It should never have worked. Blade Runner is not only a favourite of countless fans, but a groundbreaking point in sci-fi history. A sequel would at best rehash its highlights, at worst sully its memory. And yet, as November 2017 neared, signs started to emerge that we might be getting something special, not least the success of Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. When his Blade Runner 2049 finally came out, the response was a collective sigh of relief. With it now reaching home media, it’s time to ask: is it really that good? In brief: yes.
To bring everyone up to speed… Thirty years after Rick Deckard ‘retired’ Roy Batty and went on the run, K (Gosling), a replicant who works as an LAPD Blade Runner, finds the remains of a female replicant who died giving birth. An artificially created person being able to reproduce has wide-ranging consequences, so K is tasked with finding the child. This mission will put him in the crosshairs of the sinister Wallace Corporation, and eventually lead to Rick Deckard himself (Ford).
A shift up in scale, then, from the 1982 Blade Runner, accentuated by the story taking K out of neon-drenched Los Angeles and to the waste-covered ruin that San Diego has become, followed by the nuclear ghost town of Las Vegas. It’s a shift that Villeneuve and his team manage beautifully, with immensely impressive detail put into every frame and stunning cinematography from Roger Deakins. Everything feels true to the original and yet perfectly updated; “the same palette, but by a different painter” as Villeneuve says in one of the Blu-ray’s extras.
This broadening also applies to the story, which takes the core themes of Blade Runner and pokes at them from every direction. It’s a film about what it is to be human, and about the nature of memory. Yet it’s also a very personal film for K, who finds himself with as many questions about his own identity as fans have ever had about Deckard’s. The subplot following his relationship with holographic AI Joi (De Armas) would make a poignant film on its own.
And the really good news is, Blade Runner 2049 sustains repeat viewing. In fact, it gets better. With the initial nervousness out of the way, it’s well worth putting your feet up and taking 2049 in again, to properly appreciate the depths of the story and the craft behind every frame. Plus, knowing the big twist before it comes adds a whole new layer to K’s quest. With this, Denis Villeneuve pulled an Empire Strikes Back – a follow-up that not only lives up to, but substantially expands upon, the first.
Sony has gone all out with the home media releases, and there are a few different variants to get your hands on, including a gorgeous 4K limited edition complete with Blade Runner whiskey glasses. That said, the basic Blu-ray, which we reviewed, has impressive extras, too. Three short films, initially released online, bridge the gap between the two movies. These haven’t been made cheaply; not only do they provide useful backstory to 2049’s world but they look like proper Blade Runner instalments and even feature Jared Leto and Dave Bautista reprising their roles.
The twenty-minute doc Designing the World of Blade Runner, meanwhile, provides some fascinating behind-the-scenes insights, while six Blade Runner 101 featurettes explore facets of the film’s world. Overall, this is a seriously impressive package of a seriously brilliant film and the first must-buy of 2018.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DENIS VILLENEUVE / SCREENPLAY: HAMPTON FANCHER, MICHAEL GREEN / STARRING: RYAN GOSLING, HARRISON FORD, ROBIN WRIGHT, ANA DE ARMAS, JARED LETO / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 5TH