To prepare for the new movie I did not manage to re-watch any version of Blade Runner but instead re-read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time anyway. I walked away from the movie in a definite love-hate relationship with the movie. It is a movie for the hard-core Blade Runner fan and the disciples of film as an art form. It should be needless to quote River Song here…
Memories of Blade Runner
I remember the basics: Deckard sent out against his will to retire a group of Nexus-6 replicants. He tests Rachel and has a strange non-love story with her. He hunts and kills and finally meets his match with Roy Baty who dies after a hell of a fight and a great speech. The movie’s theme for was empathy is the key to being human, and Deckard is a human with so little empathy and the replicants seem to have a lot more, but it’s all faked. Of course there are the visuals, the crowded always dark nearly always raining city and the cluttered combinations of food carts and ad-hoc labs and omni-present advertising.
Memories of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
My long term memories from first reading the book decades ago was challenging the idea that Deckard was a human, or could be a replicant himself. The re-read made me realize that this was not what the book was about. The switcheroo with the fake replicant cops was a smokescreen that barely lasted a chapter. The replicants are evil in their callousness. They cut off the legs of a spider because they are certain it could get by with only four legs, and when it doesn’t move they set it on fire to prove their point. It is cruel and uncaring. The book emphasizes this as a theme over and over again.
Blade Runner 2049
As soon as the music started I knew I was back in the world of Blade Runner. Seeing the devastation of California in the opening shots let us know exactly how bad things were, even worse than in the first movie. The bounty hunter and the prey. This is how it works. The reveal in that first fight that K is a replicant was a little disappointing. It made it harder to care about the character. It made me think that we need to get to Deckard sooner, because it’s nice to have a human to root for.
The memories of childhood introduced the idea that K is actually a human, somehow and for some reason convinced he his a replicant. This was great. The best part of the PK Dick stories is questioning basic foundational realities. That gave me some investment with the character. Because K begins to question who he is, I begin to spin out the possibilities and predictions and watch them play out.
The other great question was the mixup in the genetic profile of the missing child. This played out well. I was surprised that it turned out to be Dr. Stelline. I didn’t catch her tears at the memory as recognition, but basic human empathy. So that’s on me.
I even liked the effects of the gratuitous sex scene, but it was still a gratuitous sex scene. The idea that a holographic home companion would fake that much emotion to a replicant didn’t feed into the central question of the first movie as much as seem, well, odd. I can buy the replicant living in a grotty little apartment in an ugly neighborhood instead of living in a closet. I can buy that part of emulating a human is to have a human need for companion. One of the ideas in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is presented by JR Isadore who decides that it’s good to have neighbors and people around because it helps keep us human. Even once he realizes his new neighbors are replicants and he could get a major reward for turning them in, he desires their company more than the money. K even has a “gift” for the JOI he owns. It’s a strange relationship for a tool to want a humanish tool.
What did shock me about watching the film is how impatient I’ve become as an audience member. When K realizes he’s in the set of his memory and he looks to confirm the wooden horse is still there, the descent down the stairs took too long. I was impatient because I knew where he was going and what he was going to find ind would have been surprising if he hadn’t. I felt there were a lot of scenes that just took too long. It fit visually with the first movie as I remember it, but in several scenes I realized I was thinking “get on with it.”
The idea of the replicant army seemed plugged in to set up a sequel, if this movie gets one.
Finally, Wallace seemed a strange uber-villain to the whole thing. He didn’t have a clear goal. Yeah, he wanted to improve his product, but to what end?
I will probably re-watch it down the road, back to back with the first movie, and come away with a different reaction.