My Generation Needs to Step Aside – Part 1: ‘Blade Runner 2049’, Prequel Shorts, and the Dream-Killing Revival Machine

Is the legacy of the art my generation grew up on really that we simply regurgitate it?

It’s kind of a golden time in pop culture for my generation. The people making decisions at major film studios are my age – they get to revive all the shit they loved when we were kids. The 30-year gap between sequels is (literally) an adolescent fantasy – fan fiction is institutional, systemic even, now that the fans have the means of mainstream production.

The thing is: were I one of these executives, I wouldn’t be one of the ones pushing for reboots or revivals of the things I loved as a kid. I’d be too scared my fingerprints would mar, smudge or blur the very things i loved.

And yet: I am as excited as the next person about new Star Wars*, new Aliens*, new Blade Runner* – * If Done Right, as they could only be by the kids who grew up with it. Right?

My complicity in supporting these revivals is equal parts excitement and wariness, fanboy and critic.

this could be any impressive fan fiction YouTube video.

I’m excited about the prospect of Blade Runner 2049, not because I believe for a second it will in any way match or recreate the excitement of the original, but because it reminds me of the feeling i had for it as a kid. I enjoy Villineuve’s work, as I do Gossling’s; but Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford long ago stopped accruing good will from me – and that’s fine: they each did (several) iconic things, and their work (together and separate) was formative in my life. I neither need nor expect Blade Runner 2049 to be anything more than a fun movie. But it feels like the guiltiest of pleasures, and absolutely feels like a movie born of a generation – my generation – that refuses to let go.

So with these short midquel films presented by Villeneuve (which I take it he’s commissioned?), they also feel less like essential viewing (either cinematically or within the mythology) and more like reasons to get excited. But the excitement is a bit like a quick, cheap sugar fix – and there’s nothing of substance, or even memorable, which remains afterward.

The first is 2036: Nexus Dawn:

This short is set thirteen years before the upcoming film. Jared Leto’s character seems to look exactly the same  as he does/will in 2049 (does that mean anything? Probably not). “2036: Nexus Dawn” doesn’t add anything to the “2049” narrative that I couldn’t ascertain from the trailers – or even the original: replicants are outlawed (which they kinda were in 2019 anyway), but clearly there are still some running around, otherwise we wouldn’t need another Blade Runner, right?

But it doesn’t merely add nothing to the mythology, it echoes it – poorly. The replicant creator is an eccentric, with something quirky in his design relating to his eyes, spouting pseudo-intellectual whatevers – and at least in the first film, it felt fresh, or at least part of an intertextual tradition, a callback to a particular character archetype, rather than a callback to itself.

It shows the limitations of the imagination of the storytellers who have grown up on this, when they make sequels rather than wholly new stories.

The second film, Black Out 2022, has me split even more between my inner fanboy and critic.

On the surface, it seems to be bringing some new, appropriately intertextual ideas to the table. Anime, replicant-on-replicant war, the right eye serial number – an extension of the world, or an exploration of other parts of it we haven’t seen, moving from the noir tropes of the original to a more action/adventure storytelling space.

But then, this could be any impressive fan fiction YouTube video. It has that distinct mixture of outside influences and missed nuance. The violence in the original Blade Runner was slow, messy, and contemplative; it was never relentless, as is this post-Woo / Tarantino bloodfest. And the character archetypes aren’t as intertextual as the genre shift might suggest or should demand: in particular, the female character is just another Pris. And what made Pris, and Roy and the others, so interesting in Blade Runner 2019 was that we hadn’t seen them before, at least not in this context; but here, it shows the limitations of the imagination of the storytellers who have grown up on this, when they make sequels rather than wholly new stories.

I might feel better if watching these shorts were essential to understanding, rather than just hype for, Blade Runner 2049. That would suggest that the narrative within the mythology had moved forward so significantly (as a world might in 30 years) that we’d otherwise be struggling to keep up. But then, “struggling to keep up” is how we kids felt watching the original back in the ’80s, and the ’90s, by which time we’d been processing the visuals and themes within for so long we felt we understood them. So far, none of this feels beyond me – and maybe that’s fine; maybe it’s not supposed to be anymore. Which is why I don’t want either my fanboy or my critic to win the battle for how I ultimately watch Blade Runner 2049, or movies like it. But that’s hard work – harder work than it might be with a brand-new property. Is the legacy of the art my generation grew up on really that we simply regurgitate it? Or can we make art, like the art that inspired us, which challenges us and inspires the next generation?

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