PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It didn’t exactly take off at the box office.
And although it was Oscar-nominated for Art Direction and Set Decoration, it was no critics’ darling.
But enough fans swore by Blade Runner in and since 1982 for it to become a cult hit and a major cultural influence.
Thus the considerable anticipation and enthusiasm for its 35-years-later and worth-the-wait sequel, Blade Runner 2049.
Which, from this vantage point, outdoes and improves upon its predecessor, even though it tests our patience with an extravagant running time of well over 2-1/2 hours.
A neo-noir science-fiction thriller, Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, was a triumph of production design that, frankly, lacked appealing characters and an absorbing narrative.
Ford, grumpier than ever and only in the sequel’s final hour, played Rick Denkard in the original, a former cop in dystopian Los Angeles in 2019 tracking down law-enforcing androids – renegade “replicants” – slaves of sorts who have mutinied in space and come to Earth, hoping to extend their life spans.
It was based on the Philip K. Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” and it envisioned a future ravaged by corporate corruption and ecological disaster.
The sequel, directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, Arrival), executive produced by Scott, and scripted by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, based on Fancher’s story, tells the tale of a discovery by a young blade runner, Officer K, played by well-cast Ryan Gosling, of a long-buried secret, one with potentially devastating societal implications, that leads him to Deckard, who has virtually disappeared for the last 30 years.
Bleakly but breathtakingly shot if leisurely paced, and ever thoughtful, this follow-up one-ups the start-up original, preserving its secrets and mysteries while conjuring a few of its own as it explores the existential question of just what constitutes human life and looks in on characters who wonder just who or what is real.
Villeneue, as he’s done before – especially in Arrival, which we know now was no fluke — envelops the viewer in his compelling story, maintaining the melancholy mood with people living in and with fear, just as we do, thus drawing us in more urgently than the original did.
The striking cinematography alone is, as they say, worth the price of admission, and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, with 13 previous Oscar nominations and no Oscars to show for it, may finally be about to end his winless streak.
So we’ll replicate 3 stars out of 4 for the relentlessly nightmarish Blade Runner 2049, a stolid but solid sci-fi sequel that’s more than an equal.