Blade Runner 2049

At the Cinemark

(R)

Grade: A-

Science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) once asked whether androids dream of electric sheep.

To probe this metaphysical question, Dick introduced us to Rick Deckard, whose police job was to hunt down “rogue replicants,” a rebellious faction inside the android world.

Dick’s story pondered what it means to be human by exploring the blurry line separating androids from humans.

Here’s how Dick described the philosophical dimensions of his own story.

"The purpose of this story as I saw it, was that in his job of hunting and killing these replicants, Deckard becomes progressively dehumanized,” said Dick. “At the same time, the replicants are being perceived as becoming more human. Deckard must question what is the essential difference between him and them? And, to take it one step further, who is he if there is no real difference?"

This thoughtful story, written in 1968, was brought to the screen in 1982 by director Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford. The film is now regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made – topping many lists, ahead of “Star Wars,” “2001,” “Alien” and all others.

“Blade Runner” not only told a compelling story of humans and androids blending into one another, but told that story in a spellbinding visual style that revolutionized the cinematic language of sci-fi. “The Matrix” feels like “Blade Runner’s” nephew.

Director Guillermo Del Toro said “Blade Runner” was “one of those cinematic drugs, that when I first saw it, I never saw the world the same way again.”

Remaking a classic film is a high-risk venture. The conceit that a masterpiece can be rebooted feels like forgery – why copy Monet’s brushstrokes when we can soak in the originals?

The good and surprising news is that in the hands of director Denis Villeneuve – who gave us the tense “Sicario” in 2015 and the thoughtful “Arrival” in 2016 – the remake of Scott’s classic turns out to be both a respectful and quite respectable film in its own right.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins has crafted a jaw-dropping visual canvas that, at times, is museum-worthy. The look of the sequel matches and at moments surpasses the unforgettable work of Jordan Cronenweth in the original. (See this film on as large a screen as possible.)

As for the story, the verdict is mixed, depending on how deeply invested a viewer might be in this intricately plotted tale of humans and androids. The 144-minute length allows the film to develop its themes at an unrushed pace. I love long, convoluted journeys, so I was never restless – but many moviegoers may find this story both too slow and too confusing.

The confusion is actually quite intentional by both Philip K. Dick and by the filmmakers. We are supposed to struggle with what’s real and what’s not – who’s human and who is digital. Our uncertainty brings us inside the central metaphysical question of whether, as cyber civilization progresses, we will be able to separate androids from humanoids – and, more crucially, whether we should even care.

The MacGuffin in this story is a coffin buried beneath a tree that contains bones. Could this be the offspring of an android? If androids begin giving birth, humans may lose control of their cyber-servants and the Trump administration may have to add androids to its growing unwelcome list. (I support making Helena a sanctuary city for androids. Bring us your huddled cyber-masses!)

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To make matters more intriguing, our hero Officer K, wants to unravel his family tree. Is he android? If so, how created? If not, does he have parents?

Those of us familiar with “Blade Runner” THINK we know the answer to these questions from the start, but, trust me, the battle rages on among sci-fi aficionados about whether the Blade Runner is human or android. Harrison Ford reportedly argued with the filmmakers about whether his character was human or android! Maybe Han Solo was an android.

Philip K. Dick seems to say Deckard is human, but the first film seems to suggest Deckard is android.

The delightful confusion over Deckard’s DNA propels the “Blade Runner” mystique. Just when we think we’re dealing with a human, they inadvertently do something androidish and get shot.

The most mesmerizing android is Officer K’s companion Joi, a beautiful sentient hologram. Joi joins an ever-growing studio of gorgeous aliens in cinema, which raises the question of why moviemakers are insisting that androids be sexy females. Is Joi a male fantasy? Can an android “female” be oppressed if she’s a cyber-creation? Argue about that over Riesling.

Film buffs must see “Blade Runner 2049” at least for its direction and its visuals. Stunning, simply stunning. The story could use a bit more blood in its heart, but it’s still quite absorbing as is.

I asked my cinephile friend Jon, perhaps a replicant, for his own verdict.

“A wonderful and worthy sequel that matches the original in both the beauty of its photography and maturity of its narrative,” he responded. “Too many reboots/sequels to classic films rely heavily on star-power, cameos, and nostalgia. ‘2049’ is a fine film in its own right that doesn't take for granted or use its predecessor as a crutch.”

So, two human thumbs up – one mine, one Jon’s – for “Blade Runner 2049.”

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