Blade Runner 2049 hits theaters next weekend, and based on early reviews, it looks poised to do what most thought was impossible: match, or even surpass the lofty standards of Ridley Scott’s original sci-fi noir classic. Much credit to director Denis Velleneuve for successfully building on the first film’s groundbreaking visual portrayal of a distant, but relatable dystopian future. It’s an achievement worthy of celebration for all film fans given Blade Runner’s legacy. But amid all these expectations, the pressure might have been even higher for the score.
Its development was certainly surrounded by drama. Legendary composer Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch were ushered in to replace Velleneuve’s frequent collaborator Johann Jóhannsson in the middle of the project. Run the Jewels’ El-P also released a clip from his rejected score demo.
We’ll never know everything about the politics behind it, but you can bet the intense scrutiny is thanks to the precedent set by the composer of the first film: electronic music pioneer and composer Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassio, a.k.a. Vangelis. His name may not be familiar, but if you were born in the ’80s or earlier, you’ve probably heard at least one of his pieces. He won an Academy Award for his synth-heavy soundtrack for Chariots of Fire and his music was also used in Carl Sagan’s PBS classic, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.
His work on the Blade Runner score has also attained iconic status for good reason. It wove sounds from ambient electronica, jazz and orchestral music into one coherent sentiment, the perfect sonic companion to both the film’s futuristic spin on hard-boiled crime and its deeper questions about what it means to be alive.
Personally, though, while I love the soundtrack, I’ve always found that today’s common listening scenarios — winding down after work, spacing out on your distraction of choice, finding focus in a hectic office — aren’t always apt for something so ponderous. Luckily, there’s also a remix — sort of: The New American Orchestra’s symphonic adaptation. It’s a mesmerizing half-hour listening tour, especially in a more passive medium like vinyl. But with nostalgia running high, it’s likely these rare-ish copies of this particular version, in particular, won’t hang around for long. Luckily, both the original and orchestral versions also are available for streaming on Spotify and YouTube. I’ve combined tracks from each of them into a mixed “greatest hits” below for your listening convenience if you’re curious.
We’ll see just how well Hans Zimmer and Wallfisch rose to the challenge starting on October 6 when the official digital version of their new soundtrack drops.