If you want to see this movie, you probably should see the original movie first.
That “Blade Runner” was set in a dystopian 2019 Los Angeles. It predicted a dark, dingy, rainy reality where the crowded streets teemed with weird beings and police zipped around in flying automobiles. The blade runner of the story, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), was a cop charged with hunting down replicants — manufactured human-looking slaves — and killing them before they came to have feelings and to assert their humanity. The story developed as he became conflicted about his work.
“49” takes up the story 30 years later. Deckard is long gone, and a more restrained blade runner, Agent K (Ryan Gosling), works the same assignment — hunting down and retiring (killing) the last members of that long-ago batch of uppity replicants. As happened with Deckard, Agent K becomes interested in matters he is not supposed to pursue. Late in the movie, Deckard appears.
“Blade Runner 49,” directed by Denis Villenueve, is an homage to its predecessor and, in my view, rather ponderous. Its plot is spooled out slowly over the course of nearly three hours. It also ties up its story almost too neatly.
(In fact, Ridley Scott gave his 1982 “Blade Runner” a big edit and, I read, a murkier ending in “Blade Runner: The Final Cut,” which was released in 2007. I streamed that later version at home last week.)
At their hearts, both movies examine what it means to be human. They suggest the cost of totalitarianism and the diminution of presumed lesser beings in a science fiction format. The settings in a human-ruined environment reinforce the theme of degradation.
Both movies are set in Los Angeles, but only the first one rewards a viewer who is familiar with the place. Scenes are set in the Bradbury Building, Union Station, the Second Avenue Tunnel under Bunker Hill and a Frank Lloyd Wright house. The crowded street scenes suggest the Santee Alley flea market and, across from the Bradbury, the century-old Central Market, home to dozens of food vendors.
“49” was filmed mostly in Hungary and included a few “LAPD” signs for show, but nothing more, presumably for budget reasons. Even at that, the production cost was more than $150 million.
The atmosphere of the second movie is dusty and gray, rather than the sunless dank of the original, but the effect of a depleted environment is the same. One character remarks in the film that she never has seen a tree.
The original “Blade Runner” got a lukewarm reception and only was recognized as a classic over time. Similarly, this new version had a weak opening weekend, which could have been anticipated — the first movie ran 35 years ago, and it’s likely that few people under the age of 50 have seen it. As I said, it helps to see the first movie before going to see the second.