“Blade Runner [is] a film that has much to teach, or at least worry, us about the unprecedented and life-threatening complexities of our technologies.”
Political scientist Douglas E Williams was already expressing concern in 1988, but even now, his sentiment sums up just why Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction masterpiece — and the original source material, Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? — is so pertinent today.
Sci-fi has been dominating our screens for years now. Ever since the genre first exploded onto the scene in the 50s, where bizarre, unstoppable monsters like the giant ants from Them! (1954) or the blob from, well, The Blob (1958), terrified audiences in the millions, people have been scared by what they don’t understand, what they can’t stop, coming to life on screen. These fears have played an important role in adding an atmosphere of palpable paranoia to some of the most memorable films in the genre — Alien (1979) and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) being prime examples.
However, in Blade Runner there are no monstrous shape-shifters, nor acid-spewing aliens contributing to the air of paranoia that sits heavy in the futuristic neo-noir’s neon world. Instead, Blade Runner introduced audiences to a far more human, depressing near-future; one of rain-spattered apartment blocks and fast-moving technology, where people are forced to question their own humanity. We recognise Scott’s vision as simply an amplification of the darkest aspects of the world in 1982.
Keeping that in mind, what better time could there be than 2017 for a Blade Runner sequel? Blade Runner 2049, set 35 years after the original, follows LAPD blade runner K (Ryan Gosling), who tracks down and ‘retires’ replicants, and is led to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) after he discovers a dark secret.
The film is being released at a period in history where millions of people have access to powerful AI at all times – just look at Siri and Alexa. Technology is finding itself getting closer and closer to humanity, often at an alarmingly fast pace.
Ford, who will be reprising his iconic role as the rogue replicant-hunter who’s been on the run for three decades, agrees that the project is releasing at an important time.
“We’re really talking about both the benefit and social consequences,” he said in reference to the technology in the film, going on to explain that Blade Runner 2049 “references technologies that actually are in place now”.
The technology present in Blade Runner is slightly more advanced (and definitely more nefarious) than the phone-based PAs and genetically modified carrots that we’re so used to seeing today — they do have humanlike android slaves, after all. Even so, although we don’t have to worry about any replicant uprisings just yet, screenwriter Hampton Fancher thinks we’re on our way: “There are going to be replicants; we’re so close.”
This is why sci-fi isn’t concerned with the glitz and glamour of Flash Gordon’s golden underwear anymore. Rather, as Gosling has said, science fiction today allows us “to experience the worst-case scenario without actually having to live it”.
That, then, should be the lesson we take from Blade Runner 2049: living in a world so closely connected to the grim techno-futurism of Deckard’s LA, maybe humanity should slow down and appreciate the technology that is so readily available to us. And maybe we should listen to Gosling, who said, only half-jokingly, “I’m being nicer to my electronics… just in case”.
Also starring: Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista and Sylvia Hoeks
Running time: 163 mins