Blade Runner: Appreciation vs. Love
It all started with a casual work-related phone call.
Mike Gaughn and I were having one of our semi-regular chats in which we try to solve all of the problems of the universe, from the nature of political discourse to the state of entertainment-related journalism. And somewhere in the midst of all that, he mentioned Radiohead: “A band that I appreciate, sure,” he said. “A band I know I’m supposed to enjoy as an educated critic. But I just don’t like Radiohead.”
And it was in that moment that I finally came to terms with how I feel about Blade Runner 2049.
The original Blade Runner from 1982 is, without question, one of the most beloved science-fiction films of its generation. It was and is a nearly unparalleled achievement in terms of art direction, design, and cinematography, and it deserves every ounce of critical and academic analysis to which it’s been subjected over the years, through no less than seven different iterations, five of which you can find on the fantastic five-disc Blu-ray release from a few years back.
Roughly once a year, I pull that fantastic collection down from my shelf and dig deeply into one of its various cuts, as any good geek is required to do by Geek Law. I’m fascinated by its narrative and thematic evolution. I’m blown away by its ambiguity and the discussions it inspires.
There’s just one problem. I don’t actually like Blade Runner. I give it all the credit it deserves and absolutely agree with every laudatory treatise on the film that has ever been penned. But for all that, Blade Runner just doesn’t move me. It doesn’t engage my heart in the same way it engages my brain. For all its brilliant reflection on the nature of the soul . . . it just doesn’t strike me as having one itself.
Which brings us to Blade Runner 2049, a film I would have told you this time last year should have never been made. From its very conception, the mere existence of Blade Runner 2049 offended me, despite my respect for the work of director Denis Villeneuve.
I’m ashamed now to admit that I completely skipped 2049 in its commercial-cinema run. I didn’t bother to read reviews. I existed in a weird little bubble where I managed to convince myself this unnecessary sequel didn’t exist.
Until, that is, my daughter wanted to discuss it. And even then, I only begrudgingly watched so I could objectively defend the hatred for the film that I knew I would feel.
I didn’t, though. Hate it, that is. In fact, from the opening scene, I found myself absolutely engrossed in what felt like an impossibly perfect continuation of Ridley’s Scott’s 35-year-old masterpiece. In its tone, its look, its feel, its sound—in every tangible respect, Blade Runner 2049 feels true to the original in a way I never would have dreamt possible. It doesn’t merely capture and explore its predecessor’s themes—it expands on them in a way that’s shockingly relevant. As a work of science-fiction and social commentary, I’d daresay it’s actually more poignant than the original.
If there’s one major difference between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, though, it is this: Villeneuve’s sequel—while every ounce as aloof and at times as ambiguous as Scott’s original, while every bit as dense and worthy of intellectual discussion—has something the first film doesn’t. It has visceral, unbridled, unapologetic humanity. It has a heart, guarded as it may be.
It’s a film I’m absolutely glad I bought on UHD Blu-ray, partly because it utterly deserves to be seen in a pixel-perfect presentation, with Atmos audio and razor-sharp 4K. But more than that, it’s a film I absolutely need to own in a physical format, because it’s one I’ll be returning to again and again, not out of a sense of obligation but out of desire, and I can’t bear the thought of access to it being blocked by access to the internet or the whims of some corporate streaming contract.
I appreciate the original Blade Runner. I have the utmost respect for the original Blade Runner. I will defend it as a work of art until the day I die. I just don’t love Blade Runner.
Blade Runner 2049, though? I absolutely, positively adore it.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.