Blade Runner 2049 – Review

The main body of this review contains no spoilers.  Spoilers are optional and hidden from plain sight.

I’m turning 40 next week, which means I’ve been around for a little while and seen a few things.  One of those things I’ve seen is Ridley Scott‘s 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner.  I can’t recall the first time I saw it, I was only five when the movie released in cinemas, so it was likely a few years later on VHS.  While I’m sure I enjoyed the movie as a kid, it really wasn’t until I was older that I came to truly appreciate it.  It was one of the first films I picked up on DVD and I’ve been hooked since, even going so far as to pickbup the original soundtrack on CD and the special Final Cut attache case on Blu-Ray that wasn’t available in Australia (Here in Oz only the DVD version was available in the case).  I even own the original big box PC game from Westwood (which I’m due for another playthrough soon).

I’m a bit of a fan of Philip K. Dick as well, he writes some amazing short stories.  While not necessarily brimming with rich character development or advanced prose, they are extremely thought provoking and the man is a gold mine of ideas (Something Hollywood is still mining today). I’ve read ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ and it isn’t bad, but it’s quite a bit different from the Blade Runner movie.  So while I can appreciate Dick’s writings, full credit must go to director Scott, screenwriters Fancher and Webb, and particularly the gaffers for their incredible lighting used in the original film.

Why the dramatic backstory for a film released in 2017?  Because this isn’t a remake, reboot, sidequel, extended universe or spiritual sequel.  Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel.  A direct sequel.  If you haven’t seen the original film you’ll likely be left confused and probably asking more than one question.  Considering how much of a cult classic the original is (and rightly so), if you haven’t seen it; do so before sitting down with Blade Runner 2049.  For first time viewers I highly recommend the ‘Theatrical Cut’ as it includes the voice overs.  While not a winner with the fans (or the original cast) it does explain a lot of exposition and will make your first time watching the film a little easier.  If you are familiar with the original film then sitting down with the ‘Final Cut’ before you head to the cinema certainly wouldn’t hurt to refresh the memory.

Oh and go to the loo before you sit down, this movie is nearly three hours long.

Short Version

“We call it Voight-Kampff for short.” – Rick Deckard

10/10. As a huge fan of the original it was an extremely emotional, roller coaster ride with me pleading “Please don’t fuck it up” the entire time, ending with me shedding a tear and being thoroughly satisfied.  I have no doubt Philip K. Dick would be extremely impressed.  Denis Villeneuve has firmly cemented himself in the position of a master storyteller of science-fiction, much like Ridley Scott before him.

Long Version

Story

“You’ve done a man’s job, sir. I guess you’re through, huh?” – Gaff

Firstly, a standing ovation for the screen writers Hampton Fancher (Blade Runner, Bade Runner Video Game, The Minus Man) and Michael Green (Murder on the Orient Express, Alien: Covenant, Logan).  They have delivered an absolutely outstanding story.  It must have been good to lure back Harrison Ford and entice the likes of Ryan Gosling, Jared Leto and Denis Villeneuve to come on board.  It was always going to be a complicated path, telling a whole new story but without straying too far from the source material.  Nobody knows this story better than Fancher and it was both a smart move by Ridley Scott to invite Fancher back and lucky for us that he accepted.  Fancher doesn’t have a lot of writing credits but it’s clear he poured his heart and soul into the original 1982 film and it’s probably taken him all this time to muster up enough energy to do the same with this film.  At 79 years of age I doubt Fancher has another one in him, but what a magnum opus to end with though.

I’m not entirely sure how much influence Scott had on the project as a producer, probably just a discerning eye checking in now and again.  I’m sure all will be explained with the home release and the ‘making of’ features that will no doubt be included.

Plot

“You’re in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down… “ – Holden

The year is 2049 and Agent K is a Blade Runner for the LAPD.  His job is to hunt down rogue replicants and ‘retire’ them, specifically older units like the Nexus 8.  The story begins with K investigating a possible suspect which in turn leads to much greater discoveries and learning of events that took place 30 years earlier.  Accompanied by his digital lover Joi he must seek out the legendary Deckard for answers.

Pro Tip: Avoid Wikipedia until after you’ve seen the film.  It explains the entire plot on the front page.  I’d probably recommend avoiding the most recent trailer as well.

If you are a fan of the original film like myself you won’t be disappointed with the story for Blade Runner 2049.  At 2 hours and 43 minutes it’s 46 minutes longer than the original, allowing for a little more exposition, atmosphere and a slightly slower pace.  If you aren’t a fan you might feel that the film could have been tightened up a little in editing, a lot of the Joi story arc could probably have been cut and one or two other scenes are a little drawn out.  Most of us though will relish every moment we can inside the Blade Runner universe as Villeneuve has explicitly stated that there will be no extended, special, director’s or final cut.  At least not from him.

The ending was perfect and literally brought tears to my eyes.  While it certainly leaves things open for a potential sequel I highly doubt Villeneuve (or even Scott) have any intentions to make one.  If anything I could see a TV series following in the wake of this film if anything, although I hope not.  These films are special and require an awful amount of care to get right, something I don’t think you could do with the time and budget of a TV series.

Oh, and of course there are some great plot twists, one of which even reaches back and makes you re-think the original film even further.

Visuals

“More human than human is our motto.”– Dr. Eldon Tyrell

The original Blade Runner is well known for it’s lighting, sets, costumes and special effects.  Not to mention it’s overall ‘noir’ feel.  I’m happy to say that a lot of care has gone into Blade Runner 2049 to continue that trend.  Lighting techniques used by Scott in the original have been replicated and improved and a great deal of effort has gone into lighting and shadow.  At first I was a little disappointed by K’s apartment, being quite bland compared to Deckard’s in the original.  However, K and Deckard are very different people and when we do finally catch up with Deckard things feel a little more familiar.

Villeneuve has made use of a variety of interesting and unusual camera angles and the entire film attempts to capture the qualities that made the original so popular with anyone studying film.

The original film is very dark and very wet, both very much a part of the noir aesthetic.  I was a little disappointed that this film didn’t quite follow suit, but then in hindsight the original film took place entirely in the city and in this film (for the most part) it only stops being dark and rainy when we leave the city.

Sets and costumes are excellent and just as richly detailed as the original film.  Oddly though, there are nowhere near as many animals, but perhaps we just didn’t visit the right areas of the city this time around.  The feeling of a run down and over populated city feels more prevalent than ever and we get a better look at just how tightly packed everyone is as we fly over the city.

Billboards have been upgraded since 2019 with free roaming holograms literally everywhere.  Sadly nowhere near as much neon. It was still great to see some of the iconic ‘retro-tech’ we’ve come to enjoy in many of Scott’s films such as the original Alien.  This is definitely a world lived in.

To be fair if there weren’t some differences we’d just be watching the same film over again.  All part of walking that knife edge of remaining true to the original while telling a new story.

Soundtrack

“Is this testing whether I’m a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?” – Rachael

Some films have generic, unassuming or simple scores.  Not the original Blade Runner though!  Vangelis scored the original film and it’s acquired as much praise and acclaim as the movie.  A hauntingly beautiful score that accompanied the film particularly well.  Villeneuve knew this and wanted to ensure that the score for Blade Runner 2049 would follow suit.  Originally, Jóhann Jóhannsson (whom Villeneuve had worked with in the past) was brought on board to compose the score, however he was later replaced by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.  Rumour has it that Jóhannsson couldn’t (or wouldn’t) produce a score similar to Vangelis.

I wont lie, the score isn’t as good as Vangelis’, but it’s pretty damn good.  I’m still inclined to pick up the soundtrack when it becomes available.  The score is eerily familiar in many ways while remaining original.  Vangelis doesn’t play at one point in the film and you’ll know it as soon as you hear it, and it’s absolutely perfect.

Acting

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.” – Roy Batty

A lot of people were concerned when they heard that Ryan Gosling had been cast in the lead role for this film.  Once you’ve watched the film and understand what kind of person K is I think most will agree that the casting was just fine.  Gosling did an excellent job and I certainly felt an emotional connection with his character by the time the film ended.  Is it enough to win awards? Maybe, although I’d be surprised if he wasn’t at least nominated.

If anything I felt Ford let the team down a little.  When we first catch up with Deckard there are some oddly placed attempts at humour which just feel a little ‘off’, perhaps improvisations from Ford?  However, it’s only brief and as things move to a more emotional state I re-connected with the character of Deckard.

Ana De Armas is gorgeous and plays the perfect girlfriend.  Likewise Mackenzie Davis performs well the fun and sexy Mariette, who is a bit of a homage to the original Daryl Hannah character of Pris.

Leto plays Niander Wallace, creator of the new wave of replicants.  The character is creepy, ruthless and a little odd.  So naturally Leto plays him perfectly.  I wasn’t entirely sold on his assistant Luv played by Sylvia Hoeks, although that may be more a fault of the script than the actor.  I felt that there were times when she was trying to be subtle, afraid or aggressive and it just wasn’t conveyed quite the right way.

Robin Wright did a good job of Lieutenant Joshi (K’s superior at the LAPD); she definitely conveyed a feeling of being world weary, tough and intelligent.

You’ll spot familiar faces in other, smaller, parts as well including Dave Bautista and Tómas Lemarquis.  I never felt anyone really dropped the ball here either.

Spoilers

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” – Roy Batty

Okay so I’m going to talk about a few iconic moments in the film that I just can’t contain.  You only want to click this if you’ve seen the film already, or simply don’t care. You’ve been warned.

Spoiler! Don't click until you've seen the movie! Or don't care.

Summary

” I’m not in the business… I *am* the business.” – Rachael

As an ardent fan of the original (like so many of us) I went in to this film with more than a little apprehension.  No need.  Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel we never asked for but should be glad to have received.  Villeneuve and the team have done an absolutely outstanding job.  As Scott donned the science fiction crown for Alien and the original Blade Runner, now so can Villeneuve.  He’s currently in talks for an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, arguably as tricky or even trickier to adapt to film as Lord of the Rings. I firmly believe it couldn’t be in better hands.

Score – 10/10

If you are looking for more there are three short films that Villeneuve commissioned that explore events between the original film and this one. I’ve linked them below.  What happens next for Blade Runner?  Personally I’d be keen for another video game, especially if Fancher can be convinced to pick up the pen again.  As I mentioned earlier, there is room for a sequel or TV show but personally I’m not convinced we will or should see either.  For now at least let us simply bask in the glow of this new masterpiece.

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