Expectation is a tricky thing. We generate it ourselves, but we don’t have a lot of control over it. We merely light the fuse. Our subconscious does the rest. It fans the flames and spreads the fire. It makes us crave what lies ahead. Before we know it, we’ve taken something we’re interested in and turned it into something so much bigger. Something that feels bizarrely pivotal to our happiness. Sadly, this process doesn’t always work out well for us or the thing we’re waiting for.
Last night, I finally got to see Blade Runner 2049. I lit the fuse for that particular obsession a very long time ago. It’s possible I put a match to the fuse long before I even knew there was going to be a sequel.
The first Blade Runner is such a huge part of my love of science fiction. It’s a cornerstone of that addiction. I remember being a small, excited Star Wars fan and spotting the VHS of Blade Runner. I was told I was too young for it but I knew I had to see it. I mean, that image said space adventure with attitude. It had what looked like spaceships on it and Han had a laser pistol again. It oozed atmosphere. The photos on the back of the case, which showed a dark and smoky world unlike anything I’d seen before, made me even more determined.
I was finally allowed to watch it when I was eleven or twelve. If I’m getting this right, it was the year Burton’s Batman came out rated a 12. I was just under twelve at the time and my parents, as it turned out, put far too much stock is age ratings. As a commiseration prize, I was allowed to see Blade Runner. Turns out they did me a favour there. I danced with a far more interesting devil in the rainy moonlight that night. It blew my tiny mind.
(It was the original cut, with the noir voice over and the very sunny ending, in case you’re wondering. Not that I cared back then. I still think that’s the right place to start.)
I’m not sure I took it all in that first time. The look of the movie did something to me. It was my first taste of a darker, headier brew of science fiction. It wasn’t upbeat. The characters didn’t all become friends or join a cause. There were no true villains in that movie. If anything, I began to realise that Deckard was the most dangerous character within that story. He was the hunter. He was the man silencing those who questioned the system.
As I watched it again and again over the years, I found so much to love in that movie. Beyond its brilliant story and performances, it got me paying attention to so many of the elements that had brought it into existence. Ridley Scott’s dizzying eye of detail and pace. The production design that seemed to build an entire world. Vangelis’ score, which bled that world out of the stereo speakers from the moment you press play. It also got me reading Philip K Dick. That opened a few interesting doors in my head as well.
As the new versions of the movie came about, they changed the idea of fandom for me. Long before Lucas started playing with his Star Wars toys again, Scott took the scissors to his cult classic and made it sleeker and bleaker. He took out its heart and showed us the wound to a certain extent, but it was still a fascinating exercise in watching the power of the edit suite.
When they released a large book that covered the making of the movie, I knew I had to own it. When they released the final cut of the movie and a boxset featuring five versions and a documentary, there was no question in my mind: I was buying it.
I suppose I never really thought we’d get a sequel. There were a couple of novels, but I stayed clear of those. I was happy with the questions the movie had left in my head. Then they told me the sequel was being directed by the guy who made Arrival and I started paying attention.
The first trailers looked intriguing and pleasingly respectful. There was no sense of the Hollywood reboot machine. No sign of an Expendables style cash grab for your nostalgia. No, this felt right.
I watched the trailer a few times, but did my best to be realistic. It’s rare you get to see your past come back without it making a few sacrifices in the name of commerce. I watched the short tie-in movies online. I tried to avoid spoilers. I stayed away from the majority of reviews as they began to appear. Although I did start listening to the second track yesterday, before heading to the cinema.
I’m not going to attempt to review it here. It’s too soon to process it for me. It’s a big movie and it very much honours what came before. In fact, it mirrors it rather beautifully without every feeling like that its stealing from it. If anything, it’s coyly building motifs. Creating a sense of these movies being part of a larger work. It’s no longer just the detective movie that slyly and pragmatically begins to investigate existence and mortality around you. No, Blade Runner 2049 is attempting to work on a far bigger canvas. It raises some very interesting questions that reach back to the original movie and it just about manages not to ruin the grace of that first work. It’s engaging, but it gives you a lot to ponder.
Coming out the cinema last night, I realised two things. Firstly, I need to write more science fiction. Secondly, I was immediately looking forward to seeing it again tonight. Not just because it’s a great looking and intelligent piece of cinema, but because I’ll be able to watch it without the hype.
Hype is a cruel sport, but it’s a tricky one to give up. So much of what is sold to us these days, comes on a wave of hype. Marketing for anything escapist, from movies and games to books and music, thrives on our expectations. Movie trailers have become one of the cruellest weapons in this game.
Some real dogs of movies (in my opinion) were first shown to us in wonderfully put together trailers. The most recent American Godzilla movie looked like it was going to be something truly brilliant thanks to its trailers. Alien Covenant played with fire once it began to try and show the sequel to Prometheus as something far more related to the world of those original, classic Alien movies. The one I will never forgive is the trailer to Predators. By no means a great or a game changing movie, but they altered a piece of footage from the movie to make it look like it was going to be a far higher stakes movie than it was.
These days, there’s also the risk of showing us far too much. Batman vs Superman showed us what turned out to be most the title fight. Both of the most recent Terminator movies showed us the most important twist in each movie. Then there’s Jurassic World. The trailers for that were criticised by its director for giving away too much of his story.
When it comes to a product we’re being sold, I suppose it’s not the end of the world. True, I’ve had my hopes dashed by the X Men movies far too many times now. To the point where it’s becoming an abusive relationship, which is always rekindled by the courtship of an early trailer.
The hardest hype comes from what we expect for ourselves. Whether it’s a story we’re releasing, a new job we’re starting or a new relationship on the horizon. That hype can leave scars if reality fails to meet it.
I just sent off a tightened, cleaned up version of my second novel ready for editing and I can already feel a fuse starting to spark. I’m dreaming it will do well, even in my own self-doubt is combating that nicely. I’m quietly hyping its future to myself. It’s a pointless activity, really, but it’s addictive.
These days I’m trying to focus on the process of writing something and not the end result of book peddling. I think the journey from idea to finished story on a page is far more fulfilling than getting a book on a shelf and hoping people review it kindly and frequently.
I feel like, if I can take my pleasure from the act of writing, then the success is less important. The hype monkey can get off my back. Plus, any lack of success won’t have me reaching for the delete key as often as I do.
The problem is hype is seductive. It’s hope with added flavour. Of course you want to create something that does well. That success is a form of validation and validation can bring confidence with it, plus maybe even a little financial gain.
This blog has been a great exercise in just writing something and releasing it. I’m never going to get rich from this. If I’m lucky, it’ll get a few likes in the world of social media. If I’m very lucky, it’ll get a comment or two. I stay away from the data analysis on my site now. It never leaves me or my hype monkey feeling satisfied.
I’m not convinced hype is our friend, either as an audience or as people. It walks a very fine line between what interests us and the money spinning machine that tells us what success or winning looks like. I suppose the best we can do is keep our feet on the ground and treat our expectations as flammable materials. That way, we might not get burnt quite so often.