The ambitious, long awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s iconic 1982 film Blade Runner landed upon us last week to much (justified) fanfare and excitement from the film-going community.
Denis Vilnueve’s Blade Runner 2049, set 30 years after the first film, is a neo-noir visual feast, a tour-de-force that manifests and develops like a well-aged single malt.
And speaking of whisky, the appearance of Scotland’s national drink at certain points throughout the film helps serve up an interesting bon accord between the Blade Runner world and the country that proffers more on further examination than just that of our favoured tipple.
Firstly, and most obviously, is the appearance of Johnnie Walker in the film as the spirit of choice for the returning Rick Deckard. Offered as a peacemaker between himself and fellow Blade Runner and protagonist K, the distinctive, unusual shaped bottle’s appearance on screen harks back to the 1982 original, taking its cues from the Arnolfo Di Cambio whisky glass Deckard drinks his Kilmarnock born blend from in the first film.
The bottle, again a Black Label, which Deckard pours from while discussing the illegal travel to earth of four replicants with boss Bryant in his office. Its nice to see that, years later in the desolate wasteland where he now calls home, Deckard still finds solace with a wee dram of Johnnie.
The whisky’s iconic Striding Man label, created in 1908 by illustrator Tom Browne, can also be seen in the distance of a city-scape screen through the smoke and haze in illuminated form at one point in the movie, while a bottle of – Dumbarton bottled – Ballantines is also on display in Deckard’s sizeably stocked bar.
The much anticipated first face to face meet between Harrison Ford’s Deckard and new kid on the block K (played by Ryan Gosling) in the third act of the film offers up the second of our Scottish influences, this time literature based.
Gun pointed, Deckard utters a line from Robert Louis’s Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island, making explicit reference to Ben Gunn’s craving for cheese by saying, “You mightn’t happen to have a piece of cheese about you, now?, to which K replies “Treasure Island”, with Deckard surprised by his knowledge of the line “He reads,” he replies.
The line in the book, which continues, “Well, many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese-toasted, mostly-and woke up again, and here I were,” is uttered by the marooned sailor Ben Gunn in chapter 15 when he first comes into contact with the young Jim Hawkins.
Perhaps its inclusion is an apt metaphor for the unearthed, buried treasure that brings the two men together, but the tale of high seas and swashbuckling’s mention in the film is actually a real ‘easter egg’ for fans of the original.
This is because the book, published in 1882, also ‘features’ in a deleted scene in Blade Runner, where Deckard goes to visit fellow blade runner Holden, who is hospitalised after being shot (twice) by rogue replicant Leon Kowalski as he administers the Voight-Kampff test on him.
In the scene, small green letterforms skim across a dark glass panel, beneath which Holden is reading excerpts from Treasure Island, in what looks like a precursor to the first ebook. Deckard enters and asks Holden what he is reading, to which Holden replies, ‘Treasure Island!’.
The illusion of the book in the first film, albeit in a deleted scene, and again in Blade Runner 2049 may have its genesis, unexpectedly somewhat, in the famous Port Talbot steelworks in Wales.
It was by driving past the plant, the largest steelworks in Europe, at night, did Scott find inspiration in the dystopian city-scapes that were to appear in Blade Runner, with the chimneys spewing out flames, the flashing lights and the rising steam.
And locally, the steelworks were known as ‘Treasure Island’, thanks to the prosperity it brought to the area, a plant which employed 18,000 workers at its peak.
Treasure Island’s name checking follows from the 1982 original’s subtle reference to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, aka ‘The Scottish play’, one apparent thanks to the words said by Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) as he, near the end of the film, refuses to accept his fate.
His “Time, enough” reflective of a last attempt to seize life from the clutches of his demise, an obstinate refusal of acceptance akin to Macbeth’s dual with Macduff with his own fate already sealed.
A fate that, interestingly, speaks to the heart of the central theme which courses through the veins of the Blade Runner world, both on paper and on screen, that of examining humanity and what it is to be human.
Themes which Philip K Dick, author of Blade Runner source material Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? developed from his readings of celebrated Edinburgh born philosopher David Hume, a man Dick referred to as the ‘greatest sceptic of them all.’
In a paper called ‘The Day the Gods Stopped Laughing’ published in 1968 in a fanzine, Dick reveals how, when he first read Hume’s writings on casuality (which he regarded as one of the most brilliant papers in the English language) as a 19 year old, he “fell senseless to the floor, my world destroyed”.
The, what we can call ‘Dickenian’ dilemma of whether you are human or android finds in itself a level of introspection, and scepticism of such, which Hume himself spoke of in his A Treatise of Human Nature, published in 1738, as illustrated in the book Philip K. Dick and Philosophy: Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits?, edited by D. E. Wittkower.
Specifically, when he writes, “For my part, when i enter most intimately into what i call myself, i always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, of light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I can never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception.”
Finally, within our Blade Runner universe, we have the appearance of character of ‘baddie’ Neander Wallace, played by Jaret Leto in the recent sequel, who makes our list purely by virtue of his surname.
The bio-tech magnate took over the Tyrell Corporation and founded “Wallace Corporation” ,which solved the food shortage in the intervening period between the first Blade Runner (set in 2017) and the recent Blade Runner 2049, before Wallace turned his attention to creating new life forms.
Is his surname denoted from Braveheart himself, or the surname which has its origins from the Old English wylisc, meaning ‘foreigner’ or ‘Welshman’ and which may have been used to denote someone from the Kingdom of Strathclyde who spoke Cumbric? Who knows.
Wallace aside, what we do know is that, if we scratch under the surface of the Blade Runner world, Scotland’s influence on the big screen phenomenon doesn’t just extend to Deckard’s choice of tipple, there’s more to it than meets a Voight-Kampff tested eye.