Obsolescence, by Tyler Smith
Reviews of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 have started to come in and it appears that the film is a stunning science fiction achievement. Many critics state that the film doesn’t fall into the “unnecessary sequel” category, but instead further develops the world and themes of Ridley Scott’s 1982 film. It stars Ryan Gosling, a dependable leading man, and is shot by Roger Deakins, possibly the most respected cinematographer working in film today. The movie is Villeneuve’s second science fiction film, after last year’s masterful Arrival. The film is seen by many as a modern masterpiece.
So why am I so reluctant to see it?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m going to see it. There’s too much going on to ignore it. Some are suggesting that it could be this year’s Mad Max: Fury Road, a well-received genre picture that manages to break through into full Oscar consideration (and a surprising number of wins). I’m going to see it, if for no other reason than to be a part of the larger conversation.
And yet I find myself resistant. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps I’m just having a knee jerk negative reaction to the idea of a sequel. Maybe there have been so many reboots and shameless cash grabs in the last few years that I’m inherently suspicious of any new film based on a known property. But, of course, those reviews specifically say that the new Blade Runner isn’t a cynical studio project; it’s a genuinely engaging film.
But still I am reluctant. If I’m being honest with myself, it may have to do with my movie nerd sensibilities. Many people have seen the original Blade Runner (in some form or another), but there are many more that probably haven’t. The film is 35 years old, after all. In my time as a teaching assistant, I found that not many of the students had seen the film. But it’s reasonable to assume that many of them will see the new film. And, as they do, a few of them might seek out the original, which is always a good thing.
But, given how good the new film is supposed to be, perhaps those that see it first will look at the meditative pacing or general sensibilities of the original and find that they prefer the new one (not that it’s going to be a non-stop thrill ride itself, at 165 minutes). And so, in my paranoid head, I worry that this new film – almost as a function of it being so good – will eclipse the original, with the 1982 film eventually being seen as a dated precursor to a much more satisfying film. This saddens me as a film fan, partially because I love Ridley Scott’s film, but also partly because I don’t like the idea of “new” being good and “old” being bad.
Sure, people probably won’t see it that way, but there’s always a chance. If some are considering Blade Runner 2049 the new Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s worth meditating on how many people were introduced to the Mad Max franchise through that film, and how many of them were disappointed when they went back and watched the original. I certainly know deep down that I would probably prefer to watch the new Mad Max instead of any of the older films, and I feel somehow ashamed to admit that.
Perhaps that’s why I’m reluctant to see the new Blade Runner: I worry that it will make the original obsolete, not merely in the general culture, but maybe for me, as well.