If one was asked the question “What two science fiction movies best stand the test of time, at this point, for classic status?” this reviewer would have to say: Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982) – the first for masterful direction and detailed visuals, the second for fantasy simulation of a possible future in a crowded world (in 2019) where machines and humans are virtually indistinguishable. Both films touch on the enormously significant, philosophical and theological issue: What makes us human? The flip side of that cloaks the equally provocative question: how “human” is it possible to make machines? In very different ways, both films anticipate a world where there could be only machines.
This Canadian-American science fiction film is the much anticipated sequel to “Blade Runner”. It is directed by another Director (Denis Villeneuve), and it reprises Harrison Ford in his original iconic role as former police Blade Runner, Rick Deckard. His job in “Blade Runner” (1982) was to hunt down “replicants” – machines that look, act, and sound like humans, and some of the replicants don’t know they are machines.
LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a new Blade Runner, working for the Los Angeles police department, and he takes the lead role in this film, with Harrison Ford as the supporting act. Officer K lives in a polluted world where rain and snow are toxic. He discovers a secret that could mean the end to humanity, and goes in search of former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, who disappeared thirty years ago, and who, he thinks, holds the key to an impending war of humans and machines.
The designer of replicants, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) – the “father” of the replicants – is a blind geneticist who believes humans are a doomed species, and that replicants will take their place. Wallace is a believer in “disposable workers” and machines are his answer, and he knows that the war to come will be between humans and replicants. The one intriguing question about Deckhard is whether he himself is a replicant. This movie offers hints, but supplies no definite answer.
Technically, the film is extraordinarily innovative, and visually spectacular. Its scenes vary colour, size, perspective and brightness, and, in a controlled way, its visuals accompany frantic action. Interesting figures keep the viewer’s attention vibrantly alive. The character, Joi (Ana de Armas), for instance, constantly transforms herself to fit different fantasies of Officer K and others.
Villeneuve, as the Director of this sequel, has established the reputation for finely detailed direction (e.g., “Sicario”, 2015), and of exploring complex ideas which give serious substance to science fiction scenarios (as in his multiple Oscar nominated film, “Arrival”, 2016). Here he explores the limits of imaginative consciousness with extraordinary set designs that are breath- taking in their composition and imaginative intent. The issue of human-machine interaction helped establish a defining moment in “2001: A Space Odyssey” involving Hal, the sentient spacecraft’s murderous computer. This movie explores intriguingly, whether machines (replicants) will be the master race, and it does that brilliantly.
Although the film pulls the stops out in lengthy fashion on action combined with heavy brutality, this is a sci-fi film for thinkers that takes the 1982 Blade Runner movie magnificently forward in an exciting and creative way. Villeneuve masterfully distances the viewer in a fantasy creation of a world that is too traumatic to envisage, but one that is intellectually challenging and emotionally engaging. The film has stunning visuals that capitalise superbly on fear of the unknown.
“Whether Rick Deckard is a replicant, or not?”, is a question that hangs in the balance. “Blade Runner” was an iconic film – very good, but not a masterpiece. This film is a masterpiece, and a very worthy successor to “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Review by the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting