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Blade Runner 2049: The Case for the Reboot

By Kamryn Olds, Copy Editor

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Star Wars. Fantastic Four. The Terminator. Spiderman. The Mummy. Trainspotting. Jumanji.

These are just  some of the movie franchises that have been rebooted in the past three years to varying degrees of critical and commercial success.

For anyone unfamiliar with the term (especially those not-quite-“movie-nerds” out there who may have just happened upon this article), a “reboot” can be defined as a film made with “the purpose of restarting a franchise”–in other words, the product of recycling, taking the premise of a film made in the past, and turning it into something new.

In recent years, this practice has become particularly popular in Hollywood, as can be seen by the examples above. And, there are various arguments as to the cause of the sudden uptake in this particular type of filmmaking as well as the merits of it.

One argument is that it is deeply flawed and uncreative, a practice in fear on the part of Hollywood production companies, who may be unwilling to give the “big money” to films that have not already proven their success at the Box Office.

And, there is a part of me that wants to agree with this argument, especially the part that believes in creative and innovative storytelling.

However, there is also another part of me that questions this belief and wonders whether “creativity” is something that can only manifest itself in one way, a part of me that asks, “Could ‘reboots,” be another form of creativity, just as capable as any of producing art that is original and enriching?”

This is the part of me that was awakened by my viewing of the reboot, Blade Runner 2049.

Of course, I will not lie. I went into this film with high expectations, based on good reviews, praise via word of mouth, the hype surrounding a sequel to a cult hit (particularly loved by the aforementioned “movie-nerds”), the director attached, and my admittedly embarrassing love of a certain actor in the starring role.

And, on a slightly more sombre note, I will not lie that, in the end*, the release of this film was far from perfect, arguably a flop at the Box Office due to its even more arguably excessive and overly optimistic budget.

Still, despite all of this and several of its other flaws, I do not say lightly that this film was one that definitively* brought forth the merits of the “reboot.” In fact, I will even go as far as to say that it could be a model for The Reboot, particularly due the three things that it does well…

 

One: It pays homage to its predecessor.

Possibly what serves this film best as a reboot of the 1982 Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, is that it does not lose sight of the purpose and theme of the original.

What is it that makes us human?

This is question upon which the original film centers, *taking from the themes of its own source  material: “Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” And, it is same question that grounds its successor, which similarly deals with a bleak future in which robots, called “replicants”, serve as a slave labor force with strikingly “human” traits.

The writers of this film, as well as its director,  Denis Villeneuve, do stop there in their connections to the source.

Both films include similar motifs, symbols, and settings. For example, a singular eye *serves as the opening shot of both the old and the new, an important window of perception and, thus, symbol of humanity throughout each story.

In addition, both works also take place in a dark, dystopian future, with heavy-drinking, somber, male protagonists.

These similarities are what hold Blade Runner 2049 together and give it the most basic distinction of a reboot, faithful to its original.

 

Two: Yet, it expands upon it.

Still, what makes this film more than merely an adaptation rather than a mere regurgitation is that it adds upon these themes and motifs. Whereas, in the 1982 film, it is mostly implied, due to the fact that they are hunted, that replicants are the objects of oppression, the 2017 sister work develops this idea. Specifically, the more recent film deals heavily with the prejudice against replicants and their perceived lack of humanity.

Whereas the 1982 film, with a much smaller budget, deals with only certain parts of its fictitious world, Villeneuve’s work shows the viewer a much broader view of this world, including the extremely vast landscapes of some of its other parts.

Furthermore, whereas the original only deals to differing extents with themes of isolation, temporality, dissatisfaction, the new work makes all of these themes focal points of the story it tells and several of the essential questions that it asks.

 

Three: And, it is more than just a “reboot.”

So, this leads to what makes this film truly great, which is that, beyond merely servicing and building on the original, it also puts forth its own messages and ideas.

Villeneuve is not afraid to veer away from Scott’s initial vision, taking some of what he likes and  getting rid of what he doesn’t feel the need to keep.

Thus, while the new film demonstrates some aspects the “noir” style prevalent in the original (e.g. the persistent raining, darkness, and pessimism), it still does not have all of the noir elements of the original, sometimes taking a break from darkness in favor of brighter, vaster shots and even a more comedic tone.

In addition, one almost radically unique aspect of this film is its strong emphasis on the role of women and female sexuality in a dystopian future (a relatively controversial topic surrounding this film about which I could likely write an entirely different article). Specifically, building on a highly debated scene in Scott’s original that *essentially depicts a rape, the creators of the new film use the original scene to create a much fuller and unique depiction (though arguably flawed) of the power dynamics between men and women that exist in this future world.

This is what makes this movie “good” on its own standing rather than simply compared to its forerunner. It asks its own questions and puts forth its own interpretations. Like the original, it calls on the viewer to think about humanity. However, it does this on its own terms, with its own style and themes.

And so, I call it the Case for the Reboot, proving that, though it might not always be the case, it is possible for creativity and originality to exist and sometimes even flourish when a work is based on the work of another.

 

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Blade Runner 2049: The Case for the Reboot