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‘Blade Runner 2049’ (review by Benn Robbins)

Produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Bud Yorkin,
Broderick Johnson,
Cynthia Yorkin
Screenplay by Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Story by Hampton Fancher
Based on Characters from Do Androids Dream
of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K. Dick

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford,
Ana de Armas,
Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright,
Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri,
Lennie James,
Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

 

LOS ANGELES 2049

30 years after the events of the original Blade Runner and after the great Black Out of 2022 (See the three mini film prequels released previous to this films release. They can be found on YouTube), the world is back on its feet again and rebuilding thanks to the innovation and genius of one man, Niander Wallace.

Wallace like his predecessor, Dr. Eldon Tyrell has created new Replicants as well as other innovations to assist mankind in discovering new world to colonize to help mankind sustain its ever growing population. These new replicants are completely subservient to their human masters in every way and are programed to do anything they are asked. Most importantly they can never revolt.

This is where Blade Runner 2049 picks up.

Blade Runner, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) has the unenviable job of retiring the last of the Tyrell Nexus-8 replicants that were outlawed after the Black Out and while on his current assignment he discovers a clue to what may be the greatest, most dangerous key to the evolution or destruction of mankind ever.

This is all I will say about the plot. Any more will reveal too much. Keeping the complete story and character shrouded in a haze of mystery will not only enhance your experience but it was actually asked for by director Denis Villeneuve at the beginning of the screening via message read to us by our rep. I am usually not one to present many, if any, spoilers in my reviews because like Villeneuve, I too, want the audience who reads my review to go in as free of spoilers as I did so as to not ruin the experience of seeing it for the first time. I feel that that is a responsibility of any reviewer though one not often held by many of my fellow writers sometimes, myself included.

With that, I will say is this.

Blade Runner 2049 is the perfect sequel. It does NOT fall into the trap of the “remakequel” like Jurassic World, Terminator: Genesys or even The Force Awakens. It is its own film while it carries the torch of the original. It holds true to the feel, the themes, and the overall patina of what came before it without rehashing over old ground too much, only where it propels the new story along. It definitely is not a new version of the old movie in a flashier new package.

I once wrote a paper for my art history class in 1994 on how Raging Bull(1980) and Blade Runner(1982) are the best films of the 1980’s based on cinematography, composition, color, lighting and editing. So know that I hold the original Blade Runner in the highest regards when I say this is a perfect continuation to the thoughtful story originally created by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. Loosely based on characters from the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep, Fancher is back as writer on this film along with Michael Green (Logan, American Gods, Alien: Covenant) this time. It only holds true that he continues what he began in 1982. And he does a damn great job doing it.

Clocking in at just shy of two and three quarter hours this is definitely a lot of film. The story is engaging, emotional and kept me guessing throughout. Like most films, sure there were things I could have done without, but overall I really enjoyed it. It made me feel like it used to feel going to the movies as a kid. Wonder and excitement and awe filled my being throughout the viewing. So much so that I ordered tickets to see it Thursday night with my wife, also an avid Blade Runner fan, immediately after I got out of this screening.

Specific things that stood out were the cinematography and the soundtrack.

Cinematographer, Roger Deakins BSC, ASC,(Skyfall, True Grit, The Man Who Wasn’t There) may have outdone his best work to date as Blade Runner 2049’s greatest strength is its photography.

The look, composition of shots and color palette not only are perfectly matched to its 35 year old original, but he has taken it to a next level of gorgeous with new locations and set pieces to photograph, having to make it new but keeping it connected is a daunting task but one Deakins was more than up to the task of surpassing. Never overpowering the cinematography was ever so important to Villeneuve in the telling of this tale.

Then there was the soundtrack.

Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s (Dunkirk) soundtrack was almost the exact opposite and was mediocre at best. When they harkened back to the amazing music created by the wonderful, Vangelis it was serviceable.

Mostly though, it was overbearing and bombastic. Zimmer’s instance of using a single note to punctuate a scene may have worked in the Dark Knight and even Dunkirk. It built tension and a sense of anxiety, but here, his use of the low rumbling “brown note” under huge chunks of this film not only did not work but it created an assault on the senses that not only didn’t fit the emotion of the scene it scored, it became distracting and downright annoying to me as a viewer.

Having a collection of low resonating instruments resounding in your ear the whole time was definitely a detraction to an otherwise great movie. I wonder though, if some of this had to do with the theaters sound mix not being calibrated correctly because at different times throughout the screening background sounds and dialogue were as loud and sometimes louder then the actual dialog happening in the front speakers. I’ll know more after my second viewing on Thursday, I hope.

It makes me wonder what original, and Villenueve’s usual composer, Johann Johannsson might have come up with before exiting the film (though I heard it was because his ideas didn’t have the same feel as the Vangelis original film composers soundtrack, but then why not just hire Vangelis to compose this one?)

I was happy to be surprised at the performance by Ryan Gosling as K. I an not a huge fan of “The Gos” and when I first heard he was cast I had a lot of misgivings about it. I am very happy to be mistaken and I thought he was absolutely perfect for this role. It was also refreshing to see Harrison Ford act. This may be one of his best performances in a very long time. Gone is the “phone it in” performance of The Force Awakens and there are some genuinely moving moments in his performance of the retired Blade Runner looking for peace and quiet.

Jared Leto was another actor I was not a fan of the casting of in this film. He is usually just so “extra”, as the kids call it these days, and cringe worthy in everything I see him in. It is no different here except the his screen time is minimal as to not ruin the rest of the film for me. It was heartbreaking to find out recently that David Bowie was Villenueve’s first choice for the roll of Niander Wallace and that his death ushered in “The Leto” and his “method” acting BS. The supporting cast of Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Wood Harris Mackenzie Davis and Dave Bautista all were excellent as well. Special call out to Dave Bautista who still surprises me in every role he takes that his range of acting is seemingly endless.

While the film is not perfect, I still hold to my original claim that it is a perfect sequel. It finds a way to balance the nostalgic with the new and uncharted. New characters and storylines mesh seamlessly into the original already dense story without taking away from or overshadowing it. It also can stand on its own as a film. It is a well thought out mystery and thriller as well as a fantastic piece of science fiction film that does it’s source material proud. Denis Villeneuve was the right choice by Ridley Scott to helm this film and to usher in a new audience while satiating those familiar with the world in which it lives.

I am excited to see this again on Thursday. As a fan of the original Blade Runner I had more emotion and hopes hanging on this film then I did with The Force Awakens and that is saying something as I am also a huge Star Wars fan.

Blade Runner 2049 had a pretty high bar set to surmount. I love Blade Runner so much. I like this sequel almost as much as the original. As someone who usually finds sequels to be lacking, with the exception of a few elite films, Blade Runner 2049 can take its place among them in my book. A task not often accomplished.

 

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