But there's no question that Scott's movie -- based on Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep -- set the pace for a lot of the dystopian sci-fi that followed in the wake of Blade Runner's noir-flavored foray into a dangerously decaying Los Angeles.
Now comes Blade Runner 2049, set some 30 years after the original. If you're looking for a beautifully realized vision of the world as the filmmakers think it might exist several decades from now, this new edition -- directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) -- works hard to provide it.
Major credit accrues to cinematographer Roger Deakins, who makes ample use of yellow and orange hues to create a world that feels as if its enveloped in poisonous smog. Breathe at your own risk.
The desiccated landscapes of the movie's early going tell us that the world has been drained of its richness, its abundance having been exploited to the point where even a dead tree has become something a novelty. Technology may hold sway, but the Earth has become infertile.
We also learn, from opening title cards, that replicants -- genetically engineered creatures that are indistinguishable from humans -- are designed to be safe and servile. But Blade Runners, those who hunt down and "retire" replicants, still operate, searching for older replicants that had the audacity to make a case for replicant self-determination.
Prior to a screening, publicists read a statement asking critics not to reveal plot points and other surprises. OK, I'm not going to talk much about the plot except to say that it's not always easy to follow the one concocted by writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. I'd say that 2049 wants to be a deep-thinking detective story with a replicant hunter named K (Ryan Gosling) sent on a quest to ...
I won't say more, except to note that replicant-related peril puts the entire structure of the society Villeneuve depicts at issue.
Among the film's creations, you'll find Joi (Ana de Armas), an electronically produced holographic woman that adores K and offers no resistance when it comes to fulfilling her role as a fantasy. You'll also see Jared Leto as the head of a company that produces replicants in a performance that's too transparently spectral and weird. Leto's Wallace is served by a ruthless woman (Sylvia Hoeks) who's all business -- and bad business at that.
Even icier than she is on House of Cards, Robin Wright portrays the LAPD big-wig to whom K reports.
Gosling punctuates a purposefully inexpressive performance with small inflections, and -- if you've read anything about the movie -- you know that Harrison Ford returns as Deckard, only in a more worn-out version. The replicant hunter of the first movie evidently has been in hiding for the last 30 years, taking up residence in an abandoned Las Vegas casino where he can watch holographic Elvis projections and we can ponder a few similarities to the work of Stanley Kubrick.
The movie, which has its longueurs, perks up considerably when Ford arrives. I should tell you, though, that most of the time, I found myself in a state in which I seemed to be floating through the story, not really caring where it was going as I awaited the next intriguing bit of visual invention.
In his positive Hollywood Reporter review of 2049, Todd McCarthy astutely pointed out that the "style and tone" of 2049 owes more to Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) than to Scott's original. McCarthy's observation is correct but I wonder whether this approach -- creating an almost expanded sense of time -- doesn't deprive the picture of narrative interest while threatening to turn 2049 into a massive art project with a vision that exists more to be dissected than actually lived in. Food is now produced synthetically. As in the original, cars fly. High tech paraphernalia can be found even in the seedy tenement in which K lives. The ravages of climate change create snowfall in Los Angeles. When Leto's Wallace presides over a room in which a platform is surrounded by water that splays ripples of reflection across walls.
That's another way of saying, Villeneuve doesn't give us much reason to connect emotionally to much of anything in 2049.
I suppose 2049 serves up plenty of fodder for those who wish to philosophize about what's real and what isn't or to ruminate on how artificial intelligence changes our ideas about what it means to be human. But after the movie's sometimes taxing, 164-minute running time, I found that other more immediately pressing needs required attention.