An 8-bit Harrison Ford hunts for fugitives in this ‘Blade Runner’ recreation

Ryan Gosling's "I'm in another masterpiece" look.
Image: warner bros.

There’s something uncanny about the way Warner Bros. is handling critics and press for Blade Runner: 2049. I’ve seen this weirdness before — and reading the tea leaves, I’d say we may very well have a modern classic on our hands here.

But there are also reasons to believe the sequel to the sci-fi touchstone is a replicant of the 1982 original: A cult hit that’s a huge with fanboys and film geeks, but severely bores moviegoers and flops at the box office.

Blade Runner 2049 media screenings are rolling in relatively late, and guests weren’t allowed at last week’s press junket screenings — never a good sign. Stirring up more suspicion, Warner Bros. made some journalists sign NDAs, which I’ve only seen once before (also with Warner Bros., for Batman v Superman).

But then a very carefully selected group of bloggers and press were told they could tweet their reactions Tuesday morning at noon ET, and the response wasn’t just positive — it was through the roof. Words like “masterpiece,” “Best of 2017” and “Oscar” got thrown around; no one was in the least bit critical.

Yet these days, this could all be very much by design.

I’m still predicting a 95% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score for Blade Runner: 2049

In the age of Rotten Tomatoes hysteria, movie marketing teams have become increasingly savvy and strategic about how to roll out critics’ reactions. Publicists build detailed spreadsheets of bloggers’ tastes that help them guide who gets to see what, and when. Tricky titles are first shown to franchise fans and serial cheerleaders, often at “special” early screenings with plenty of filmmakers, food and drink on hand. Travel and accommodations are sometimes involved — as was the case with It, for which Warner Bros. flew a handpicked group of writers to Maine to see the film and meet with Stephen King.

Then, with little warning, an email comes in telling them they’re allowed to tweet their reactions.

Many of these writers are loath to trash a film after receiving that kind of treatment, so naysayers hold back while superfans let ‘er rip. And the resulting ripples of positivity can be extraordinarily influential — nay, manipulative — engineered to splatter the internet with good vibes just as the biggest chunk of critics is shuffling in to their screenings.

And then there’s the matter of that review embargo time.

We figured out the correlation between when reviews are allowed to post and the quality of the Rotten Tomatoes score. Longer lead times generally mean higher scores, though there are exceptions (I totally missed on my prediction for It, but I learned a few things from that whiff — including that an early, positive social media reaction foretells a higher score).

In the case of Blade Runner 2049, the embargo had been set for Monday, Oct. 2 — a fairly tight 3 days, 10 hours from the first public screenings. That portended something like a 65% or better RT score, which, given the stakes, Warner Bros. would’ve been OK with.

But on Wednesday, after it was clear that bloggers were loving Blade Runner 2049, the studio shifted up its embargo time to Friday at 9 a.m. ET. That gives it a whopping lead time of 6 days, 10 hours — putting it in line with Spider Man: Homecoming, Girls Trip and The Lego Batman Movie. All were around or above 90%.

Add in those unanimous, over-the-top social-media reactions and I’m predicting a 95% fresh Rotten Tomatoes score for Blade Runner: 2049. Even established critics, who are starting to get a little salty about being leapfrogged by easier-to-please junket and fanboy press, are hinting that the reviews for this thing will be next-level.

Now, does that mean anything for the box office? Ask the original Blade Runner (90% on Rotten Tomatoes), which opened to $6.1 million domestic — a flop even in 1982 dollars.

Which would be a pity — all this praise gone to waste …

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