In a way, it’s strange to think that a sequel to a box office failure arriving 35 years later would be one of the most anticipated films this year. Of course, few films have built as big a legacy as 1982’s Blade Runner subsequently and such is the legendary status it has attained, the news that a sequel was finally on its way was met with equal amounts of anticipation and trepidation.
With the release of the first full trailer for Blade Runner 2049, we have our first real test as to which emotional response was correct and our clearest indication yet as to what we can expect on October 6th.
1. “THE THINGS I’VE SEEN WITH YOUR EYES”
In terms of visual style, Blade Runner is one of the most imitated films of the last 35 years. Ridley Scott’s 1982 original perfected the cyberpunk look before cyberpunk was even a thing, so it is a huge relief to see such reverence in the aesthetic of the sequel. Admittedly, we should expect no less from the greatest living cinematographer, Roger Deakins, but it’s truly impressive that he’s made it look so fresh after nearly 4 decades of saturated mimicry. Indeed, alongside a plethora of familiar rain drenched neon streets, there are plenty of shots that expand upon the original’s palette and surely 30 plus years of evolution in special effects will mean we will be seeing plenty of things that you people wouldn’t believe.
From further (and not particularly intensive) analysis of the visuals, we can glean that Blade Runner 2049 is sticking to its predecessor’s world rather than retconning itself to appear relevant to our modern day. Atari was one of the several companies said to have suffered from the Curse of Blade Runner after their logo appeared several times in the original and have all but disappeared from the modern video games market subsequently, so it’s very telling to see their logo so prominent in the early shots from the trailer. This is more than just an easter egg, this is a statement of director Denis Villeneuve’s commitment to authenticity that will hopefully be prevalent throughout proceedings.
2. “THAT’S WHAT IT IS TO BE A SLAVE”
As Jared Leto’s Wallace so adroitly points out in the trailer’s opening line “Every civilization was built off the back of a disposable workforce…” as we see the “birth” of a replicant for the very first time and it’s a pertinent reminder of exactly what these synthetic people are in the world of Blade Runner. Wallace completes his sentence with “…but I can only make so many” which carries all kinds of connotations. Thanks to the golden lighting in these shots, it would seem that Wallace is new head honcho of the Tyrell Corporation (or the 2049 equivalent) and could be struggling to meet demand for his “products”.
That Leto’s character is blind is likely of utmost significance since eyes were a major part of the original’s symbolism along with visual memories and photographs being so precious to the replicants we saw in that film. There’s an unmistakable sinister quality to him in the trailer suggesting he will be the antagonist of the piece, but in what capacity?
It could well be that he is trying to legitimize the existence of replicants on Earth and change their legal status, which is backed up by Robin Wright’s police chief exclaiming “The world is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there’s no wall; you’ve brought a war.” as well her mentioning “keeping order” several times insinuating that the way things are is about to change.
Or perhaps they already have. There are some indications that replicants may no longer be illegal on Earth with the new model “Joi” being seen advertised throughout the trailer suggesting that replicants might be a consumer product now.
3. “DID YOU EVER TAKE THAT TEST YOURSELF, MR DECKARD?”
Initially, when we saw Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard return in the previous teaser, it rained all over the “Deckard is a replicant” parade that’s been on the march since Ridley Scott heavily implied it in his 1992 Director’s Cut. Replicants only have 4-year lifespans and yet Deckard is still moping around 30 years later? Case closed.
But when Officer K says “I wanna ask you some questions” to Deckard in a decaying Vegas casino, it’s delivered with some serious portent by Mr. Gosling. Though we don’t see any of the gear for the Voight-Kampff test used to discern replicant from human, it’s implied that’s exactly what K is seeking to do. So Deckard could well be a paranoid android but one thing is for sure, he really wasn’t in the mood for any visitors as we watch K carefully avoid over a booby-trap in the entrance of the casino. That the same casino is bombarded in the following sequence of shots also posits that -and not for the first time in his career- Harrison Ford is playing the fugitive here.
4. “INCEPT DATES, LONGEVITY”
As the trailer comes to a close, we see several shots of K looking aghast at a date scratched into some derelict wood and a book that looks like it’s been set upon by the Dead Poets Society, all while Ana de Armas’s Joi tells him “You’re special. Your story isn’t over yet”. It’s made abundantly clear to us that Joi is a replicant thanks to adverts for her “model” cropping up a couple of times and there is a relationship between the two characters that again supports the “replicants are legal” theory. Is K a replicant too or is he just wrestling with that idea?
The missing pages may be symbolic of the possibility that the Tyrell Corporation is just as able to remove memories as it is to implant them, so is K looking to fill in some gaps in his own past or some else’s? You wouldn’t see much return on the odds of that log scratching being an incept date for whichever replicant’s fingers are poking through the dirt but K’s shocked reaction prompts us to believe it has affected him personally and seems unbefitting of a hardened blade runner. There’s definitely an argument to say that K might be going through a serious identity crisis in the final film.
5. “REPLICANTS ARE LIKE ANY OTHER MACHINE”
Such is the ambiguity the trailer is hell bent on eliciting about the major players’ true nature, it almost comes as a relief to witness some more obvious genuine skin jobs walking the streets. There is a clear call back to Blade Runner‘s Pris and Zhora in Mackenzie Davis’s and Sylvia Hoek’s stylings, but we don’t really see enough of them to know whether they’re both beauty and the beast or just your standard pleasure models.
We get just as short shrift with Dave Bautista’s bespectacled heavy but we do glimpse him throwing K through a wall which would cast him in the same mold as Brion James’s Leon Kowalski. It would be going out on a limb to say that these three constitute a new band of fugitive replicants that Officer K is pursuing but there are similarities with the previous bunch. Hopefully, that’s where the parallels end since having another gang of runaway replicants as the driving narrative is heading towards retread territory. It feels like there’s much more at stake here anyway, especially with the inferred menace of Jared Leto’s Wallace.
In its entirety, this first full glimpse of this most belated of sequels certainly pushes the needle towards anticipation rather than trepidation. They’ve nailed the look and there are no early signs of any dumbing down. Whether Blade Runner 2049 will end up being a benefit or hazard is something we won’t know until October 6th. From what we’ve seen so far, though, it doesn’t look like it will be causing many tears to be lost in rain.