By Gabby Thorpe
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New Blade Runner film takes on ethics of artificial intelligence

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Issue 2575
What happens when artificial intelligence becomes conscious?
What happens when artificial intelligence becomes conscious?

With stunning cinematography and a powerful plot, Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel with everything that fans will want, writes Gabby Thorpe

No science fiction writer manages to look at what could happen when Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes conscious more elegantly than Philip K Dick.

Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to the cult adaptation of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, has hit the screens 35 years after the original.

At the beginning Officer K (Ryan Gosling) discovers a secret when “retiring”—that is, hunting down and killing—a “replicant” android. It makes him question his whole existence.

This leads to a beautiful and hard to forget journey to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who disappeared after the events depicted in the original film.

Blade Runner 2049 opens with a brief explanation about replicants and the fate of Tyrell Industries after cold-hearted entrepreneur Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) took it over.

Encountering Wallace a bit later in the film instantly highlights one of capitalism’s biggest problems—the constant need for a “disposable workforce”.


Leto’s depiction of a tortured creator, despairing that he cannot “breed” his slaves, is arguably some of his best acting to date.

But Leto is not the only star. A stellar set of actors brings to life a dystopian future of hyperconsumerism.

Central to the plot is the struggle of replicants to find autonomy and agency.

The definition of reality is certainly central to the plot and we are reminded of it again and again. K’s holographic girlfriend is a product of a booming companion industry.

Advertised as a product that will “say what you want to hear”, she appears to be as intelligent and emotional as any replicant or human.

But a question hovers over how genuine her companionship truly is.

The question runs through the film, with replicants desperately clinging to the hope offered to them by K’s discovery.

This philosophical theme is the film’s true strength and reflects, much like the original film, Dick’s talent for tackling important, ethical questions. Aside from the thought provoking plot, the film also relies on breathtaking cinematography to keep viewers interested throughout the near three hour epic.

This is a success.

Astoundingly vast futuristic landscapes dominate the film, with a distinct contrast between the thriving centre of Los Angeles and the poverty stricken outskirts.

Other locations, deserted or reduced to rubbish tips, effectively convey a world that has been devastated.

Blade Runner 2049 offers an intriguing and at times tragic experience.

Although it is not directed by Ridley Scott, as the orginal film was, Denis Villeneuve more than manages to keep up the style of the original film.

And Harrison Ford’s reprise as Deckard is everything that you would want it to be.

The only question still to be answered is—do androids dream of electric sheep?

Blade Runner

Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Out now


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