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BLADE RUNNER 2049, accomplished but not as good (Read 966 times)
Oct 12th, 2017 at 9:06pm

L.A. Connection   Offline
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Answering the two basic questions up front: 1. Yes, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is a good, solid and worthy successor to the original 1982 classic. 2. My interpretation remains that Deckard is a human.

I admit that I was not in the camp that felt that a follow-up to BLADE RUNNER was at all necessary - especially one so belated. Fortunately, the production aligned together a team of top notch talent, and most importantly, one of impeccable integrity. Director Denis Villenueve's 2049 is a direct follow-up, even allowing for the passage of thirty years. It plunges you back into the world of the original, but also adds depth and layers to that world, breaking out of L.A. to expand to San Diego and out to Las Vegas. Further, the themes of A.I. and humanity are given added layers and meaning. It does a yeoman job of using the time gap as an advantage and not a hindrance. I wasn't expecting such a direct lineage, and it becomes a double edged sword at some crucial junctures.

Ryan Gosling is the new Blade Runner who, we are told from the outset is a Replicant (with the simple name of 'K'). His new superior officer is Joshi (Robin Wright). His 'girl' is an ultra-advanced Hologram Joi (Ana De Armas). The Tyrell corporation has been replaced in the android manufacturing forefront by the Wallace Corporation headed by Jared Leto and assisted by his slick Replicant sidekick Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Without getting into spoilers, the basic plot follows K on a mission to take out a renegade Replicant (Dave Bautista). There he discovers a mysterious box which eventually leads to meeting with Deckard (Harrison Ford) and a confrontation with Wallace and Luv. The bare bones plot is simple enough to follow, but, little is exactly as it seems on first blush. And, again, there are several layers to each section of the movie, the most interesting of which is the notion of what exactly it is to be a sentient being in a world so dominated by technology. Whether you are the newest edition of Replicant, a sophisticated Hologram or a lowly cop, the characters always seem to be striving for answers. There's even a Replicant with a Hologram hook-up 3-way sex scene (I admit, I didn't quite buy the tech involved). And, that's not even close to the greatest mystery of existence in the movie.

Villenueve and Producer Ridley Scott have brought back the original film's first screenwriter Hampton Fancher (co-written with Michael Green). And, the production team includes Production Designer Dennis Gassner (SKYFALL, TRUMAN SHOW), Cinematographer Roger Deakins (SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, SICARIO), Costume Designer Renee April (ARRIVAL) and a huge SFX team among a hugely talented group. The world they create is impeccable as, like the script, it builds upon the original while still adding to that world. Still, as wonderful as the look is, I still have a passion for the original film's Production Design by Lawrence Paull, Jordan Cronewerth's Cinematography and Douglas Trumbull's Smoke, Model and Mirrors special effects. There is a warmth to them that still beckons 35 years later which the admittedly top notch new movie can't quite match. Deakins is one of the world's great DPs and he can make digital look as good as it can, but there's a colder edge to it. As I noted vis a vis Deckard - I interpret things very much with human eyes.

Still, despite all the admirable efforts and the multi-layered screenplay, 2049 has substantial flaws. Some of the larger plot points aren't as deep or in need of explication as the filmmakers apparently feel they are. Reveals and twists are drawn out, as are more than a few individual scenes. While the movie's 143 length isn't an issue in and of itself, the pacing and the usage of that running time is. Some of the tonal shifts don't feel as much of a piece as they resemble story beats that must be metered out at given intervals. The 2022 blackout seems at times to be a catch-all rationale to conveniently create and cover gaps in the storytelling. The acting ensemble overall is very good, but the two exceptions are critical. Leto's Wallace never escapes the crazy mad scientist stereotype. It's eccentricity for idiosyncrasy sake. More importantly, the character isn't that interesting. While Wallace didn't have to be at all akin to Joe Turkel's introspective Tyrell in the original, some inkling of an inquisitive scientist would have been welcome to go along with the quirks. Robin Wright is a fine actress, but, unfortunately, her scenes come off as perfunctory and desultory (save for confrontation with Luv). It's as if they needed her character, but never gave enough thought to actually giving her an inner life. Joshi's just a cop, doing a job. It's doubly unfortunate since Wallace and Joshi represent a pair of the few outright fully human characters in the movie. (I'm certain there will be those who argue that the humans are portrayed in that manner by design)

Flaws and all, 2049 is a skilled return to the Blade Runner universe. However, I don't believe it will have the repeat watching fervor of the original. Personally, I am not one who watches the same film over and over - with rare exceptions. BLADE RUNNER is one of them. What has always made the '82 film so eminently re-watchable is the mood and atmosphere that echoes the ethereal story-telling, all scored by Vangelis' synth classic. 2049 can be jarring tonally : The loud sound mix. The grating sound effects in the Replicant tests with K at the police station. I generally like Hans Zimmer, but his score (with Benjamin Wallfisch) is, at times, assaultive, despite a number of effective passages (we may never know why Johann Johannsson was replaced). The CGI is technically superb, but hard-edged and too immaculate. As is the cinematography. Director Denis Villenueve is one of the finest working today (INCENDIES, PRISONERS, ARRIVAL), but he isn't the smooth stylist that Ridley Scott is. He is more visceral (unsurprisingly, it is that aspect that works best in 2049). All top notch technically, but the original BLADE RUNNER was like a warm Audio-Visual bath - one you could comfortably luxuriate in.

In the end, 2049 very much a direct sequel. Unless you are invested in the original, there isn't much here for casual viewers and newbies. The original (especially my preferred cut - the Workprint Version) was one of those films where the more you explored, the more layers and textures you could appreciate. The sequel feels like it asking the viewer to bring those meanings TO the movie, rather than the other way around. It's like the difference between an original or a copy. Or, in Blade Runner parlance - the difference between a human and replicant. An efficient high functioning replicant - but, one lacking the same human touch.
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