It’s All in the Crawl

I watched BLADE RUNNER 2049 this past weekend, and knew from the opening crawl that it was going to be a travesty relative to the original. To explain why, here’s a point-by-point comparison of the 2049 crawl with the original.


BLADE RUNNER

Early in the 21st century, the Tyrell corporation advanced Robot evolution into the Nexus phase – a being virtually identical to a human – known as a Replicant.

This lays out the basic premise, while subtly introducing the key uncertainty that forms the ethical axis of the film: “a being virtually identical to a human. They’re virtually identical. We can’t tell them apart, and yet we treat them as distinct and lesser than.

The Nexus 6 replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them.

What’s more, the sixth generation of these replicants are in some ways superior to their human creators. The pregnant uncertainty of virtually identical is taken up a notch: the sixth generation of replicants are at least equal in intelligence to their creators.

In this way, the moral question of why it is proper to treat beings virtually identical to us as less than us is married to the anxiety that these beings we treat as less than us are in fact superior to us.

Replicants were used off-world as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets.

This line spells out how humans have responded, on a socially instituted level to the complex and threatening ambiguity of replicants. The moral questions of what differentiates the virtually human from the human, and the anxiety over being evolutionarily superseded, have been submerged in the structures of institutionalized slavery.

After a bloody mutiny by a Nexus 6 combat team in an off-world colony, replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death.

As the second paragraph does to the first, this takes the premise established by the paragraph above and takes it up a notch. The line between human and replicant is identical to the boundary between Earth and space; and this line is enforced by a death penalty.

Special police squads – Blade Runner Units – had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing replicant.

What’s more, this death penalty is not judicial in nature, as it presumably is for a human, but is carried out on street level, by police units that are effectively bounty hunters maintaining the boundary between humans and replicants.

This was not called execution. It was called retirement.

Finally, the execution, structurally justified and containing the previously described ambiguity and anxiety, is covered over by euphemism.

In sum, the opening crawl of the original BLADE RUNNER describes the real-life behavior of human beings who have created (through capture), exploited, and ruthlessly controlled a virtually identical slave class; but it does so by draping this real-life dynamic in fictional terms.

It uses the fictional to illuminate the real.


By contrast, in its opening crawl, BLADE RUNNER 2049 establishes that the filmmakers don’t have a clear idea of what their movie is about. I’m going to put aside any criticism of how far the sequel’s crawl has fallen from the original in terms of language, and just focus on the ideas. It’s worth noting, though, the profound literary degradation, expressed on the grossest level by the transition from prose to what are essentially bullet points.

Replicants are bioengineered humans, designed by Tyrell corporation for use off-world. Their enhanced strength made them ideal slave labor.

Right off the bat, the narrative is a clusterfuck. Replicants are no longer “robots” developed by technical advances to a state of being virtually identical to humans, but bioengineered humans. Much worse, the reason for them being made slaves is completely bogus. What makes slaves ideal is not their “enhanced strength” but their complete lack of rights. It is this complete lack of rights in conjunction with the state of being virtually identical to humans that forms the moral axis of the BLADE RUNNER universe (and presents an instance of one of original author Philip K Dick’s primary questions: what is human?). The authors of the sequel display a misunderstanding of that axis as an opening premise.

These two opening lines are mangled forms of the two opening lines of the original. Derivative, yet uncomprehending.

After a series of violent rebellions, their manufacture became prohibited and Tyrell corp went bankrupt.

This violates the history established by the first film. The idea that replicants would be banned because very occasionally a few get to Earth and run amok, as in the original film, is just stupid.

Plus, the whole systemic establishment of the human/replicant divide in the Earth/Off-world border is lost.

The collapse of ecosystems in the mid 2020s led to the rise of the industrialist Niander Wallace, whose mastery of synthetic farming averted famine.

Synthetic farming. WTF? Of course the authors imagined they were being timely by inserting ecosystem collapse, but this really has nothing to do with anything. It’s just a testament to the fact that they really don’t give a shit about establishing the human/replicant divide. “Niander Wallace”… ffs. Better had they just named him Evil Whiteguy.

Wallace acquired the remains of Tyrell corp and created a new line of replicants who obey.

More butchery of the original concept, apparently unaware that this original concept referred to something real. The Nexus 6 replicants were controlled by programming them to die in 4 years. By the time they started developing enough of an identity to think for themselves, they died.

This programmed death date, in conjunction with their being virtually identical if not superior to humans allowed the Nexus 6 of the original to be anti-heroes, symbols of humanity in rebellion against the ‘God’ who cursed humanity with death in casting them out of Eden, so that (having already acquired the knowledge of the gods) they would not also acquire the immortality.

Many older model replicants – Nexus 8s with open-ended lifespans – survived. They are hunted down and ‘retired’.

How we got from the Nexus 6 to the 8 – from replicants controlled specifically by their programmed death to those with an open-ended lifespan – in the time between 2019 and the supposed ecosystem collapse of the 2020’s, we never learn. In fact, I’m virtually certain the authors neither know nor care. The mysterious ‘black out’ referenced in the film is just a convenient device for rationalizing the profound disconnect between the original and the supposed sequel.

Those that hunt them still go by the name… Blade Runner

And blah, blah, blah…

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