By Rich Morgan
"I hope you don't mind me taking a liberty."
These are the first words spoken in Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve. Odd words, yet oddly fitting given Hollywood's ostensible inability to take any kind of creative liberty with anything, especially established franchises (unless such a liberty aligns with market trends, appeals to a wide demographic, and receives approval from a production committee). While J.J. Abrams was rehashing the plot of A New Hope and mincing the ethical ruminations of Star Trek into bang-bang pew-pew destruction porn, one film of sci-fi legend remained untouched until this year. Blade Runner - a film that many people I know have heard of but drastically fewer have actually seen.
On the one hand, I find this rather surprising given how its legacy, both visual and thematic, has left an indelible mark on the world of film. On the other hand, it's really not that surprising at all. Butchered by studio interference upon release, summarily disregarded by critics and general audiences alike, Blade Runner survived off the back of its cult following long enough to become one of "those" movies -- the kind of movie that people know is supposed to be important but still can't bring themselves to watch.
Perhaps it's fitting, then, that the film's sequel is following in its footsteps by bombing at the American box office (though doing markedly better overseas). Perhaps it is also fitting that instead of retreading or bastardizing the original, it instead reflects and expands upon its predecessor as a good sequel should -- something clear to me from the opening shot.
The original Blade Runner opens with an iconic shot of flames spewing in plumes above the Los Angeles skyline -- pitch black beyond, aglow with innumerable neon lights beneath, all reflected in the sharp blue of a man's iris. A world on fire.
Blade Runner 2049 also opens on an extreme close-up of a man's eye. And then it cuts to a sea of solar panels -- an incalculable expanse of dead earth beneath, an ashen sky stretching endlessly beyond. A world that has now burned to the ground, straining to suck some light from a deadened sky since there's nothing left to burn. It felt immediately familiar. It also felt completely different. This feeling would persist for the entire film.