The appeal of 'Blade Runner'

Earlier this week, Warne Bros. released a 6-minute short film, starring Jared Leto, that takes place in between the original 'Blade Runner' and the upcoming sequel. It also features an introduction from the sequel's director, Denis Villeneuve ('Arrival,' 'Enemy,' 'Sicario,'):

This short sparked some thoughts about the original 'Blade Runner,' and what I found appealing about the film.

From the Bradbury Building in downtown LA. The building is a notable location in the original 'Blade Runner' film. I visited it earlier this summer.

From the Bradbury Building in downtown LA. The building is a notable location in the original 'Blade Runner' film. I visited it earlier this summer.

I first watched 'Blade Runner' (theatrical version) three years ago (August 2014), and I had high hopes for the movie. It is almost universally well-regarded, and it is a known of favorite of some of my favorite directors. Thus, I was expecting for the film to blow me away.

I did not like it, at first.

Perhaps it was the expectations, but the film just did not do it for me. When you experience art with preconceived notions, you are likely to be disappointed (this also happened the first time I listened to J Dilla's 'The Shining', and it eventually became one of my favorite albums). 

In hindsight, I realize 'Blade Runner' is very much a film where you must turn off your brain and simply go for the ride in order to enjoy it. The same can be said for Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' They are both pure cinema, if you will, that require a relaxed focus.

'Blade Runner' featured an extensive use of minatures. Image via  an amazing gallery on Gizmodo .

'Blade Runner' featured an extensive use of minatures. Image via an amazing gallery on Gizmodo.

I gave Blade Runner another chance about a year and a half later (the final cut version, this time) and fell in love with the movie. This time the film did indeed blow me away.

I have tried to qualify what it is that makes the film so special for me:

1. An immersive world.

"I have always been a huge fan of Ridley Scott and certainly when I was a kid. ‘Alien,’ ‘Blade Runner’ just blew me away because they created these extraordinary worlds that were just completely immersive." - Christopher Nolan, via IndieWire.

'Blade Runner' storyboard sketch, via  FlavorWire .

'Blade Runner' storyboard sketch, via FlavorWire.

While CGI continues to create impressive visual experiences, the use of real materials, miniatures and other tactile methods for production design and special effects remains one of the most enjoyable - and of course immersive - aspects of filmmaking, and this largely explains why I love 'Blade Runner.' The rain, the lights, the lack of sun. 2019 LA. 

When I sat back and experienced 'Blade Runner,' the fully realized world - with its own rules, its own culture, its own flow - was jaw-dropping. It achieved what all great films are supposed to - the movie transported me to another realm while I was watching it. 

Going back to Nolan (his thoughts on '2001' apply aptly here):

"I didn’t care about understanding the film. I just felt this extraordinary experience of being taken to another world. You didn’t doubt this world for an instant. It had a larger than life quality."

2. Existential contemplations

Albeit subtly, 'Blade Runner' examines the core concepts of A.I. sci-fi: agency, consciousness, what it means to be human. That the film does not do this outwardly (the events in the film demonstrate and show these concepts, rather than tell or explain them) is a mark of the film's brilliance and lasting appeal. While other films have done this too, 'Blade Runner' uniqely uses basic human functions, such as the senses or our ability to love and be loved, to make the viewer question the very nature of human existence. 

Looking ahead to 2049.

I, for one, am excited for the sequel this October. Villeneuve has been effective with long runtimes before ('Prisoners'), so the film's apparent 2.5 hour+ length should not cause worry to fans. Additionally, Roger Deakins is the director of photography (they collaborated on 'Sicario'), so the visuals will be stunning - as the trailers demonstrate.  The cast looks promising, too, with Ryan Gosling's reserved persona (a la 'Drive') lending well to his role as a blade runner. Ana De Armas's character seems quite interesting, and, though I do not know much about her particular character, Robin Wright's acting caliber can fit a number of personality types in the 'Blade Runner' universe. And, of course, Harrison Ford returns for his role as an older Deckard.

The excitement for the sequel has reminded me just how good the original really was, and it is surely worth a watch or revisit for any fan of film, science fiction or creativity.

- JG


Syd Mead's concept art for 'Blade Runner,' via  Wired .

Syd Mead's concept art for 'Blade Runner,' via Wired.