Memories of Green: A Defense for the Smart Sci-Fi

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Blade Runner is a special movie for all of us cyberpunks. It was the film that popularised the dank and dark cities of a future that fetishised technology. It was the film that made us question our humanity. And it was the film that has inspired countless writers and critics over thirty years(and still is).

I have been writing about cyberpunk and, more specifically, Blade Runner for just over four years now (for my thesis), so when I initially heard about a sequel being in the works, I was unimpressed. Fearing the Hollywood bastardisation, I kept myself within my ivory tower, locked away whilst listening to Vangelis’ soundtrack over and over. Memories of Green. How could they make something new? How could they take my film from me! I had noticed what happened to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and even more recently, Alien: Covenant. There was no doubt in my mind that this was going to happen to my film. My Blade Runner.

And then the unthinkable happened: I watched the film that I had labeled my rival with a friend of mine. My enemy. The film that would invalidate not only my thesis but the theory developed by my supervisor and other academics.

And it was amazing.

I don’t say this lightly, I am one of the harshest critics I know. I never give tens, and barely give out nines when reviewing films for the site. I critically pick apart films so much that they do not even resemble their former selves anymore.

But all I could think about was, ‘this is my Blade Runner, how could this be so?’

I’m not going to give an in-depth review, you can read about it here, but in short, I thought it was a well shot, beautifully directed, mesmerising and utterly dreamy. Of course, there were flaws, there is no such thing as a perfect movie, but I was (still am) smitten with Denis Villeneuve’s vision. Our Blade Runner had returned, and in a way, I had not thought possible.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the film, my friend had been completely unmoved. ‘It was boring,’ he started, ‘unoriginal and uninspired’, ‘the music didn’t fit’, ‘too much silence’, and ‘I don’t understand why this film was made.’ I did my best to defend this film, a film that had recently been an enemy of mine, to only be met with the comment, ‘designed to deliberately waste my time.’

Designed to waste my time. Those words pierced me like Black ICE. However, it turns out that, while Blade Runner 2049 has been receiving rave reviews (some include the NY Times and The Washington Post), it hasn’t been doing so well at the box office. So far as of writing this, the film has only made a paltry $81.9 million dollars (domestically just over $60 million) on a budget of $150 million dollars. There have been many articles debating as to why it flopped (CinemaBlend goes into this quite well, as does Scott Mendelson’s article on Forbes), many of them citing the bloated budget to the niche appeal of the genre. Rest assured, this article will not go into these for reasons for they have been written about ad nauseum. But I will echo the melancholic sentiment, why? Blade Runner is such a culturally significant science fiction film, why and how could this happen?

The words came back like a macabre spectre, designed to waste my time.

I try my best to not disparage or criticise people for their taste in film, books, video games and so forth. I tend not to care what people enjoy, but when I see that Lego Ninjago is beating Blade Runner 2049 at the box office, I worry a little.

When writing my fiction, I echo the mantra from Alejandro Jodorowsky, ‘science fiction was like a huge theater, like a huge work of art’, and Blade Runner 2049 is art in every sense. The setting feels as if it was painted with the strokes of a master artist; the score, sung by twin cherubs; and Ryan Gosling portraying perhaps one of my new favorite cinematic protagonists. I am usually castigated for my academic snobbery (and at times, rightfully so), but in this case, I find it almost heartbreaking. Do we really desire more Transformers films? Do we really need yet another rehash of Terminator 2? Blade Runner 2049 has capitalised and even made for a stronger Blade Runner franchise. It is smart, slick, and a soma for the senses; and this is what we need more of. Smart science fiction taps into the human condition and tackles themes that are, at times, horrifying. Smart science fiction never leaves you and will follow you for years and years to come. Dumb science fiction (and films in general) entertain you for two hours, only to then be forgotten. Dumb science fiction isn’t bad per se, but unlike smart science fiction, it cannot touch you, nor will it inspire you.

As we draw closer and closer towards a highly technological future, the hybridisation of man and machine becomes blurred. Blade Runner 2049 taps into this anxiety and deals with it the way both the original and the remake of Battlestar Galactica could not, and for that reason alone, I cannot recommend it enough. For those who have not watched the film, I urge you to do so now. It is a beautiful film that certainly deserves to be seen by more people.

12 Responses to “Memories of Green: A Defense for the Smart Sci-Fi”

  1. I agree with this article 10,000%. The solution to Blade Runner performing poorly in theaters is not for films, sci-fi in particular, to dumb themselves down, but for all of us to encourage appreciation of smarter films, however Sisyphean a task that might be in our 140 (ok, 280) character-attention span world of race-to-the-bottom late-stage-dystopia capitalism-dominated content milieu.

  2. While I agree 99.95 percent with your sentiments, your comment on Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) got my dander up. Now admittedly my reaction is knee jerk seeing as I don’t know your opinion on the series, but, I would defend BSG with the same vigor as you and I both would defend BR 2049.

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