ON IN CINEMAS
Blade Runner 2049 (2017) directed by Denis Villeneuve
Do androids dream of sequels?
This sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set (as the title suggests) in the year 2049, sometime after an event called “the great blackout” has wiped all electronic records clean. A new wave of Replicants is being produced by The Wallace Corporation, run by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). These new models (supposedly less prone to rebellion than their predecessors) carry out all lower-order work tasks in California’s huge urban sprawl. Rogue older models, however, are still being hunted down and “retired” by the so-called Blade Runners.
Ryan Gosling plays K, a Replicant who works as a Blade Runner. His latest assignment finds him pursuing one of these rogues: an ex-soldier named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) who is working in a farm unit cultivating grub for… well… grub. When the latter turns violent during a Voight-Kampff test, K kills him and examines the rest of the farm. He finds a box buried under a dead tree - which turns out to contain a human skeleton. He reports it to his superior Joshi (Robin Wright) and then goes home to spend time with his holographic lover Joi (Ana de Armas). Soon after getting home, however, he is called back in for a special briefing.
It turns out that the skeleton belongs to a female replicant - one who has become pregnant and given birth to a child. Joshi tells him that it is imperative that he hunts down and kills this Replicant child, as confirmation its existence would cause the synthetic humans to rise up and rebel against their masters. While K embarks on his journey to find this child, however, he learns more about himself - and about the mysterious former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).
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A film in danger of “retirement” from its own hype?
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is now widely recognised as one of the finest science fiction films (and, indeed, one of the finest films full stop) of all time. Hence, any sequel would have automatically had a herculean task thrown upon its shoulders. The recent prequels to Scott’s earlier SF classic Alien - Prometheus and Covenant - didn’t exactly prove to be a good omen despite having Scott himself in the director’s chair. On the other hand, director French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has managed to create quite an impression in recent years, in particular with last year’s SF classic Arrival.
It turns out that placing Villeneuve in the director’s chair was a wise move on the part of Scott (here the executive producer). While it isn’t perfect and isn’t quite on a par with the original Blade Runner (or Arrival, for that matter) Blade Runner 2049 is still a highly impressive piece of cinema and a fine companion piece with its predecessor. Indeed, you’re one of the few people who has never seen the first film (or have largely forgotten it) then it’s recommended that you do so before watching this sequel - a number of plot and character details tie in quite heavily with it.
The best aspects about it are the ways in which it expands both the world and the specific themes of the original. Moreover, while the visual design pays homage to the previous film (including the look of the neon-bedecked, multicultural Los Angeles landscape and the flying “spinner” cars) with a more contemporary imagining of what future technology would be like.
Today’s technological innovations and challenges - from drones to the use of insects for protein, from holograms to bigotry, from using robots for sexual companionship to the threat to hi-tech civilisation from an energy blackout - are all touched upon here. The previous film’s core ideas - that ethics inexorably come into play once technology starts to gain a conscience, and that a technologically-advanced society cannot repress its human element for the sake of productivity - are drawn out further. An emotional centre is formed out of the Replicant-hologram relationship between K and Joi, as well as from the significance of one of K’s own “memories” - a memory which, due to him being a Replicant, we know isn’t his own.
Blade Runner 2049 is stunning-looking in a way that captures the feel of the previous film while using modern SFX trickery to give a greater sense of scope and sweep (quite literally as the camera gracefully swoops across vast CGI landscapes). Each setting is rich with detail - both CGI and practical - and provides a feast for the eyes. Everything from huge statues and brightly-glowing holograms, through a huge workhouse filled with children slaving over various pieces of electronic kit, to the opulent but dust-encrusted hotel where one fateful meeting between two key characters takes place, feels like part of a huge world which seems perched perilously on a thin line between utopia and dystopia. Some artful use of the elements - rain, fog and snow - also helps to add a considerable amount of atmosphere and Expressionistic resonance to the piece.
The CGI work generally doesn’t feel too self-conscious and is often used for what would, quite naturally, be computer-generated anyway (such as the aforementioned holograms). There is, however, a slightly unnecessary incursion by a computer-generated reincarnation of the younger version of one of the actors in the original. Thankfully it’s far briefer than the CGI performances in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - and far more subtly-integrated into the specific scene where it appears - but it’s still a bit distracting.
163 minutes. That’s lengthy!
The main shortcoming with Blade Runner 2049 is that it’s incredibly long. The original’s slow pace was well-earned by the way in which it built its own storyline and on-screen world. For this one, it often feels that the world-building alone has become its whole raison d'être. The plot takes its time to actually go anywhere, and - let’s be honest here - much of it is quite predictable. While this approach is fine for much of the way (the onscreen world is indeed a startling creation), almost 2 and 3/4 hours’ worth of it feels excessive.
Nonetheless, on the whole, it’s a worthy sequel - and one which leaves enough loose ends to make one wonder with curiosity if a further film is on the cards.
Runtime: 163 mins
Dir: Denis Villeneuve
Script: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Edward James Olmos
Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?
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