L13FC: The Purpose of Science Fiction, Blade Runner 2049

Welcome back, everyone. It’s the thirteenth of the month and the Lucky 13 Film Club topic today is the purpose of Sci-Fi films. As a case study, check out this conversation I had with my 29-year-old daughter in the car on the way home from watching Blade Runner 2049 the other day. 

Vanessa: Mom, when you asked me half-way through the film if I was bored, I said “no”. But then I thought about it, and yeah, I was bored. I wondered if never having seen the first Blade Runner would affect my understanding of the sequel.  This movie was so long and loud and I didn’t understand what was going on. It was just Ryan Gosling without expression either staring vacantly at females who wanted to have sex with him or kill him. What about that lackluster chemistry between him and Harrison Ford?”

Cindy: (laughing). Yeah, well, Harrison Ford has given the same performance for decades. I don’t think Deckard was ever a replicant, though. Oddly, he conveys too many emotions. He and K-Joe were father and son. I think.

V: Was the memory-maker his sister? The most intriguing scene for me was when K-Joe shared a memory into a gadget at her bubble cell, and she told him it was real, not fabricated. What the heck was the memory that brought out the only emotion in him in the whole movie? Something more important than sex and the fear of death?”

Cindy: I can only speculate. What did you think of Jared Leto‘s character Niander Wallace? I honestly thought they could have cut out his entire role. It was a ranting philosophical weak sub-plot which set up morality questions about Artificial Intelligence raised in Spielberg’s A.I. Leto was great at being weird, and his scenes added to the overall creepiness, but then, there was plenty of weirdness going on. I admit the futuristic technology was awesome in his scenes. Little black bugs that connect into your brain so the blind can see? Cool.

V: I didn’t understand Luv, the bad replicant, played by Sylvia Hoeks. Other than she was the top angel and terminator for Wallace, her job was to find the child or she’d be a fallen angel. For a while there, I thought Luv and K-Joe were brother and sister.

Cindy: I didn’t like the final showdown between Luv and K-Joe. It was flat and I was tired of the emotionless duel between the two replicants.

V: (wearily) I have never disliked a film more.

Cindy: Really? You hated it?

V: I was so uncomfortable in that film. I was trapped for almost three hours in a gray, treeless world that screeched wave after wave of engine noise and made me want to cry or kill myself if that had been my reality. I was disturbed at how women were portrayed. Either they were giant slutty naked body parts or robotic destroyers. Other than the memory-maker, the only female character who was soft and feminine wasn’t real in the first place. She was a hologram. With a remote click, she disappeared and reappeared at Officer K’s convenience.  It was twice as scary than the horror film It. 

Cindy: That’s why Denis Velleneuve‘s film was so good. Good Science Fiction puts you in a futuristic setting that is often horrifying to remind you in the present to take care that the artist’s prediction for the future doesn’t come true. It was an apocalyptic horror film. The power of technology is frightening. Remember, just because we can create new gadgets and programs doesn’t mean we should. It’s becoming the new religion. Blind faith in technology, to me, is horrifying.

That is, except for the Deckard scenes in Las Vegas. He was stranded with a million bottles of whiskey around him and the hologram shows. If the apocalypse comes, I can’t think of a better place to hang out with me, myself, and I than at The Mirage with Elvis Presley.

V: (rolls eyes) Oh, Mother. Did you like the film?

Cindy: Oh, I loved it. Well worth the 30-odd year wait. I highly recommend it. 4.5/5 

V: I would have rather watched Wonderwoman or Thor: Ragnorak or The Justice League.

Cindy: But that’s not Science Fiction.

V: You mean it’s not Science Fiction if I’m not depressed after watching it? Must it always be so serious and thought-provoking?

Cindy: The good ones usually are.

* * * * * * *

What’s the purpose behind Science Fiction? What are the elements of it?

63 thoughts on “L13FC: The Purpose of Science Fiction, Blade Runner 2049

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  1. That was a fun read and I can see both sides! Blade Runner 2049 may end up being too dark/serious among those who are looking for a good time. Though I don’t think the sequel is necessarily showing us much new. As you say, in the 35 years since 1982, other films have already gone where it went.

    1. What was impressive that sticks with me was the production design and the new technology predictions. That originality offsets whatever repetitious themes were suggested. The ethics behind artificial intelligence is still interesting to me. The replicants are a hybrid and their organic qualities (geez, I just thought of Star Trek: First Contact) make them interesting. The notion of what is real and what is fabricated, what qualities of humanity do we value, and our dark sides make the replicant heroic. The contrasts are sublime.

    2. I tried to post comments twice on your blog regarding your review of Blade Runner. What I said was, I can’t imagine this film not winning all the set and art production categories.
      The music–do you think Hans Zimmer’s noise could be considered a score? Or was it perfect for the world we entered?

      1. I have comment moderation. I don’t see your messages in the queue. Maybe a temporary technical issue and they’ll pop up eventually 🙂

        Anyway, glad you loved the sequel. I’m in the liked, not quite loved camp. I felt there’s too much homage to the first film. I agree the production design in BR2049 is striking, and yes, food for thought about the advancements of technology. To me, the score was tolerable in the movie theatre. As a stand-alone listen the music wasn’t of much interest.

  2. As you know, I haven’t seen it yet. I am still a little afraid to, in all honesty. As the original BR still remains my top film of all time, I doubt whether I can judge this one with an open mind, as you did. But if you liked it so much, then I just have to see it. If you had felt the same as your daughter, I might have been relieved to be able to give it a miss.

    The purpose of science fiction films, at least in most of my experience of them, is to make us aware that we don’t always want what we wish for, when we get it. Technology comes at a price, with super corporations (Tyrell, etc,) dominating industry and commerce, at the expense of the ‘ordinary people’. Travel to far planets in search of new life generally ends badly, and the development of A.I. will be the eventual downfall of mankind.

    At its best, as in the original BR, it takes us just a little way into the future, to a world we can visualise, not unlike our own, but with as much decay as progress.

    Thanks for the unusual and thoughtful review. I will let you know what I think of it. Eventually.
    Best wishes as always, Pete.

    1. “We don’t always want what we wish for when we get it.” That’s a good way of putting it, Pete.
      I think that it’s an interesting paradox when what we humans intrinsically need–freedom (labor, time, state of being), reciprocate love, admiration, and respect–and in our pursuit of those things, we create the apocalypse. Technology. Can’t live with it; can’t live without it. I know it will never end, the progression (digression) of technology. We are obsessed with it. It’s is our fatal flaw.

  3. I am looking forward to seeing it, but will wait for the blu-ray to be available, I can’t bear the thought of sitting still for three hours in a cinema, ( that’s why we converted our garage into a cinema room!). I too loved the original, and as most reviews have given it the thumbs up I am hopeful it will be as good.
    I would argue that Vanessa can include Wonderwoman, Thor et al in the sci-fi genre, of which there are varying subgenres they would be at home in 🙂

    1. Thanks, Fraggle for your comment. Genres are mixing and blending into a mashup. I reckon that makes me a traditionalist when it comes to Sci-Fi. It should be set in the near-far future, at least. Wonderwoman, for example, was set in the past. I would describe the DC Universe as more fantasy than science fiction.
      I wanted to see BR2049 in the theater and I’m glad I did. I also want to view it again. It is hard to concentrate for 2.75 hours and get all the innuendos and significant details without the ability to rewind and rewatch.
      I loved it.

  4. Hey everyone – I’m Vanessa! Nice post, mom. And I enjoy the comments here, too. I grew up (thanks to my mom) appreciating Star Wars and now the Star Trek movies. To me, that is SciFi I can easily get into because there is more dialogue and a story to carry me through. My opinion of BR should definitely be taken with a grain of salt. I can appreciate others being thrilled by the effects and artistry of BR, but for me, it lacked the substance that usually inspires me when I follow a story. I told my mom, infact, it was so dark and depressing to me (and perhaps that was the goal) I couldn’t wait to come back to reality. 🙂

  5. I thought BR2049 was great because it was a true sequel to the original – from the music to the mood to the nihilistic vision of the future. That’s why I loved it but I can see (if you’re not a fan or even have ever watched the original) the sequel can be perplexing and yes “boring” for someone. Great post!

  6. Niander Wallace? Yes, I share your opinion that anything related to Niander Wallace (including his replicant minion) could have been cut without out doing harm to the story. In fact, much of Blade Runner 2049 could have been cut without damaging the story. . . . Was there, indeed, really a whole story here? I am still thinking about that.

    Blade Runner had a strong story and a great, if not fantastic, visual presence. Blade Runner 2049 started with a story, but the story seemed to dwindle off as time went by. Its visual presence was all right, but not nearly as interesting as that of Blade Runner. The dialogue of Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t even begin to compare.

    I watched Blade Runner 2049 in an IMAX theater with a tremendous audio capability. I found the soundtrack overly loud and uninspiring. I walked out of the theater feeling as though I had been pummeled by electronic bass without reason . . . .just noise.

    So. Did I like the movie? Sort of. Did I enjoy it? Parts of it. Was it worth the cost of admission? No. Don’t go to this movie if you are a fan of Blade Runner. Blade Runner is not.

    1. Hi Allen, thank you for your honest contributions. I agree that there were parts more interesting than not. I agree to the bass pummeling. I think a fault of the film was the central story was tugged by sub-plots that weren’t necessary. For example, I cringed when the revolution thread was announced. I thought “Oh, no! Don’t go there. I’ve already been sitting here for 2 hours waiting for the climax. I enjoyed 2049 more than you, which is fine. I thought it was worth the price of admission. So glad you contributed today. 🙂

        1. Either a book or film is character driven or story driven. I agree I like a good story. Simply done. The problem comes when you’ve read and seen so many over a lifetime, nothing feels new. Everything seems like a variation of many you’ve already seen. When you are younger, they are new to you.

          1. I watched Blade Runner and then went immediately to the theater and watched Blade Runner 2049. Given the film’s laudatory comments, I thought I might have had too negative a view of Blade Runner 2049. Watched in tandem, I see two non-comparable movies. I still prefer the original.

  7. You can always expect your grown up children to be frank with you. lol. I remember the excitement of our hospital theatres complex administrator after a trip to California and meeting Harrison Ford in a supermarket parking lot. I’m sure he showed the same disinterest in our administrator that he shows in his movies. However he gave her quite a buzz just being in close proximity to him. She needed a session with your daughter to wise her up on him. 🙂

    1. Ha Ha. He is just a man who puts his pants on each leg in the morning much like any other. Yet, that star power and his voice would swoon me like a silly school girl. It would take all my effort to remain calm and unaffected by his presence. Ridiculous, but there you have it.

  8. I love Sci Fi cuz it’s plastic. You can do or say anything with it. Raises the BIG questions.
    I still Dek was replicant though. It’s just that this Ford guy keeps aging. So maybe they wanted to rethink that a bit??
    Haven’t seen it yet though …
    Goz doesn’t have a large range of emotion does he?

    1. Hi JC. It was cool to see Ford show up as the 30 years later Deckard. Obviously, he was the perfect actor for the role. My favorite scene was when he met with Rachel, but she didn’t have green eyes which was problematic. I shouldn’t say more since you haven’t seen it. When you do, watch out for that meeting.

  9. Great article on an incredible cinematic experience. I think this is a film which will benefit from further viewings. It’s like Denis Villeneuve managed to combine, with the writers and designers, an indie-Hollywood-art film installation. I would say this a character and theme led narrative rather than purely plot driven. Even Niander Wallace’ weirdness, while not essential for the plot, added to the depth of character. He felt like a Kurtz figure trapped in his own insane delusion and obsession. Could he have been a replicant too?

    I felt like I was watching a Tarkovsky or Bergman film on a massive budget. Even the original’s story is pretty simple to be honest with a cop-tracking-down-outlaw-gang narrative so complex pacey twists were not what the story was aboyut. At its heart though is the theme of what it means to be human? I think all good sci-fi asks that question; exploring important existential questions. I mean, it’s not surprise Gosling’s character is called ‘K’ – because the story echoes Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ is many ways.

    1. Welcome, Paul. You are a name dropper here, and I like the associations. One that should have been added is Philip K. Dick, because I think the themes he deals with matches BR2049. Yes, to the purpose of Science Fiction is to ask the existential questions. I never tire reading and watching stories about it. I like your Kurtz association with Wallace. When I watched Leto (who did a fine job) I thought first of Lambert Wilson in Matrix 2 as Merovingian which was an interesting philosophical aside. But I think you are on to something, Paul, with thinking of Kurtz. In fact, I will pull the thread and suggest there are striking similarities between BR2049 and Apocolypse Now. Sheen like Gosling, a questioning yet deadpan assassin on a journey in an exotic, dangerous, horrifying setting meeting a host of strange people and scenes. How about the Asian-looking, child labor orphans? Ha! I wonder if Villeneuve and his writers were inspired by the masterpiece? I know I will have to watch BR2049 at least another time. But for my first viewing, I thought there was a lot to love.

  10. This was an amusing conversation. It reminds me of the chemistry between Siskel and Ebert. People don’t always have to agree and sometimes that makes for the most interesting discussions. Please see my review. (* SPOILER * I enjoyed this)

    1. Welcome, Mark. I enjoyed your high compliment. I didn’t have a co-host this month, so the variation set up of the day was fun. I will happily check out your review. You’re a graceful writer.

  11. I have a confession to make and hope that I am amongst friends. An hour ago I walked out of Blade Runner 2049 with the feeling that I was party to the biggest movie hoax of 2018. An hour and a half into the film I could no longer tolerate the orgy of digital manipulations, the depressingly dark lighting palette, the mechanistic dialogue between lifeless forms, the lacklustre noir cinematography, the Weinsteinian machismo of a male replicant magically conjuring up a beautiful feminine hologram to meet his artificial needs, the bloody killings of bloodless things, the intrusion of fantasy into what is NOT a genuine science fiction film, and the abject failure of Scott Ridley to at least maintain the high standard of his original opus which is still an icon of its genre. I say NOT a science fiction because good sci-fi is based on plausibilty predictable technological imaginings; in fact, every major contemporary technological innovation has been imagined in a science fiction film and the science has eventually caught up. Hologram concubines and their Trumpian fantasies are not part of tomorrowland’s science. I may just have made a huge mistake and the second half is brilliant. I dont care: the first half was so bad that I felt my intelligence was insulted and I am not going to forgive. Sorry if I’m being a wet blanket.

    1. Welcome back, friend Richard. Ha! I loved your response. If you read the conversation I had with my daughter, you two agree on many issues. “good sci-fi is based on plausibility predictable technological imaginings”. The scene with the blind bugs is futuristic. The flying vehicles, the holograms, the dark world? Sorry, it seems plausible to me. When one considers today how obsessed our society is with sex and perfect body parts; when one considers how expendable a life form is, how normal it is becoming to manipulate others like a rag doll, how the powerful and the ordinary human sees and hears about abortion, wars, refugees, slave labor, escapism through virtual stimulus or drug/alcohol induced escapism, as well as a the demise of our planet, a world that is treeless, gray, without song or beauty unless it’s artificial, well, gosh, I think the result of today’s obsessions could be a Ridley Scott future.
      We have seen in the last thirty to fifty years science fiction worlds that have inspired and created our present technology. We are at the threshold of a new world. What imaginings are there for a world different than what we’ve already predicted?

      I think that’s why I like the Star Trek worlds. They take what’s best about humanity and blend it in with alien life forms and there is hope to be found in the future.

      1. Thank you for that sobering, poetically eloquent reply Cindy. Nothing like a fresh bucket of cold water over one’s head in the morning. Much as I enjoyed reading them, I do not accept your comments as an adequate defence of my objections to THIS film. I knew I had a friend in Vanessa (my own daughter’s middle name) although when I first read the chat I reacted as I often do to my own Vanessa…ah…youth. Your comments are perfect as a defence of the science fiction genre of which I am a keen follower. There is a big difference between science fiction and science fantasy; the original Blade Runner is pure sci-fi; the sequel has run out of ideas and turns to sci-fantasy, framed with old-world patriarchal stereotypes. Dialling up a female slave hologram as a “plausibly predictable technological imagining” will undoubtedly please many Weinstein fans but it is not an enlightened imagining of the future. To be blunt, I felt that this production is all hype and is actually a rather poor film. Please pass on my compliments to Vanessa.

  12. That was an interesting read, and I am glad you liked it. I liked it too, very much, though I can see its defects – all too clearly. I will never give it full marks for that reason, but I can see a great deal to admire in the film.
    As for emotions in the film, sure, K ended up not being Deckard’s son, but I think K expressed so much emotion in mistakenly realising he is the son, and then realising he is not, it was like watching a human. I thought that was interesting, and worth watching. As for the debate whether Deckard was a replica in the first film and here, I thought Ridley Scott settled that in the documentary by saying to fans that Deckard was a replica. Anyway, these are technical things which could still be debated on, I guess.
    I also wanted to see much much more of Jared Leto’s character. I thought he would figure more. He was fascinating to watch.

    1. Welcome, and thank you for your fine comment. I think if the writers had given up a subplot or shaved off some time to allow his personality to flourish than be a bit man, I agree. Leto does great work and is always fascinating to watch. If Deckard and Rachel had the memory maker, she would have been a Replicant, too. I didn’t get that. She seemed human to me.

    2. Yep I agree, Deckard falsified records which is why there are two matches. I think K was the decoy and bubble girl was the real child of Deckard. As pointed out by Oliver Harper and his gang, metaphorically K does become Deckard’s son through the film. I think bubble girl gave him the memory so that he would track everybody down in the end.

      1. I assume by a bubble girl you mean the memory-maker? Weren’t most replicas had the same memory as he? A person says to him: “We all thought we were him” (Deckard’s child)?

  13. So much for science fiction being a predictor of the future. Did anyone notice that in Bladerunner, which takes place in 2019, Deckard uses a payphone to call Rachel?

  14. Wow great post Cindy, I enjoyed the new format of a conversation between you and your daughter Vanessa. Vanessa showed some telling insight into the idea that all the women in the movie are either trying to kill or have sex with Ryan Gosling. Tough life buddy but you got to take the good with the bad. Of course that’s an exaggeration but there’s a truth to it too. I’m more on your side than Vanessa’s with the assessment of the film. Yes it is slow moving and ponderous. Some of that wouldn’t have been helped by the promotion of the movie. As pointed out for example by Red Letter Media, Gosling’s long walk through Vegas plays differently knowing that Deckard is about to appear. I for one liked the quiet, when you build such a different world and contemplate big ideas I want to soak up the atmosphere and so enjoyed it. There’s been some conversation about gender in the film.
    SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD!

    Here’s what I took from it, K and JOI’s relationship is at the heart of the film. It’s real. It reflects everything about K’s loneliness, his preferences in a partner for sure and the sexual desires of men but mostly his loneliness. We see him out and about in the world on the way to his apartment and see the hostility directed his way from humans and the isolation he must feel. Then we meet JOI who greets him like a 1950s housewife before changing into tasteful but kittenish black clothes. Juxtapose this with Deckard in the original movie in a dimly lit, messy apartment where he drinks. Of course K got a device to take away that loneliness, domesticate his apartment and be his own personal cheerleader. We know as our technology improves we are finding it challenging to maintain meaningful human interaction. Sexbots are a natural progression unfortunately. I don’t think its an accident JOI is her name, a clear allusion to pornographic content. For me though the relationship between JOI and K plays out differently than that. Yes she’s not real, he’s not real either and that’s kind of the point. Yes there’s something possessive like about buying her a gift that allows her to leave the apartment but that played to me as he wanted to give her freedom and make her a full entity in her own right. Their conversations felt like that too despite her constant support. She gets him to take her with him, she gets the prostitute/revoltionairy to leave when she’s snooping around and she begs for her life not him at the end. The relationship was real and constantly evolving. There’s a good argument to made evolving by reacting to his personality, just another computer code evolving in response to stimuli. For me though the relationship was ‘real’ and of course as evidenced by the last scene with JOI not ‘real’ which I think is destined to be another classic scene. Gosling underplays it beautifully. This theme is at the heart of the film, when challenged about the past and who he is Deckard replies with Ford truly engaged in his work “I know what was real.”. To Sylvia Hoeks replicant we never get a handle on her motivation. To me that’s the point. She’s a clear mirror to hold up to the other characters. She’s one of the smartest and strongest characters in the film but also no agency. She’s a slave like the other replicants were intended but aren’t. Does she like her boss? Admire him or is just trapped to do what she does? These are fascinating questions and I look forward to seeing the film again to see if I can discern any subtle answers. I think its interesting that she kills JOI. She doesn’t have to but she knows what it will mean for JOI and K. Is she jealous of their love or trying to teach them a lesson? Life is fleeting? We’re all products? Our wills and desires don’t matter? Or I killed your girlfriend what are you going to do about it? I’m a huge fan of Harrison Ford who does not submit to the line of thought that he has been dialling it for years but I do think this is one of his better performances in recent years.
    I really enjoyed it, I was very tired and it was very late when I watched it so will have to see again. It is a long film, even one when you fill the time more so than other long movies. But I really think they executed a thoughtful film that could stand side by side with the original. A perfect sequel. I do feel Deckard was portrayed different which makes sense, I do think I’m always going to have a softer spot for the original because its a certain time and place that speaks to me and I do think we were missing a Roy Batty character who was so vibrant and engaging in the original but…. I’d give it high marks.

  15. I didn’t mind the revolution sub-plot but I’m glad it didn’t take over. Will there be a sequel? Probably not with this box office but I like that it speaks to the larger themes. If the replicants really are like human then at some point they’re going to want their rights.

  16. I also thought the landscapes were a great idea for the film. The world has moved on but still feels like a natural progression from the first one. Instead of a dirty city down in the dumps always raining. We get deserts, slate grey farms and wild seas tyring to crash into our artificial building blocks. Pretty neat.

  17. Haven’t watched the new one but your daughter has a good point about the grayness and the feel of the Bladerunner universe.

    This was a wonderful read by the way and thank you for sharing this conversation and how the two generations receive the same idea in such different ways.

    /thumbs up

  18. Intriguing read, Cindy:

    And all the more reason that there should be a solid list of childhood and teen films not to be re-made, re-imagined, re-booted or otherwise screwed with.

    Once a film is made a director should have ONE shot at final re-write, post production and editing and that’s IT!

    And NOTHING, should he get the highly vaunted “Final Cut”.

    Confidence in the directing of one’s films went out the window with George Lucas, ‘Star Wars’ and his inability to leave well enough alone.

    And if a director doesn’t have confidence in his film. Why should anyone else?

    Just my two cents.

    1. Hi Kevin, welcome back!
      Your 2 cents is worth a quarter to me.
      We agree on a lot. To play devil’s advocate, I would say the current generation gets to experience the film for the first time with current technology that enhances the experience for the here and now. When we grow older and someone messes with “our” film it’s natural we become territorial and possessive. Let’s face it, our grandparents probably complained about the same thing when their original classic was done for our generation. 😉

      1. True…..

        Though many films today have the actors servicing CGI and Blue Screen. Instead of the other way around as it was first imagined.

  19. I haven’t watched any of the Blade Runner films and I so need to, at least the 1982 version, but I have to say that it’s adorable you had a conversation about it with your daughter. The last film I went to see with my mom was Amelie, during which she fell asleep… I guess I didn’t have to ask her if she was bored, haha.

    1. Hi Moodie, welcome! As a family, it was an easy way for us all to bond by going to the movies. Now that they are grown and away, to see one with my daughter was a treat. I love that ride home after seeing a provocative film.

  20. I want to see this bit may end up renting it. My friend who I had hoped would go with me begged off. I am not one who enjoys movie theaters by myself. Have tried it, but was sad also. Thank you, Cindy for a great review and fun comments section. 😀

    1. I feel the same way about going alone. I did go see a film recently when I had the day off and went to the 10:45 show. It was scattered with the over 50 crowd and many were by themselves. I didn’t feel sad at all 🙂

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