The Rich Possibilities of a Blade Runner Shared Universe

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Back in 1982, budding auteur Ridley Scott brought prolific and profound author Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, to vibrant life. The result, Blade Runner, received a mixed bag of reviews and barely covered its budget. Thanks to its inventive visual landscape, sparse electronic soundtrack, and exotic dystopian mythos, though, it quickly grew into a cult classic, inspiring a generation of cyberpunk followers and informing film aesthetics in general.

Scott’s masterpiece of moody future-noir enveloped its audience in a dark, weather-beaten, Los Angeles, where Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) skulked through the throngs as a “Blade Runner” – a police-sanctioned bounty hunter hired to track down rogue biomechanical replicants and “retire” them.

bladerunner
Harrison Ford in the original ‘Blade Runner’

A haunting exploration of our worse nature and technological overdrive, it fashioned an electronic mosaic world with scores of ambiguous tiles waiting to be flipped over.

As with other immersive works of science fiction like Star Wars and Alien, Blade Runner introduced moviegoers to evocative terminology like “spinners”—dual-tined hover-cars—and a world where only mechanical animals still exist. A haunting exploration of our worse nature and technological overdrive, it fashioned an electronic mosaic world with scores of ambiguous tiles waiting to be flipped over.

This year, Scott and filmmaker Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) will finally revisit the gritty world in Blade Runner 2049. Despite trepidation, the next chapter may bring Deckard’s story full circle, as new Runner, K (Ryan Gosling), tracks down the aging detective. Presuming the latest venture into this dark future sets public interest ablaze, and Villeneuve has hinted at a third entry.

Judging by the first trailer, Villeneuve has not only captured the spirit of Scott’s classic but also expanded its mythos. While the mysteries of the film helped Scott recreate Dick’s immersive world, many of those curiosities would also serve as perfect building blocks for additional films.

The plight of these bio-synthetics – made in our image and implanted with real emotions and false memories – gives Scott’s masterpiece its resonant and disturbing emotional core.

THE REPLICANTS

Arguably, Blade Runner’s most fascinating aspect, as well as its (and probably the sequel’s) main focus, is the non-human story, the replicants.

Portrayed as ruthless killers, these conscious constructs often come across as more sympathetic than their cold-hearted creators, who now hunt them down like animals (with the exception of J.F. Sebastian, played by William Sanderson). Surely, the human-droid dynamic is a complex one, but from the available information, the Nexus-6 replicants appear to be the latest in a long and tragic line of exploited and oppressed groups throughout our history. The plight of these bio-synthetics – made in our image and implanted with real emotions and false memories – gives Scott’s masterpiece its resonant and disturbing emotional core.

Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson in 'Blade Runner'
Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson in ‘Blade Runner’

Future works will hopefully flesh out (pun somewhat intended) the origins of manufactured life, as well as addressing what becomes of Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s mechanical descendents. Scott himself once mentioned the possibility of more advanced units like the Nexus-7 – which Sean Young’s character Rachael (and Deckard himself) is rumored to be – and Nexus-8 models.

Both future generation and prior generations of replicants offer a wealth of fascinating angles for later films, especially if the replicants’ limited longevity, initially set at four years by Tyrell, were removed. A shared universe could explore deeper motifs ranging from immortality to human evolution to everyone’s old favorite sci-fi saw: creation usurping its creator.

A PREQUEL?

The events leading up to Blade Runner are also left intentionally vague. Since life on the colonies and asteroid mines sounds miserable for its second-class citizen mechanoids, the circumstances leading up to the massacre which brought the Roy Batty and his Nexus-6 crew to Earth could be a cinematic goldmine full of rich themes and franchise connections. Rutger Hauer and his band may be a little old to reprise their roles, but an adaption could focus on other replicants  (or *shudder* young-cast them) and their mistreatment at the hands of their creators/oppressors.

Silhouette of Ryan Gosling in sequel, 'Blade Runner 2049'
Silhouette of Ryan Gosling in sequel, ‘Blade Runner 2049’

It also seems as though these hearty humanoids might become the only ones capable of surviving the deteriorating Earth – which already looks borderline inhospitable by the onset of Blade Runner 2049.

TYRELL CORPORATION

The origins of Tyrell and Earth’s towering corporate culture, as well as the borderline police state, may fill in numerous further gaps for filmgoers about the events which allowed the world to slowly choke on its own industriousness.

The seemingly omniscient technocracy has grown to almost literally blot out the sun by 2019, and its presence in 2049 may have given way to the forced march of entropy. A prequel focused on the Tyrell Corporation could shed more light on how our dark, parallel future came to pass, much like Scott’s Alien predecessor Prometheus dug up the dirt on Peter Weyland – the founder of what would become cosmic mega-company Weyland-Yutani.

Tyrell himself is a curious figure: The brilliant corporate head thrills at the evolution of his synthetics like a proud parent. At the same time, he programmed his “children” with a minute lifespan and created them for enforced servitude, all while building an empire on their backs. Watching his character and company develop into the massive corporate monolith seen in the 1982 classic is fertile ground for additional features or even a television series.

Hopefully, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 reignites interest in the revolutionary science fiction saga. With so many facets left to uncover, it would be a shame if the franchise halted after one sequel. So long as future filmmakers follow Philip K. Dick and Ridley Scott’s striking vision, philosophical themes, and in-depth characterizations, the story and mythos has near-limitless potential to unwind an expansive, disturbing, yet visually stunning shared universe.

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