A follow-up to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was always a point of discussion and contention within the sci-fi community during the late 80s and 90s. With people wondering what happened to characters like Deckard and Rachael after the final credits rolled? How would Ridley Scott add to the Blade Runner continuity with a sequel? And, whether or not it was necessary at all to make a sequel to the cult classic?
And while the narrative did continue within the novelization version of Blade Runner, penned by K. W. Jeter (which ran for 4 books), a definitive cinematic sequel to Blade Runner would remain in development hell for decades to follow.
It wouldn’t be until director Dennis Villeneuve, notable for his work on Sicario (2014), Arrival (2015) and Dune Part 1 (2021), would enter the project. After a few more years in development, a sequel to Blade Runner, titled Blade Runner 2049 would be released to the public in 2017.
Despite its critical reception from both audiences and critics alike being extremely positive, the film was considered by Warner Bros as a box office failure, only raking in $259.3 million at the box office on a $185 million budget.
However, despite Blade Runner 2049 not being a financial hit. Many filmmakers, including myself, consider the film to be one of the greatest sequels of all time, not only due to its thought-provoking plot, immersive themes and its masterclass in cinematography and visual storytelling. but also, through the film’s respect and consideration of the 1982 original film’s themes and message of; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
This is why many filmmakers consider Blade Runner 2049 to be one of the greatest sequels general moviegoers have never seen before, and here’s why.
Blade Runner 2049’s Plot
The plot of Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the original. Here, the audience is introduced to K (played by Ryan Gosling). K is a Blade Runner for the LAPD, acting as judge, jury, and executioner for replicants who need to be “retired”. It’s revealed to the audience that K is also a replicant, hunting his own kind so he may stay alive for a few years longer in the post-apocalyptic world of Blade Runner. However, when K discovers that a replicant named Rachael (the same Rachael from the first Blade Runner film) possibly gave birth to a replicant child with Deckard, K’s life and his journey are sent spiralling down the rabbit hole of truth. K is forced to come to terms with the sins of his past and consider whether or not he, himself is a replicant or a human. K’s journey of self-discovery would lead him to meet Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) and the two must band together to find the replicant child before it’s discovered by other replicants and instigates a war between humanity and replicants.
While I don’t want to spoil anything about the film and implore you to watch the movie yourself, it cannot be understated just how impactful the film is when it comes to portraying K’s journey of self-discovery. K is a ruthless, cold, and calculating Blade Runner at the beginning of the film, however, when his journey leads him down a rabbit hole of self-actualization and reality-breaking revelations, we are shown a broken, determined man fixated on nothing but uncovering the truth.
The film’s execution when it comes to the presentation of themes like identity, destiny and what it means to be alive is handled in a way that is not only subtle, but also is the focal driving point of the whole story. Never deviating away in order to service an unnecessary sub-plot. This, in turn, makes the film’s plot feel more focused and sharp, compared to a messy branch of sub-plots that ultimately never go anywhere and serve to only overcomplicate a story of this magnitude and importance.
Blade Runner 2049’s Cinematography
The cinematography of Blade Runner is something that is always been a major selling point for the film and even won the film an Academy Award back in 2018. The film’s cinematographer, Sir Roger Alexander Deakin (notable for The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men and, 1917) employed a single-camera set-up for the film. While this technique of cinematography is seen today as a relic of old filmmaking, in Blade Runner 2049’s case, this single-camera set-up only serves to straighten the creative vision for the film and strengthen what is ultimately chosen to be shown on screen and to the audience in the films final cut.
Each shot of Blade Runner 2049 feels important, needed, and symbiotic in telling this cohesive story. Every shot feels cold, dark, and dreary to match the films post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk aesthetic. Sir Roger Alexander Deakin uses each frame and shot to tell a story, no space on the screen is wasted or unutilized, which in turn makes the world feel more alive than ever for the audience.
Whether the camera is flying with K through the neon-soaked streets of 2049 Los Angeles, following K through the orange wastelands of future Las Vegas or, the bleak factories of future San Diego. Each shot, scene and cinematic angle has its own unique story, voice, and character. No shot in Blade Runner 2049 is wasted and every second of screen time only serves to further the plot that plays out on film.
Blade Runner 2049’s Voice
As previously touched on in the plot breakdown of the film, Blade Runner 2049’s themes of identity and destiny are given great gravitas throughout the 2-hour and 43-minute runtime of the film. K’s journey of self-discovery and metaphorical rebirth from a ruthless, soulless replicant to a human who feels compassion and pain for the ones he’s lost, feels natural and purposeful by the filmmakers.
The film does an excellent job of giving K’s story ample time to breathe and develop when compared to other Hollywood blockbusters, K’s relationships with his holographic girlfriend JOI, his friendship with Deckard and his battle against fellow replicant / Blade Runner, Luv, all feel natural and fleshed out by the end of the film.
The idea of what it means to be alive is a question that the Blade Runner series was built upon. And this idea of what it means to be alive is epitomized by K’s journey of self-discovery and destiny throughout the film. With Blade Runner 2049’s presentation of a replicant who can feel emotions (K) to its audience, the film openly challenges its audience to reevaluate their ideas and values when it comes to the definition of what it means to be alive/human.
That’s what makes Blade Runner 2049 the greatest sequel you have never seen before.
While Blade Runner 2049 may not have been the box office success many studio executives at Warner Bros were hoping it would be. Blade Runner 2049 in recent years has started to be recognized by filmmakers alike as one of the most impressive pieces of cinema to be released in recent memory. Every second of this film is purposeful and engaging, its cinematography and portrayal of K’s journey is both breathtaking and gorgeous in every way possible, the film showcases just how engaging both Dennis Villeneuve can be as a director and the world of Blade Runner can be when in the right hands.
And while the general movie-going audience wasn’t interested in watching this film back in 2017, I strongly encourage each reader of this article to put Blade Runner 2049 on their watchlist in order to truly experience what they missed out on 6 years ago.
That’s why Blade Runner 2049 is the greatest sequel you have never seen before.