Like most boys my age (and we’re certainly not men in this context) Blade Runner is an important film. It was released in 1982 when I was 10 years old. Unlike Star Wars, which hit me at the age of 5 and never let go, Blade Runner didn’t impact me at first. Sure, there was this film that Han Solo / Indiana Jones did, but it was for grownups, which meant it wasn’t interesting, and then later became very interesting indeed.
It feels like we grew up together. By the time I was a teenage nerd with pretensions of sophistication, Blade Runner had been raised to the pantheon of Great Sci-Fi Movies. It was untouchable. In 1992 the first Director’s Cut emerged, which was great, though I couldn’t not hear the voiceover - I’d seen the “bad” version too many times. Blade Runner’s reputation felt cemented. It wasn’t like the other sci-fi that we enjoyed but secretly knew was a bit shit. Blade Runner was Actually Good.
35 years on from the release and 25 years since I had a Blade Runner poster on my wall, market forces are making me think about the film again. It seems to have completely dropped off my radar and I haven’t seen it in years. I don’t even have a copy on my Big Hard Drive Of Illicitly Acquired Movies, which surprised me. Blade Runner felt like it was always there, a given, maybe so much so that it didn’t need to be watched. It had transcended its status as a mere movie and become something bigger: an idea, a reference, a template. I didn’t need to watch Blade Runner because I’d watched Akira, or The Matrix, or some other dystopian future narrative that was said to borrow from it.
So I watched Blade Runner the other night. And, as expected, it wasn’t very good. No, that’s not fair. It looks amazing and Rutger Hauer is astonishing. But everything else is hokey as all hell. It’s a faux-noir B-movie with polish, and if approached like that is perfectly fine. It made me think of They Live which I didn’t see as a young-un and only recently developed a liking for. Imagine if They Live had been bestowed the mantle of “best sci-fi film in the world ever” or somesuch nonsense. That’s what it feels like has happened to Blade Runner.
The lesson here is don’t let young male nerds label stuff as good. My generation put hacks like Jim Cameron on a pedestal and the current crop think the idiot-boy Zac Snyder is some kind of genius. Indulge them, sure, but help them find their way to sanity. (Alex Cox’s Moviedrome saved me. I often wonder who the current saviour is.)
Anyway, Blade Runner wasn’t that good but here we are in late-capitalism which demands all cultural nostalgia is stripmined, so we have a new Blade Runner film. This is not the same as the new Star Wars films. I can watch those and be transported to the mind of my pre-teen self. That kid was a good kid. He is worth spending time with. Blade Runner transports me to the mind of my late-teen self. That kid was a fucking idiot. Anyone forced to spend time with him has my sympathies. So a new Blade Runner film starts with a handicap. Next there’s Ridley Bloody Scott who gave us Prometheus, an astonishing pile of nonsense, followed by Covenant which succeeded only in being the first boring Alien movie. He might not be directing this one but he’s bound to have his paws all over it.
So, not too bothered. But then I remember Denis Villeneuve is directing. Arrival was one of the best films I saw last year. I’m interested again. Maybe he can take this template and make something new with it. Maybe he can keep Ridley Scott at arms length.
Anyway, to cut what’s becoming a tedious story short, I went to see 2049 tonight. I enjoyed it a lot. I’d recommend seeing it in the cinema as the sound design is great. But I’d have to say there’s a really interesting film there struggling under the legacy of Blade Runner. References are initially light enough that the film feels like it’s only incidentally a sequel, and it’s all the better for it. The first hour sets up something new and original, teasing us with a sense that despite visual echoes maybe we haven’t seen this all before. Maybe we’re going on a new journey.
And then Harrison Ford turns up and it’s all about Deckard because fandom and nostalgia and Ridley Scott thinks Deckard is an interesting character when he’s not in the slightest.