I had never seen Blade Runner… until now.
How.is.that.possible? I certainly felt like I’d seen it; there are enough Blade Runner tropes in modern day cinema for me to feel like I was familiar with Deckard’s raincoat; Rachel’s '40s hair style; as well as seminal lines like "wake up… time to die". And this is a sci-fi friendly household with a husband who talks wistfully about the first time he saw the film on VHS; both our kids had to watch it as a rite of passage - one was only 12 at the time... he didn’t make it to the end.
So, I felt that I must have seen it, otherwise how could I reference it so easily, so smoothly in conversation?
Well, reader, I hadn’t.
That much was clear in the opening scenes. Because if I had seen it the images would have been unmistakably seared into my retina for a lifetime, as they are now. I wouldn't have been able to forget the hypnotic soundtrack, the discombobulating sense of unease, the unrelenting rain, the ugly retirement of the stripper and, finally, the denouement on the roof.
So, as a Blade Runner newbie, does the film still stand up?
Well, duh. There’s no way a film worms its way into the filmic consciousness and lore unless it has enough going for it to warrant that. It is utterly mesmerising and possibly the most atmospheric film ever made. The no-longer-12-year-old says he likes his films a little more contemporary but, frankly, what does he know? Sure there is a lot of clunkiness and it is interesting to see which brands director Ridley Scott thought would stand the test of time (Blade Runner is set in a not too distant 2019) – though he got Coca Cola™ right - but overall the film delivers because even though you might recognise the films it was inspired by, and definitely films it inspired, this is visionary, unique, compelling filmmaking.
Which is why, the prospect of this little hot ticket is so tantalising. Blade Runner 2049. Bring it on. Denis Villeneuve is one of those directors who gets better with each film. Prisoners had taut storytelling. Sicario had that dark, brooding underbelly of violence. Arrival had its atmospheric soundscape, with a sense of dread running underneath. His collaborations with composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (though Jóhannsson was not ultimately used for Blade Runner 2049) have been some of the best compositions I’ve heard in the cinema in recent years. Ryan Gosling, who has come of age under a spotlight of violence with the likes of Drive and Only God Forgives, is a charismatic lead. All was primed for the best film of the year. And all the 5 star reviews will lead you to believe it is.
And it is great. In fact Roger Deakins' cinematography is already gearing up for an Oscar nom (this is the way we judge craft in the 21st century). It does leave me a little cold, but that is just down to the leftover love for the original. This is a fantastic companion piece. It takes all the themes and tone of the 1982 film and amplifies it into an epic sci-fi dystopia that seeps from the screen.
But the original does have Harrison Ford. There’s something rougher around the edge with Ford, something unknowable coupled with a sense of peril. The best scenes in Blade Runner 2049 for me are when Gosling and Harrison are on screen together. Gosling’s K is on a more intimate, personal journey that makes the film more insular. But these are not reservations - this is the film of the season. And I have no doubts that multiple viewings will serve the film well. It is set to be a modern classic.
Blade Runner 2049 plays on our screens from Friday 6th October. Tickets are available now.