- Toby Wyant
THE SECRET TO SEQUELS: A LOOK BACK AT 2049
A perfect sequel needs to be able to say something artistically useful in the language and aesthetic sensibilities of its’ source material, writes Toby Wyant.
There are few things as unusual as a good sequel to a truly cult film. It’s hard being the Tusk to another films’ Rumours - not that bad, maybe even excellent - but marred by the simple fact that it isn’t lightning in a bottle. This article is about one of those that, in my opinion, managed to live up to the original: Blade Runner 2049, sequel to the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott. I remember waiting for it to come out, waiting to hear from critics, waiting to watch it all with a feeling of dread anticipation. I’m a massive fan of the original film and given the recent and continued trend of Hollywood warming over old classics (or, uh, not so classics - thanks CHiPs), my fear was that 2049 might be more of the same.
My fears thankfully did not come to fruition. Instead, 2049 managed the apparently impossible. Not only was it not awful, it actually managed to be… kind of good? Kind of really good?? Better in some senses than the original??? Please, I hear you gasp. You must be exaggerating. 2049 was good, I hear you plead, but not that good. Well it was, and I’ll stand by it. 2049’s genius, and indeed the genius of all successful sequels to truly capital-G Great films, is that it knew what it wanted to be. A bad sequel can fall prey to one of two vices; it either tries too hard to become something different from its sibling, or otherwise tries to tell the same story as the original.
Instead of falling prey to either, a great sequel occupies a golden mean. It understands what made the first film great and borrows it. It tells a new story that needs to be told. Simply put, it needs to be able to say something artistically useful in the language and aesthetic sensibilities of its’ source material. This is a hard line to tread, and it’s exactly why so many sequels fail. 2049 does it all and more, starting with the bedrock of incredible sound design. Blade Runner’s sound design is incredibly richly textured: city chatter, traffic, rain and more all build the essential sense that there’s a whole world just outside the frame. 2049 picks up on this, developing the original’s toweringly orchestral electronic score. K and Luv fighting on the shore, lit by the flickering lights a flying car, accompanied by the rushing sonic drumbeat of the waves is one example among many of the film’s simply incredible uses of sound.
A final aspect of 2049 is that as our world has moved on since Blade Runner, so has the world of 2049. Set 30 years after the events of the original film, technology has developed and history has happened. This presents the viewer with a setting that is both old and new—we recognize the basic concepts of the setting in replicants and the megatropolis of future LA. But there is as much that we don’t recognise about the setting, new and strange, keeping our attention and more importantly our curiosity. This is what is so excellent about 2049. It manages entirely to tell a new story with elements of the old, perfectly inverting the crux of the earlier film. No longer is it a story about a human dreading that he might be a replicant: K is a replicant who wants to be human.
Image Credits: Vox Media, The Spectator