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Is It Really All That Surprising How Audiences Never Quite Latched Onto Blade Runner 2049?

It’s been a stagnant five to six months since the release of Denis Villeneuve‘s Blade Runner 2049. It’s quite evident that its impact has only reached a small esoteric union of film fans. It hurts to say it, but the sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic definitely hasn’t received the adoration in equal measure to its budget and iconic reputation.

I’ve never been left so hollow inside from a genuinely excellent film failing at the worldwide box office simply because it’s important that great work is compensated for the prospective future. Although I’d argue that it doesn’t necessarily need another sequel, I’m not solely referring to a potential trilogy as it was implied that a third installment was inevitable if 2049 prospered. Gladly, at least, it picked up two Oscars. But it just deserved more.

Perhaps the ask was too much for the average cinephile. Eagerly jumping into their seat to watch a sequel — teetering on the three hour mark — to a casually forgotten, neo-noir, sci-fi benchmark of cinema is a lot. After a decent chunk of time spent recollecting its underwhelming launch, theoretically, it’s actually not all that surprising.

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Image via Vimeo

Competition

To preach the old expression that if history teaches us anything, it’s that history repeats itself, I’d have to hand in my “DUH” card right now. But leaping back to 1982 when Blade Runner made its cinematic entrance, it, too, was the victim of lackluster notice. Due to its subsequent glorification, we seem to forget that the film’s financial outcome just broke even on release.

Steven Spielberg’s E.T. was its biggest competition and quite the underdog it proved to be. Having the gargantuan franchise of Star Wars heavily present, the argument could have been made that science fiction was blossoming in the early 80s. In this regard, a fresh take would’ve seemed like a safe bet. But it was the slow, equanimous style and pace that proclaimed it to be vastly different — manifestly too different.

It’s all akin to 2049: It was competing with Andy Muschietti’s record-breaking supernatural horror, It, which remained in theaters long enough to damage 2049‘s stab at success. It seems as if abbreviated/short film titles are Blade Runner‘s kryptonite.

Of course, Kingsman: The Golden Circle was It‘s formidable tag team partner in keeping 2049 mostly silent. But what a shame it was that the film’s reception mostly relied on critical praise. I never thought I’d say this but thank god for critics.

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Image via Ron Frazier, Flickr

Run Time And Appeal

Let’s just get it out of the way that the awesomely talented Denis Villeneuve will not stop working. He is, for my money, the most exciting director actively working today. The French Canadian has directed such works like Enemy, Sicario, Prisoners, Arrival, and for anyone particularly interested, I’d recommend watching ‘Incendies.’

The 165-minute run time is a little on the excessive side (which is problematic for its continuous profit). But as someone who’s seen the film three times now, I honestly can’t say that I think its pacing is all that laboring. You might disagree but from Villeneuve’s perspective, he wanted to remain as loyal as possible to the original source material in terms of its themes and resonance which is exactly what he did, and then some.

Comparatively, I think 2049 moves along at a slightly more brisk tempo than its predecessor. One motif of Villeneuve’s film making that I absolutely adore is his very methodical storytelling; every scene just gives the viewers a tiny piece of information in order for them to be subtly enticed into following the bread crumbs. It felt faintly more kinetic than the first. And the film is confident enough to simultaneously take its time, immersing you in the majestic and mesmerizing dystopian landscape. It let’s you bathe in its world with one transition to the next.

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Image via Vimeo

R-Rating And Marketing Campaign

Audiences don’t prefer the slow burn blockbuster as much as Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Whatever’s Getting Disnified Next. And I don’t mean that with a nihilistic stance whatsoever — I thoroughly enjoy each MCU adventure. It’s unsurprising but its R-rating was a quandary with such works like Deadpool and Logan hitting high numbers. Granted, they’re part of the superhero mythology.

Virtually, the only convincing promise for 2049 in the run up to its release was how well anchored Ridley Scott’s film was in pop culture. Maybe 2049 could have succeeded on the shoulders of the gigantic precursor and if its marketing had been more accentuated. But that wasn’t enough.

Speaking of marketing, due to the fact that the entirety of the plot itself is a massive spoiler, the promotion for the film was stoic as most narrative beats were kept under wraps. Too much ballyhoo and it’s spoiled; too little chitter-chatter and nobody seems to care. It’s a fine line with film sometimes and 2049 had a fairly lonesome, blindfolded task ahead of itself.

‘What’s on today? A film about a spooky, demonic clown eating kids and a three hour sequel to an 80s sci-fi snoozer? I’ll dance with Pennywise, thanks.’

That’s a bit glib, I’ll admit, but I believe that was the most thought ever put into the prospect of seeing 2049 for a substantial demographic. And I’m not saying everyone should like Blade Runner 2049. But I truly despise how a ‘slow‘ movie will automatically be given the epithet that it’s abjectly bad. It’s not always the case.

Reasonably, it was Sony’s canary in the coalmine. And – speak of the devil – this is sort of the parallel worry I have for Sony’s new Venom in terms of minimal advertising and subdued trailer. But that’s for another day – I digress.

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Image via Sioux City Journal

Dark Horse

It reminds me of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, in that it didn’t exactly smash box office records. However, for a 30-year-old franchise in a comatose state to earn approximately 2.5 times more than its own budget and to pick up six Oscar wins is a glass more full than empty.

Blade Runner 2049 is perhaps a fun-sized version of that.

The sheer amount of map work laid out prior was also something that seemed unneeded. With the very engaging short films, 2022: Blackout, 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run, all contributing to the context of the upcoming continuation. If this were a poker game, they’d be all in.

A Hollywood flop isn’t what Blade Runner 2049 ultimately is. Withstanding long periods of time is what cements the greatness of any piece of art. And just like the original Blade Runner, who knows just how poignant 2049 will still be in another four to five years – even decades – down the line?

Ryan Gosling and Ana de Armas in Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Image via IMDb

Blade Runner is Just a Bit Odd For Casuals…

Paradise to a film buff comes in a rare form of a multi-million dollar art house movie. In this sense, the film was bodacious enough to sort of experiment. Although I’ve cynically insinuated the disnifying aspect to big franchises nowadays, I found Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be mostly good. Audiences seemed a little diverged with it for some of the character dispositions and whatnot.

‘Luke Skywalker wouldn’t be a sultry, apathetic, isolated, bitter old man living in the back ass of Ireland!’

Well, why not? A real sense of verisimilitude is the aim with such bold creative decisions. Not all characters are black or white; they’re more realistically grey. And this creates a good forum for discussion and debate. Isn’t that the huge salient point of it all? So that we can all talk about it? It’s a bit more ballsy I’d like to argue.

Rick Deckard is also another character that went down a bleak path that didn’t seem that heroic or virtuous, initially. It was despairingly necessary but the upshot to his seclusion was for the better (I’m tantalizingly close to spoiling it).

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Image via MashableUK

… But oh Well

All in all, I think Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel that does what sequels should do: take the elements of the first that worked and expand on them. Enlarge the scope and richness of its universe and move that damned dot from A to B so we arrive at new territory.

It never messed around too much with the decisions made in the first film. Hampton Fancher, the original writer, took pen to paper for the second time and masterfully based it on the implications of Blade Runner‘s consequential end. It ran with the ball and left us with just the right amount of questions answered and unanswered – just like its forerunner.

Ultimately, it was a progressive and honorable continuation implemented so smoothly into a legendary narrative that didn’t quite get justifiable attention. Heck, even Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch‘s score was a loyal continuation — which is unfortunate.

Oh, well, thank the sci-fi heavens Roger Deakins finally won his Oscar.


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Stephen Finlay

Writer for Movie Babble and Journalism & Media graduate from Dublin Business School, Ireland. Interests of all things entertainment such as film, TV, gaming, books, podcasts and combat sports. Follow me on Twitter @Stephen_Finlay !

10 Responses

  1. chrismoyer93 says:

    I was so disappointed in the box office numbers for this film, not only because I really loved it, but because you tell when watching it how much love and care went into it.

  2. Olaf Lesniak says:

    I didn’t like this movie because it failed on almost every level on what a sequel should be. The movie doesn’t continue the themes of the original. It doesn’t have a certain set direction. If so, name me a single scene where it tries to ponder or make the audience question the meaning of human life. It deserved what it got, the soundtrack was beautiful, the cinematography gorgeus, stunning visuals, but those should be second place to characterization, themes and story. Not surprised it didn’t connect with the audiences nor the Academy.

    • Stephen Finlay says:

      That’s fair. Rutger Hauer said the same and didn’t like 2049 for that reason. It obviously can’t be the exact same movie as the original so I think the ‘themes’ can be flailed about differently. I liked when K found out that when he wasn’t, in fact, the prodigal son, he still devoted himself to something far bigger than himself. Which is more human than anything I’d argue. But it’s as if he learned that it didn’t really matter what he was; what mattered was getting the job done and doing the right thing. When Joi was destroyed, you could see that he actually was attached to her although she wasn’t real. When he asks Deckard if the dog is real, Deckard replies, ‘does it matter?’

  3. Harsimar says:

    I totally loved 2049 and even though I still prefer the original, 2049 is a wonderfully faithful continuation of the original.
    I keep urging my friends to watch both these films but they just don’t seem interested. (even though they like sci-fi) Maybe because of all these reasons you mentioned.

  4. anne leueen says:

    I thought 2049 was brilliant. The production values were so high, the visuals, the sound scapes and the acting. Gosling is such a good actor and he really carried it off so well. I am of the demographic ( aging boomer!) that sat through Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, etc. I am happy to sit and watch a good film and to go out to the cinema to see it. I have the nasty feeling that people do not have the oomph to get up and go out to see a longer film, no matter how good it is. Sadly this will influence what producers will produce in the future. It may be only shorter films, action thrillers with a lot of CGI and the only things I will be interested in will be smaller films , well made , about people and their lives. But I shall miss the BIG films and I sincerely hope 2049 will not be the last one.

  5. It’s a shame that Blade Runner 2049 was overlooked, mainly because of just how incredible it was as a blockbuster. Visually and thematically this story was rich, Ryan Gosling’s acting was phenomenal (as was the villain Luv) and its script was intelligent and coherently presented through dialogue. As a sequel to a cult classic, it had a lot to fulfill and it lived up to that expectation. Denis Villaneuvre once again proved to be a spectacular director, following on from Sicario and Arrival, and Hans Zimmer’s score just ties it all together. I wish more blockbuster titles were this impressive and immersive.

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