Thirty-five years after Blade Runner helped to cement cyberpunk as a mainstream staple of sci-fi, its long-awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049, is set to ride the wave of the genre's return in October this year. While that's not a bad thing — the time is right and even more fitting than the context of the original's release in 1982 — Ridley Scott is intending on riding the wave a whole lot longer, with plans to turn his creation into an extended franchise of sequels and spinoffs.
In an interview with IGN, Scott was asked whether he envisions #BladeRunner moving in the same direction as Alien, and expanding into its own franchise. He responded with a "yes," before citing George Lucas's work with Star Wars as an inspiration. He added:
"It’s what I’ve been trying to do to really evolve Alien, because in those days I wasn’t into making sequels, but now suddenly you realize, ‘Well, that’s stupid.’ I’ll use the word ‘duh’ again, right? You’d better get into sequels, duh. So, that’s in a way what I’ve been doing."
There's only one issue — it's an awful idea.
Blade Runner 2049 Is All That Is Necessary
It may sound like a contradiction to start off by saying I'm excited for #BladeRunner2049, but I can't deny I am. As mentioned in the introduction, the context of the film's release will make the core themes even more relevant now than they were in 1982. We're living in an age where AI is becoming more and more lifelike, and all of a sudden, the idea of replicants living among us isn't just a fantastical idea, it looks likely.
And then there's the style of the film itself. While the original isn't lacking in that department, thanks to its striking monochrome, neo-noir-yet-neon-drenched backdrop, modern cinematography can enhance that world, making it even more immersive. That'll be helped significantly by the direction of one of the finest working directors of a generation, Denis Villeneuve, who can add the same qualities that made Arrival a sci-fi masterpiece.
It's reassuring to know Villeneuve was enticed by the project thanks to the quality of the script. It's safe to say, he has an eye for a story; to date, he's directed the likes of Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013), Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016) — all films with complex and compelling narratives. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Villeneuve said:
"I came on board because the script was very strong. But no matter what you do, no matter how good what you’re doing is, the film will always be compared to the first, which is a masterpiece. So I made peace with that. And when you make peace with that, you are free."
Talking of the plot, by weaving Harrison Ford into the plot, there's a strong and logical link to the original, as Ryan Gosling's character, LAPD Officer K, will hunt down Rick Deckard in order to help him on his mission to save the world. This'll help the film retain its identity, and dilute any unjust comparisons with the original while also answering some key questions left over from all those years ago.
In short, Blade Runner 2049 is a good idea. But an entire franchise is not.
Blade Runner Should Never Become A Franchise
Scott cites his work on the Alien franchise as an example. The trouble is, it hasn't worked. Scott's genre-changing original, Alien (1977), was followed by another impressive installment, Aliens (1986). But from that point on, every installment has failed to live up to the earlier works. Scott's recent prequel quest, with Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017), has only served to diminish the impact of the original, not enhance it.
The truth is, Scott has lost his impact as a storyteller. There's no doubt he is still an exceptional director, but Prometheus was too convoluted and suffocated under the weight of its own ambition, while Alien: Covenant was full of questionable plot points, completely abandoned all the elements set up in Prometheus, and even took the entire franchise away from its core values by making synthetic David the new center of the Alien universe.
There are numerous problems with this. Franchises may be safe bets for studios, but generally speaking they're creatively stifled. The more a project is force-fed to audiences, the more their palette gets used to the taste. From being overexposed, the impact of the original concept loses its edge. When that original concept is a game-changer like Alien or Blade Runner, that's a great shame. If something works well, it should be left alone, not flogged for all it's worth.
If Ridley Insists, There Are Only A Few Options That'll Work
It's safe to say Scott is stubborn (case in point: his determination to continue with the Alien prequel trilogy, despite the fan frenzy for Neil Blomkamp's Alien 5) and if he wants to pursue the idea, he will. That's fair enough, it's his creation, but if he does, he needs to make some changes to the production of Alien by relinquishing control of the story.
It's worth pointing out this process has already begun. Villeneuve praised Scott's lenience in granting him the freedom to create the film his way, which is promising. While acting as an Executive Producer, he handed over scriptwriting duties to Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, which is another plus.
If the Blade Runner franchise does continue, I don't feel that sequel after sequel is the right approach. The film's dystopian setting, and its central philosophical and religious themes, are plentiful and could easily be explored — that much is obvious. Instead of feature films, a better approach would be a television series (again, if Scott insists) that can go deep into these themes.
With the production value of television at an all-time high, the lines between film and TV are blurring. Budget-wise, there's enough scope for a Blade Runner series to become a reality. There are talented actors and directors turning to TV, not to mention scriptwriters and producers. Also, by moving to the small screen, there'd be less of a comparison to the original film, thus reducing the overexposure mentioned earlier.
Ultimately, whether you think this is a good idea will hinge on your view on franchises. For me, the timelessness of a cult classic such as Blade Runner is something that shouldn't be forever updated, modernized, and made into an ongoing project. But if Scott wants to replicate the story of replicants, there's not much to stop him. And we'll go along and watch, won't we?
Are you in favor of a Blade Runner franchise? Or should Blade Runner 2049 be the last addition to the story?