The much-anticipated Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve (known for his work on Sicario and Arrival), hits theaters today, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve already got your ticket. In an attempt to maximize my enjoyment of the film, I’ve skipped watching as many trailers as possible and have avoided reading any early reviews or speculation about the plot—not an easy task in the spoiler-filled world we live in today. But that doesn’t mean I’ve missed out on all Blade Runner 2049 goodies. I eagerly devoured the three recently released short films that serve as prequels for the main event.
In Blade Runner 2049, 30 years have passed since the events of the original Ridley Scott-directed Blade Runner, and to help explain some of the key story events that took place during those three decades, Villeneuve enlisted artists he respects to develop the backstory of the Blade Runner 2049 world. The result is three officially sanctioned short films which were released over the course of the last month, all of which are currently available for streaming. These short films are profiled below, in the order of their release.
2036: Nexus Dawn
In this six-minute short, directed by Luke Scott (Ridley Scott’s son) and written by Hampton Fancher and Tim Green (who co-wrote the new film), we meet Niander Wallace, portrayed by white-eyed Jared Leto, who’s encouraging a group of Lawmakers to have the prohibition of Replicants on Earth repealed. We learn that Wallace, who developed technology that ended world hunger, has also been making “perfected” Nexus 9 Replicants in clear violation of that prohibition. Wallace claims his new Replicants are totally obedient to humans, and to prove it one of Wallace’s new creations demonstrates just how far that obedience goes.
This film, which debuted on Collider on August 30, also features Benedict Wong (who played Wong in Doctor Strange) as one of the Lawmakers.
2048: Nowhere to Run
The second short film, clocking in around five minutes, was also directed by Luke Scott and written by Fancher and Green. It stars Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Drax the Destroyer) as Sapper Morton, a Nexus 8 Replicant who is struggling with some sort of mental trauma when we first see him. All Sapper wants to do is make a living and stay out of trouble. But trouble has a way of finding rogue Replicants, it seems, and it isn’t long before the soft-spoken Sapper is ankle deep in dead thugs after a violent street brawl. (Why anyone would pick a fight with Dave Bautista remains a mystery.) This film does a great job of evoking the original movie’s iconic vision of future Los Angeles, making the dingy, neon-lit streets feel even more crowded and claustrophobic.
This short, which premiered via iTunes Trailers on September 16, seems like it will tie directly into the events of Blade Runner 2049.
Blade Runner Black Out 2022
Written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, best known for his work on Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, this 15-minute anime takes place during “The Blackout,” an incident that happened three years after the events of the first Blade Runner movie. It’s a defining plot event that’s been referenced in both 2036: Nexus Dawn and at least one of the trailers for the new film.
In the short film’s prelude text, we learn the latest series of Replicants, designated Nexus 8, are no longer hampered by the four-year limited lifespan of the Nexus 6 models. Of course, natural humans aren’t too fond of the existence of these new long-living superhumans, and those negative feelings erupt in riots that result in many registered Replicants being hunted down and killed. The story’s main focus is on two Nexus 8 models—Trixie and Iggy—who embark on a daring and dangerous plan to protect the lives of the remaining Replicants.
The film, which debuted on streaming anime site Crunchyroll on September 27, is really well done. It’s loaded with action sequences done up in Watanabe’s signature style, and there are plenty of callbacks to the original Blade Runner, like an appearance by Gaff (Deckard’s foil from Blade Runner, still voiced by original actor Edward James Olmos) as well as a brief shot of a Replicant data screen showing Sapper Morton’s details, including his incept date of March 22, 2019. In addition to looking great, the film has a fantastic soundtrack by Flying Lotus, the electronic maestro responsible for the bumper music on Adult Swim.
Together, these three shorts set up the background and history of the world we’re about to experience in Blade Runner 2049. Since I have managed to avoid most spoilers, I can’t say these films don’t contain any. But in addition to laying out the backstory for the upcoming film, they add a richness and depth to the Blade Runner universe and are worth watching for any Blade Runner fan.