Or, should I say, replicate itself?
Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece “Blade Runner” was a game-changer in the world of speculative fiction. The film was released years after blockbusters such as Jaws and Star Wars had forever altered the relevance of movies in society. This very time period was also the home of other science fiction classics, such as E.T The Extraterrestrial (or E.T.), Back to the Future, The Thing, The Terminator, and Scott’s other masterpiece Alien. These films were artistically impactful in cinema and contributed to many of the movies we know and love today. Blade Runner is perhaps the most influential piece of science fiction work ever to grace the big screen, bar Stanley Kubrick’s abstract and multivalent 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, people fail to realize that the film was not a hit during its initial release.
Scott’s foray into futuristic cinema was one the only major sci-fi pictures of its time to be regarded as a box office bomb, much like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Without an adjustment to inflation, on a budget of $25 million, Blade Runner only made $33 million at the box office. Furthermore, its critical reception was very polarized, with claims that the film was boring, lacked coherence, and had an underdeveloped plot, while also being interesting, innovative, and having great visual appeal. Later versions of the film, totaling seven, would be made. The “Final Cut” version, released in 2007, is the definitive edit of the movie and was the one that Ridley Scott had full directorial control over.
The impact the movie had in the film industry was made long before Scott made a final edit, but why; and how? For one, Blade Runner is considered to be the very first cyberpunk film ever made, if not the second, as John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) is sometimes considered a part of the genre. The gritty, dark, “high-tech, low-life” atmosphere was never seen before on-screen. Think about the movies Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Dark City, The Matrix, and even the more recently Ex Machina. None of these films would have existed without Blade Runner. The cult following that it had lead to an explosion of media that would lead to the creation of such classics.
So, here we are today, in the year 2017, with Blade Runner 2049—a sequel 35 years in the making.
At the end of the day, what made the original film so magnificent were the visuals and the philosophical questions it asked the audience (mostly the former). It is one of the most discussed movies in film history, as it popularized the sci-fi trope of bridging and comparing the human condition with that of artificial beings. What Blade Runner, (and 2049 did better) was give audiences more of a reason to care for such questions on a moral level. This is because, unlike other films of this nature, there are no robots. Replicants are genetically engineered humans, made entirely of organic matter (think Cell from the animé ‘Dragon Ball Z’). This automatically makes them more endearing as characters as, essentially, they are humans, but they’re also not. It’s a fascinating concept. It’s also unfortunate that many people will not be exposed to such an idea due to 2049 also being a box office disappointment.
Or will they?
Was Blade Runner 2049 a commercial success? No, it was not, despite being a major critical success. So, why didn’t the movie make much money? Well despite how influential and important Blade Runner is, that is only true in passing. People remember the films that were inspired by it, but not the movie itself, which is extremely unfortunate. As both installments in the franchise are not action movies (as many confuse them to be), and are instead futuristic noir films, Blade Runner just does not have the mass-market appeal it needs. The sequel also had a very high budget. It made over $250 million at the box office, but that does not weigh well against a $150 million budget.
2049 is an absolutely gorgeous film, with immaculate filmmaking, subtle storytelling, impressive artistic quality, and merit as a piece of cinema. While it is not perfect—the lack of diversity in the main cast is rather jarring as the movie’s setting is LA—it is definitely an achievement in the film arts. Furthermore, many of the themes from its predecessor carry on in this installment. These are further enhanced by the more intimate nature the film adopts—especially since a common criticism of the original is that it felt too distant.
Critically speaking, 2049 is more of a success as a sequel. Unlike Blade Runner, the movie gained much traction from critics and almost-universal praise upon release. This is juxtaposed to the polarizing reception of the original film. Many even called it “one of the greatest sequels ever made” and that it is a much better, more coherent movie. Regardless, 2049 was not successful at the box office, despite critical—and even audience—opinion. Audiences may have been concerned by the movie’s nearly 3-hour-long runtime and the fact that Blade Runner is not an action series. In other words, people were likely afraid that the movie would be boring and slow, which can be an easy reaction for any audience member who does not watch the film with the proper mindset. One has to watch Blade Runner thinking they are about to experience the next 2001: A Space Odyssey, not a Terminator sequel.
As a growing number of critics agree, I believe that 2049 will be considered a sci-fi classic over the course of time. This may not occur within the next few years, as its subject matter is not an unfamiliar topic anymore—something that the original benefited from. While it will surely snatch several, if not all of the technical achievement Oscars in a couple of months, 2049 fell off the radar quite quickly and did not receive the momentum it deserved. Like its predecessor, the merits of the film become more apparent on further viewings and analysis—like any other great science fiction film. I hope the movie leaves behind a legacy that will inspire more great works of cinema and animation in the future.
Blade Runner 2049 is now available for digital purchase and will be available on Blu-Ray on January 16, 2018. If anyone is interested, I recommend those unfamiliar with the franchise watch the original film in its “Final Cut,” as it is considered the best and most canon version of the movie. Anime fans should also check the movie out to see where so many of their favorite shows and movies gained inspiration from.
Further Reading: Blade Runner 2049, a Cult Classic