After 35 years, fans of Ridley Scott’s pioneering Blade Runner were sufficiently hyped for last year’s much-anticipated sequel. Yet, despite the fact that its predecessor is among the most famous examples of a box office flop going on to achieve cult classic status, director Denis Villeneuve’s (Arrival, Sicario) Blade Runner 2049 ultimately underperformed at the box office, earning only $92 million domestically against a $150 million production budget. Still, its worldwide cume of $259 million must have convinced the rights holders to at least pursue some continuation of the franchise because here we are.
This week, Alcon Media Group �� one of the companies which produced 2049 — and Titan Publishing announced that they have joined forces for a new partnership, one which is kicking off with a series of publications tied to the Blade Runner brand. While part of their plans include non-fiction books tied to the production of the films, the more intriguing aspect is news that we’re getting a selection of comics and graphic novels designed to fit within established canon. While there’s no denying that the world of Blade Runner is a rich one ripe for further exploration, is the franchise itself a good fit for the ever-popular shared universe model?
Of course, supplementary material built off of a hit film is nothing new. However, ever since the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit pay dirt with its “it’s all connected” approach to storytelling, the concept of keeping a unified vision consistent through all different forms of media has really gone mainstream. To a lesser extent, the Wachowskis were instrumental in building The Matrix (one of many sci-fi films influenced by Blade Runner) from a single-film phenomenon into a full big-screen trilogy buoyed by anime, video games and other content, to mixed results. But Blade Runner itself has never tapped into the potential of its unique dystopian landscape.
In fact, all fans had to tide them over in the 30+ years between films were novelizations of the original film and a pair of video games. Yet, even those projects were intended to spin off of the first film’s growing reputation, not directly sync up with its narrative. One could argue that the shared universe model allows a franchise to foster a larger audience, in this case offering multiple access point for lovers of the genre to discover the world of Blade Runner. With comics and other content keeping the series alive, perhaps the chances of a third film — a project which Scott is eager to develop — might even increase as a result.
But to play devil’s advocate for a moment, flooding the marketplace with Blade Runner tales might actually do more harm than good. Take, for instance, the recent backlash among some elements of the Star Wars fan community, as the Disney-owned Lucasfilm has embraced an ongoing spate of films, animated series, comics and novels. Bearing in mind that the “galaxy far, far away” is also as ubiquitous and mainstream as a genre property can get, it’s far more untested how a brand as inherently niche as the dour, philosophically rich Blade Runner would be affected by such a sudden expansion of its universe.
Whereas the Star Wars fanbase has been segmented into casual fans who only watch the films and those who remain more well-versed in the various canonical adventures, the world of Blade Runner — as evidenced by the disappointing box office returns for 2049, despite a pair of Oscar wins and much critical love — thus far apparently has no such levels to it. You’re either invested in Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) and K’s (Ryan Gosling) stories, or you’re not. Feeding devoted fans more of what they love could work as far as perpetuating the series’ appreciation for existing loyalists, but it very likely will fail to rein in newcomers who haven’t come aboard the franchise over the course of the last 36 years.
Plus, if the development of a third film did ever pick up steam, it would then have to contend with the stories that had been told in comic book form, accommodating any new elements that had been added to the mythos. Part of what made 2049 such a thrilling vision is the rediscovery of where the first film’s universe had gone in the past 30 years. The film’s release was only preceded by a trio of short films, and even those only served to elaborate on the very recent past of the status quo depicted in 2049. Villeneuve and his team were, for the most part, given free rein to imagine where Deckard and the replicant technology would have developed across the three decades.
Of course, at this point, we’re in full-on speculation territory here. There’s no telling which stories Alcon and Titan have their heart set on, how they will play into the two films or what role they may play in the future of the Blade Runner franchise. For all we know, the upcoming comics might have precisely the desired effect and help the fanbase explode into the mainstream (fingers crossed!), but considering that Blade Runner is among the most revered sci-fi landmarks to not really receive the expanded universe treatment, it will certainly be interesting to see if this little experiment will work or fade away in a crowded marketplace like tears in rain.
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