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The world of "Blade Runner" 2049 looks eerily familiar

It succeeds where other sequels and franchises fail.


CONTINUITY: The long-awaited revival of "Blade Runner" may be set in the future, but like all good science fiction, it asks unsettling questions about now.
  • CONTINUITY: The long-awaited revival of "Blade Runner" may be set in the future, but like all good science fiction, it asks unsettling questions about now.

When you see enough movies, most of them tend to blur around the edges a bit. The mischievous boner comedies all run together. Pretty much anything with the word "Bad" in the title adopts a certain sameness. The found-footage horror flicks become a series of wobbly, blurry close-ups; the Liam Neeson revenge flicks merge with the Denzel Washington revenge flicks. Sequels, too, become a parade of sameness, until you worry that the $15 and two hours you spend sitting in dark rooms staring at a lit screen simply aren't creating enough memories to justify the costs.

Then a film like "Blade Runner 2049" shoulders its way into theaters, an unlikely masterpiece 35 years behind the original, and you're ready to forgive the entire moviegoing enterprise. The gap since "Blade Runner" has to make "2049" one of the longest-delayed true sequels in history; that Harrison Ford returns in the same role lends a continuity that almost no project so delayed could hope to match. Director Denis Villeneuve picks up from Ridley Scott's occasionally muddled vision to create a Los Angeles at once distant (the climate, gone berserk, now constantly pelts the city with rain and snow) and yet seemingly within reach. It's murky, grim and besieged with advertising. You have to allow the movie its remarkable "replicants" — cyborgs, essentially — because humans play them. Aside from those too-beautiful machines, though, this future feels familiar, like a dream you're remembering before you have it.

So here's why "2049" is worth the trip: It's that rare, deeply conceived movie world that will haunt you long after the money is spent. Screenwriter Hampton Fancher worked on both films, keeping the mythology on track; cinematographer Roger Deakins, whose 13 Oscar nominations include those for the Coen brothers' "True Grit" and "No Country for Old Men," gives the West a spare, haunted feel once you break out of the city proper. Hans Zimmer's score is likewise ambiently stripped down, dissociative and beautiful. Atmospherically, "2049" is this year's "Arrival" — a movie that, even if you can't explain it to your friends in detail later, lingers in your mind as a mood.

Like "Arrival," too, it's likely to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Overlooked in its day, the original "Blade Runner" has grown in stature over the years. (Seriously, though, go look at how many cuts Scott put the movie through. There's a reason it suffered out of the gate.) The sequel will suffer no such anonymity.

The question will remain, though, whether "2049" will have the long afterlife that "Blade Runner," against any reasonable expectation, has managed to enjoy. My guess is that it will, in part because it suffers some of the same flaws as the original: namely, an opaque plot that you can debate and tease apart over beers, days or weeks after you see it.

In a nutshell, a replicant cop played by Ryan Gosling has a job similar to Harrison Ford's Decker in the first film, i.e., tracking down and destroying old, rogue replicants. In this version, however, it becomes clear that the replicants have changed — and possibly evolved — in a way that upends the ethics of that practice. The mechanisms of what happens next remain a little hinky, in the way that almost all sci-fi will round a corner now and again, but it's those messy joints that make it ripe for discussion.

Then, there's the cinema of it all; the "Grapes of Wrath"-worthy framing of a dead tree in the desert. Or the improbable yet totally plausible hologram girlfriend Joi, played by Ana de Armas — a person playing a machine that's trying to appear human — that gives the film a spooky recognition of the now. "Blade Runner" was set in 2019. We're still a long way from the replicants that film promised, and we're a long way from the year 2049. But in its treatment of artificial intelligence and climate catastrophe, "2049" feels like a future that isn't all that far out.

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