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Blade Runner 2049's first full trailer is smart, layered, and gorgeous

The film’s identity quest is an unexpected odyssey that fuses very different modes of sci-fi storytelling.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The first full-length trailer for Blade Runner 2049 is here, and just like its monumental predecessor, this film seems to be sci-fi at its best: smart, layered, and gorgeous.

The new clip — which expands on the teaser trailer we got back in December — is, perhaps unsurprisingly, dripping with spectacle, foregrounding the lavish settings and CGI-infused world building that any sequel to Ridley Scott’s dystopian classic would have to feature heavily.

But it’s also directly engaging with the lingering question the original film only subtly broached and never answered: Are Harrison Ford’s rogue android assassin Deckard and his successor, Ryan Gosling’s K, both androids (replicants) themselves?

Blade Runner has fused with its dystopian counterpart: Mad Max

In 2015, reviewing Mad Max: Fury Road for Vox, critic Todd VanDerWerff highlighted the tendency of sci-fi franchises to emulate either Blade Runner or Mad Max. That is, most science fiction franchises either go the “post-apocalyptic Dieselpunk desert road warrior gang” route or the “high-tech space opera dystopia” route.

Ridley Scott and Arrival’s acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve have evidently chosen to jettison this dichotomy by merging Blade Runner 2049 with Blade Runner’s dystopian counterpart. The new film seems to have split its action between the expected — flying cars in an ad-saturated, Shibuya-influenced future Los Angeles — and the totally new: a trip through a scorched desert to what looks like a version of the library of Alexandria that’s housing replicant DNA instead of books.

This fusion gives legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall), who loves this stuff, room to play with color, digital effects, and aesthetic. The result is an unexpectedly organic merging of the Blade Runner and Mad Max aesthetics — as we see in shots that could easily have been birthed from either franchise:

This fusion makes 2049 feel new, in much the same way Fury Road felt brand new in 2015, despite maintaining all the essential ingredients of its well-established franchise.

Through this fusion, Blade Runner 2049 highlights its major theme: identity conflict

The contrast between the space opera setting and the desert setting makes 2049 into a physical and metaphysical odyssey. If Gosling’s protagonist K were merely a retread of Ford’s Deckard, he’d essentially be a noir antihero trapped in a system outside his control. But both this trailer and the teaser before it have taken pains to show K journeying from a noirish LA street —

— to what could be the washed-out cradle of civilization:

This shift from blue to orange is a visual contrast that movies are notorious for using in order to present tension and energy. But what it does here is signify K moving from a hyper-real cityscape created by humans to a kind of Zen wasteland inhabited by an Obi Wan-like Jared Leto, who has the ability to create the artificial intelligence that has infiltrated human society.

The trailer foregrounds the question of whether K himself is a replicant, prominently recreating the first film’s famous intro shot — an opening eye — and showing off his strangely reflective eyes, which are hallmarks of replicant identity. So by having Gosling’s character infiltrate this new world, ostensibly in search of Deckard, the new film journeys directly into the heart of its central theme — into questions of identity, whether genetics determine destiny, and what makes someone human.

Blade Runner’s corporate dehumanization gets even more explicit

Leto’s replicant-whisperer has the first line of dialogue in this trailer, and what he says is telling: Corporations created replicants to be a “disposable workforce.” That dehumanization is prominent as a theme throughout Blade Runner, and 2049 makes it even more explicit. An early shot from the desert world gives us the classic sci-fi “naked bodies in containers” image to reveal the assembly-line element of replication, while virtual images of sexualized women appear in the city’s 3D ads repeatedly throughout the trailer, suggesting that the line between the commodification of these different bodies is a thin one.

Also notable is the trailer’s prominently displayed Atari logo, which is significant on a number of levels. Blade Runner was an interesting paradox, breaking down a world built around incessant corporate advertising while building real product placement into its dystopian setting. Atari’s logo was nearly ubiquitous throughout the film and became a famous anachronism over time as Atari itself fell out of prominence.

Interestingly, instead of erasing that conflict, the new film takes the Atari logo and uses it as the story’s literal background — it’s the opening shot of this trailer — postulating a distorted future where Atari has become an omnipresent oligarchical figure. This detail makes the landscape of Blade Runner 2049 feel even more surreal, even more of a spectacle. Yet as that opening eye reminds us, we’re never very far away from Orwellian omniscience.

Blade Runner 2049 hits theaters on October 6, 2017.

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