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Does Deckard Dream of Origami Unicorns?

Thirty-five years ago, an origami unicorn provided a tantalizing clue at the conclusion to the sci-fi noir classic, Blade Runner (1982). Deckard (Harrison Ford), an ex-cop “blade runner,” has been tracking down and attempting to kill replicants, near-human androids used as slave labour in off-world colonies. Four rogue replicants have returned to Earth in 2019, to a bleak futuristic Los Angeles, to compel their maker, the Tyrell Corporation, to lengthen their limited life span. By the end of the movie, all four are dead, but their deaths have raised questions for Deckard about what it means to be human. Further compounding his existential struggle, he has fallen in love with another replicant, Rachael (Sean Young). And finally, the recurring unicorn motif suggests that perhaps he too is a replicant.

This seminal movie, based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, has had a huge cultural impact, from the much-imitated retrofitted art design to questions of morality and self-knowledge around artificial intelligence. Is the essence of our humanity bound up in our memories? Rachael has childhood memories, but they’ve been implanted from others. The rogue replicant’s leader, Roy (Rutger Hauer), in a much quoted monologue, despairs as his limited life-span nears its end that all his memories will be lost “like tears in rain.”

In contrast to more mainstream sci-fi blockbusters, there has never seemed much need for a Blade Runner sequel. But recent years have seen the stars align to create Blade Runner 2049, which, for many (myself included), is the most eagerly anticipated film of the year.

As far as who’s involved, it all looks very promising. Canadian Denis Villeneuve, who directed last year’s superb Arrival (2016), helms the sequel. Safe to say, he is a fan of the original, declaring at San Diego Comic-Con 2017, “It is my favourite movie of all time.” Original director, Ridley Scott, is executive producer for the sequel. The screenplay is written by Hampton Fancher (who co-wrote the screenplay to the original movie) and Michael Green. Canadian actor Ryan Gosling stars as blade runner ‘K,’ with Harrison Ford returning as Deckard. Needless to say, film nerds everywhere are in a frenzy of anticipation at the prospect of having the “replicant or not” question answered once and for all.

Critics have been gushing too, with the movie garnering a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In particular, the cinematography of Roger Deakins has been given high praise, with talk of a long overdue Oscar surely coming in March 2018. An integral part of experiencing the original movie was the great score of Vangelis. The music this time around, by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, will do well to match that.

The Civic Theatre is offering up the chance to see the original Blade Runner on the big screen at a midnight screening on Thursday October 5. (I fondly recall going to such a midnight screening 30 years ago in Nottingham, UK.) Then the Blade Runner 2049 run starts the next day. If you need a fix before then, check out the three shorts that Villeneuve commissioned to fill in some of the back story that takes place between the two movies.

Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.