of the existence of social media. Dodging the error of many new prequel-sequel-reboots, Villeneuve avoids technologies upgrades and abides to Blade Runner’s original universe of clunky mechanics - he even assures the (re)appearance of extinct brands like Atari and Pan Am and visual references the USSR.

Not only brands are resurrected. Dead icons re-emerge throughout the movie, appearing as nostalgic holograms and reiterating memory and the past as two of the movie’s main motifs. The past is aestheticized either in fake memories used as tools to maximize androids’ subservience or in the ruins of human environments: San Diego is now a gigantic landfill and Las Vegas is nothing but a radioactive wasteland submerged in sand. Water is another motif: in rain, snow, or even shadows, water is everywhere, except in the character’s drinking glasses.

Blade Runner 2049 is an astonishing experience in sound and vision. From desert to snowy cityscapes and rainy rooftops, cinematographer Roger Deakins (12 times Oscar nominee) constructs a beautiful world that seems to go on forever. Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer create an atmospheric soundscape where echoes of Vangelis’s iconic themes can be heard. Likewise, the costume design feels updated and more wearable, especially the jackets, please, where can I get one of these jackets?

Many of the questions brought up on the original movie re-emerge on the sequel: What does it mean to be human? What should our ethics towards AI be - including when it comes to sexual conduct? What would become of the Earth after an apparently inevitable environmental catastrophe? Many of the questions appear to be left open, others went completely over my head, and even so, to me, Blade Runner 2049 performs as the best science fiction stories usually do: it represents our pressing cultural anxieties while stimulating discussion about advances in technology.

Nevertheless, it is worth asking if by joining the recent roster of dystopian blockbusters the film is helping us communicate citizens’ responsibility to the future we are creating or if it is simply one more entry to the collective nihilist response to current events. Should we be perpetuating defeatist attitudes or should we be telling stories of ambitious visions and accomplishments by scientists?

I choose to believe that Blade Runner 2049 leads the viewer to an open yet positive ending. In K’s pursuit of personhood and humanity, he opens the doors to better futures for an enslaved and ostracized class of second citizens. Director Denis Villeneuve’s delivers a moving human story that can elicit profitable discussions of what visions of the future science can bring about.

Check out other views: From Peter Bradshaw for the Guardian, from A.O. Scott for the New York Times. WIRED had two interesting articles on Blade Runner 2049: Devon Maloney’s is an interesting read for social analyses while Abigail Beall examines how far we are from Replicants.


  • Blade Runner 2049
  • film
  • science
  • technology