November 19, 2017
Blade Runner 2049: Review
I went to see Blade Runner 2049 on opening day, and watched it again a couple weeks later, and I can declare it certainly lived up to the hype. It is a cinematic masterpiece that honors the original and adds a deeply emotional layer to the world created by Phillip K Dick and Ridley Scott. Fans of the original can all thank Denis Villeneuve for this wonderful sequel. Obviously this blog post will be nothing but spoilers so if you haven’t seen the new Blade Runner stop reading!
This sequel is a gorgeous film. It honors the original’s visuals and expands with more impressive landscapes. I noticed the pipes spewing plums of fire into a darkened sky are replaced by streets covered snow or dust or rubble. The endless rain in Los Angles is still a fixture. This makes sense because at this point those unfortunate to still live on Earth are those who do not to have a means to leave to an off-world colony. Life is now nearly unbearable on this planet, which creates a surreal beauty that is unsettling. Perhaps humanity’s march towards progress has eased now that the world is nearly dead. The farmlands of central valley of California are shown as saturated to the point that all color is removed. San Diego is literally a mountain range of discarded rubble and trash. The lands surrounding Las Vegas are permeated by brilliant orange-hued storm of dust left over from a distant war that annihilated that region of the country. This movie is the most gorgeous film I’ve seen in many years. Roger Deakens should be a shoe-in for winning best cinematography for this film.
The musical score was an essential element to the feeling of the original Blade Runner. In the new film, the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Walfisch sounds deeply influenced by the original by Vangelis, but distinct in a more menacing way. Where once was the occasional soft saxophone riff, that is now replaced with what I would describe as a aggressive distant mechanical grinding, almost like a like a large unseen machines are revving engines. To me it sounds like the death-gasp of industrialization. It powerful and unrelenting, and would let you know that 30 years after the original the world has fallen into a more sinister place. Hope is nearly gone. This greatly adds to the tension of the story.
This movie like the original centers around the relationship between humans and their genetically engineered ‘replicant’ slave labor force. On Earth, out of date replicants are eligible for ‘retirement’ i.e. execution. The plot of 2049 mostly centers around Officer K (played by Ryan Gosling), who is himself a replicant who’s job it is to hunt down an “retire” rogue replicants. As most replicants have above human levels of strength this is a difficult job, which is given the inexplicable name ‘Blade Runner’. K’s human boss at the Los Angeles Police Department is played by Robin Wright who shows the only bit of sympathy towards K while the rest of the world responds generally very hostile towards his existence.
K takes a small measure of enjoyment in life by having a relationship with an artificial intelligence who displays what feels very convincingly as genuine love for him. The movie is almost a Turing test for the AI companion to K, and really a test for K’s own since of authentic existence. The authenticity of that love becomes unclear, just like many of the big ideas in Phillip K Dick’s stories, which is why they are such interesting stories.
In the original Blade Runner the crisis of the story is that the replicants (Nexus 6 models) are searching for a way to extend their pre-determined shorter life spans. The sequel introduces an even more compelling dilemma. Replicants, specifically Rachel and Deckard from the first film, have broken down one of the most important barriers separating humans from replicants: they have had a child. It becomes officer K’s mission to locate that child which other parties are also very motivated to discover. I won’t say how the story resolves but I will say that it was unexpected, and deeply moving.
Where the original Blade Runner examined some pretty cerebral ideas about existence, the sequel sticks with that but ups the ante by adding a couple plot twists that add significant emotional gravity. There is one particular scene where K, visiting an orphanage, discovers an artifact that confirms his suspicions about his own unique existence that still gives me chills when I think about it. I won’t ruin that moment by describing in detail here, but it is a powerful moment that sticks.
Overall the movie is nearly perfect in all ways. There were no memorable pieces of dialogue like those in the original. There were no “if you could see what I’ve seen with your eyes” pronouncements or “like tears in the rain” syllogisms, or “too bad she won't live, but then who does?” philosophical moments. But that’s not a big deal. This film is about the emotional gravity set up by the mind-bending reality of the original. Overall Blade Runner 2049 is an astonishing accomplishment as a sequel.