Blade Runner: 2049 (A Review in Two Parts)
PART ONE: THE NO SPOILERS BIT
I must begin with the admission that Ridley Scott’s original film Blade Runner and the non-over-dubbed Director’s Cut encapsulate two magnificent versions of my favorite film of all time. When I say favorite, I don’t mean as in my favorite ice cream or favorite food simply because it’s yummy and I like it. I mean it in the sense that the artistic creation of every facet of the film in its disparate versions is the best example of screen writing, storytelling, cinematography, direction, acting, and speculation ever achieved in a single film.
Yes, yes, I have no doubt there will be plenty of folks who will disagree with me on a number of those assertions, but seeing as this is my blog, well … I get to say what’s best.
I want to add that I have always (and I mean from wayyyy back) espoused two notions and debated the points regularly over the decades. The first is that Rick Deckard is, in fact a replicant. You’ll want to read the second part of this two part review to get the actual answer to that one, but, for the record, I’ve always said he was. Second, and more importantly, I’ve always believe that Roy Batty was the actual hero of Blade Runner. I’ve been in plenty of heated discussions on this subject. “How can he be the hero when he’s nothing more than a murderer?” people ask. My short is, “Watch Django Unchained and tell me who the hero is.” When you compare the plights of Django and Roy, you quickly discover that there are strong similarities in plight, circumstance, and response—ergo, Roy is the hero.
Which brings me to Blade Runner: 2049. The men and women who undertook the creation of that film were devotees of the original film. They loved it as much or more than I do. They cherished the story and the setting, the look and feel. They understood the nuances and importance of every sight and sound from one frame to the next, and they unequivocally paid homage to Scott’s vision of a perfect film.
Indeed, peppered throughout the film—from the opening sequence to the distinct sound of boiling water to the bleak and jagged landscapes of a fallen civilization to the brutal realities of an enslaved race—the creators maintained a consistency of vision that few have ever achieved in sequels, and they did so with a span of thirty-five years between films.
Blade Runner: 2049 is an exceptional film that earns its place as a sequel to the greatest film of all time, but 2049 didn’t surpass the first. I say this not as a critique, but as the highest compliment. What the filmmakers did was create a seamless “next installment” of what I will henceforth refer to as “The Replicant Saga.” In essence, the filmmakers managed to precisely continue a masterpiece without breaking seam or stride. By definition, Blade Runner was a ground-breaking film that set the standard for speculative fiction in film. At least it did for me. So, in that respect, any sequel couldn’t and shouldn’t be ground-breaking in and of itself. It needed to be an extension of the original while maintaining a sense of uniqueness as a whole.
In my opinion, they achieved this seamless extension masterfully. Imagine, if you will, someone who was tasked with extending the Sistine Chapel, or creating a sister building to it. Such a building would have to capture every nuance of Michelangelo’s masterful work but could not be an imitation of the original. Imagine such an undertaking. The act of creation is hard enough, but making something unique whilst, at the same time, utilizing the distinct stylistic queues of a genius’ work, and to do so seamlessly, as if the second were also created by the first genius? That is a different sort of challenge altogether.
This team of creators (with Ridley Scott as producer) pulled it off. I must admit, when I heard of Scott’s involvement, I had trepidation. His work in recent years has, in my opinion, left a great deal to be desired. In two works in particular, he failed to capture the nuances of the original masterpiece, and he did so with sub-standard storytelling. So, when I heard that this man intended to do a sequel to my favorite film of all time, I was deeply concerned. When I heard of the involvement of Denis Villeneuve as director, I was hopeful. I didn’t know his work, but friends had said he had some serious chops.
They weren’t wrong, and I could not be more pleased with his work. Villeneuve succeeded. He surpassed my expectations and hopes. He gave life to a cast of characters and a tale of both hope and woe that digs deep into the underpinnings of our society and rattles around in our notions of soul and freedom and life and love.
Because of the nature of Blade Runner, I am compelled to take a moment to discuss cinematography. The original was, visually, a stunning film from start to finish. Every scene, every shot, was a painstakingly executed canvas of color, texture, and emotion. Jordan Cronenweth, Director of Photography, is the reason the original is a visual work of art. Color and texture were both facets of his palette. In a like manner, Roger A. Deakins achieved similar and equally spectacular beauty and poignancy in 2049.
A word on musical score: Vangelis was the master; Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer mad it a solid second place. They achieved the feel of the first movie, but Vangelis’ composition was as ground breaking as the rest of the original. Wallfisch and Zimmer captured much of that, but the score didn’t move quite as deeply as Vangelis’ work. Having said that, I would add that their work on this movie would be absolutely fantastic as a stand-alone endeavor. It’s just that in comparison to the original, it was a few shades leaner in impact. They should both be commended for their efforts on 2049.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the actors and actresses in the film. Gosling in particular and Ford by definition are both fantastic. The ancillary characters are as distinct and run as deep as those in the original. Much of that has to do with acting, but the direction and screen writing all contribute to a rich cast of three-dimensional characters who all have a part to play in this deliciously dystopian tale.
So, that’s it. If you haven’t figured it out, I absolutely love the film Blade Runner: 2049. As I mentioned on my FaceBook page last night, I won’t be able to ever watch Blade Runner again without immediately following up with Blade Runner: 2049. It is an exceptional sequel, and I suspect it is merely the next installment of The Replicant Saga.
If you loved or even enjoyed Blade Runner in any of its versions (I’ve heard there are 7 with various minor differences), then you should absolutely go see Blade Runner: 2049. Like those sister chapels I mentioned earlier, these two films are siblings of the highest order, dare I say Siamese twins conjoined at the hip.
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