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The original Bladerunner movie is one of my all time favourites. It’s an unusual piece of work – futuristic, obviously – but also nostalgic, managing to combine forties noir with sci-fi, while remaining, in look and tone, still very much an eighties film with its shoulder pads and big hair. For men of a certain generation then, it also oozes nostalgia for a period when the girls we ached for all looked like Rachel Tyrell.

I recall the first cinematic release wasn’t brilliant. It had an unnecessary voice-over, also a twee ending that didn’t sit well with the rest of the film. In spite of these imperfections though, I found the rest of it visually stunning, and poignant, and it left you with a question – what does it mean to be human? If you could bio-engineer something that was more physically human than human – faster, stronger, more intelligent, what would that mean to be merely human in its presence, and how would you view your creations? The movie tells us you would despise them, and you would treat them as slaves.

A later cut – the so called Director’s cut – removed the voice-over and the twee ending. There was suddenly a brevity to the dialogue, as if the essence of the story had been mined in the editing room until they finally hit the mother-lode. And then there’s the Unicorn, and the silence regarding it, and the myth that has grown up around the movie ever since. It’s a sign of greatness it’s still talked about thirty five years after its release. I still watch it from time to time, still love every scene, know every line by heart.

I was dubious therefore about the release of the new movie, Bladerunner 2049. How could you take something so well polished, so well regarded, and hope to improve upon it? Was disappointment inevitable? At three hours running time, I was prepared for a long haul – something visually stunning, maybe a bit of a slow burner, but with luck something as thought-provoking as the original. I mean, with all that running time you could ask some pretty searching questions and make a good fist of answering them, even that one about the Unicorn!

So, how did Bladerunner 2049 compare?

Well, visually stunning is an understatement. It’s a spellbinding experience, this second outing, a visual and a sonic feast – a slow burner, yes – indeed several people got up and walked out after an hour. Fortunately one of them was the fidgety girl who’d sat right in front of me and played with her pony tail from the opening credits. But it didn’t feel like a three hour film. It took you in, showed you its wonders in myriad detail, and you were rapt with curiosity and awe.

The world of Bladerunner had moved on from the teeming, seething swamp-of-life feel of the original and was now overcast with a post-apocalyptic vibe. I found myself immersed in it, and yet,… I don’t know what I was waiting for. I suppose it was a Roy Baty moment – you know? The guy on the rooftop? the pouring rain? the dove? I wanted an answer to Roy’s existential dilemma. And the Unicorn.

“You people have no idea,…

“All those moments will be lost,…

“Like tears in rain,.. time to die,…”

And all that.

Perhaps I’d missed it. Perhaps it came when the screen was partially obscured by the fidgety girl’s pony tail, held vertical and flicked impatiently from side to side as if to deliberately test my patience – boy was I glad when she went! I presume the movie did nothing for her at all. Me? I came out of the cinema feeling still hungry for something. I had gone in itching like mad, but beyond beguiling and bewitching me, the film steadfastly refused to scratch the right spot. That said, it was a miracle, as so much of our capabilities are these days, it’s just that we don’t seem to know what to do with miracles any more.

There’s a scene, late on, in which Rachel from the original movie was recreated by CGI. It was for me, and I presume millions of other romantically inclined guys of a certain age, a truly heart-stopping – how the hell did they do that – sort of moment? She managed about ten seconds screen time before being pointlessly, casually and violently dispatched. It was a missed opportunity, I think, that one scene a reminder to me that while our achievements are at times astonishing, we have also lost our way, that our oversights and our growing insensitivities are becoming indefensible.

Speaking of violence, there were other moments, graphic and shocking, to punctuate the visual sumptuousness, as if to keep us awake. I don’t enjoy that sort of thing unless there’s a good reason for it – and in any case it’s a question to which I already know the answer – that we bleed and break when we’re hurt. Everybody knows this, no need for further demonstration.

What I wanted was the answer to Roy’s question. And yes, that flipping Unicorn! But I didn’t get it. The dialogue was occasionally stylish, but didn’t actually say anything in the end. In the original, the dove suggested the presence of a soul for all the otherwise synthetic nature of Roy’s being. The second movie did nothing to build upon this premise, indeed seemed only to take the soul right out of the human players as well. Perhaps that’s our future, and though it’s not a hopeful message, it’s worth heeding. In this sense alone then the film becomes more than visual candy. There is a meaning, but you’ve got to dig for it.

As for that damned unicorn: Arrghhh!

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