Film Review

BLADE RUNNER 2049

 

The original Blade Runner is my favourite film of all time, so this has a great deal to live up to.

The cinematography is gorgeous - a stand alone artistic triumph - and the music was beautifully-matched (a tribute to the magnificent soundtrack by Vangelis and likely to blow a few bass speakers in the cinemas). Without feeling like a cash-in pastiche the nods to the original were spot on: showing adverts for Pan Am may seem incongruous, but it is a continuity that works, even if you perceive the whole as an alternative reality. I can forgive Sony their product placement on the buildings and the Frank Sinatra holoprojectordome for their co-financing of the project with Alcon. The giant adverts have slithered from the walls and leapt from the hovering craft and walk amongst the human remnants in their cyberpunk dystopia: especially alluring was the the 100ft tall holographic, interactive, pink-haired, naked Geisha who poignantly addresses K as Joe (the name Joi gives him, one letter difference between them, and of course as another version of the Joi companion it must emphasise his loss, but also the fundamental meaning of their apparent relationship). The same refuse carts trundle the streets and the flying police vehicles are given centre stage (catching a delightfully amusing glimpse of a Peugeot badge).

 

So, what of the BLACKOUT? A wipe of the replicant database archive which was used to track and terminate all remaining replicants and total loss of power.

See the animation below for background to that part of the story: Black Out 2022 Anime Short

 

I thought Ryan Gosling was a good choice as an unswerving replicant struggling with identity (a classic PKD instrument) as well as simply calling him K (Officer KD-3.7, or Constant K) as in Philip K Dick. His existential angst over birth being the creation point of a soul was genius, playing with the themes of the human condition (casting him as a replicant Pinocchio - or Data from Star Trek Next Generation - with confirmation carrying the ultimate price). Zooming into the cracks of a scalpel-damaged iliac bone to find the ID of Rachel (like letters through a stick of rock) echoed Deckard zooming into the photo with the Esper machine, also used with the ariel photography drone. The final ID denouement is incredibly clever: I found myself as convinced as K, especially after the furnace scene in the trash heap orphanage, only to realise that we had all been duped by pre-pubescent androgyny (and the sudden realisation of why Ana Stelline had such a strong reaction to the memory reveal by K). In the original film Deckard used the Voight-Kampff machine as an empathy tester to deterimne whether an individual might be a replicant. In 2049 that test is switched around seeing K in a Baseline Testing room to determine whether a recent event termination of one of his own kind has destabilised him and the first time we see him take it he passes easily and clearly has in the past as he is referred to as Constant K. In a way this not only gives a twist on the Voight-Kampff test, but perhaps also has a nod towards the Three Laws of Robotics established by Isaac Asimov. The Baseline Test text comes from a book called Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, a 999-line poem describing aspects of the life of a fictional poet called John Shade from a search for knowledge about an afterlife, to aspects of death, the supernatural and the creative process, coming together to give a better understanding of the universe. K has a copy of that book in his apartment, so he may be on his own quest, or equally he may be doing some homework to help him to pass the Baseline Test.

 

Sapper Morton is an interesting character. On the face of it a dangerous, rogue Nexus hiding away, but in fact much more to him than that. He wears glasses: is it a disguise? Who would think a replicant would need glasses? Or does it mean that replicants with open-ended termination dates age like humans? In which case, seeing a much older Deckard may not dispell the theory that he is also a replicant. In a pre-2049 short, Sapper Morton is shown to care for a young girl and her mother on the times he happens to be in their district, he brings the child books (a rare commodity) to read - the featured one is The Power and the Glory, which he descibes as being: About an outlawed priest who is trying to understand the meaning of being human...one of my favourites. On his way back from making a deal he sees the mother and child in considerable danger from a group of street thugs, he breaks cover and kills the lot to save them, drops his deal documents and runs. Those documents are picked up and it sets in motion the search which eventually leads K to him. Further evidence of his nature is underlined in 2049 when he says the line that will change K forever: You have never seen a miracle, I have. It later becomes evident that he helped Rachel give birth and the helps Freysa to save the baby Ana Stelline, as well as hiding the remnants of Rachel and laying flowers at her grave. These are not the actions of a dangerous Nexus gone rogue, so his termination underlines the obedience to the LAPD from K and perhaps his existential dilema.

See the Short film below for 2048 background on Sapper Morton.: 2048: Nowhere to run

 

Luv was a really strong character: the ultimate attack dog for Wallace. When you see her cry for the first time in the Nero-like womb-slashing scene it seems like real sadness, but as it goes along (especially the hand crushing glass scene) it is like a Pavlovian response to pain, crocodile tears, the antithesis of Rutger Hauer in his final scene in the original. Her dispassion is brilliantly illustrated as she has an electro-manicure whilst remotely coordinating a devastating ariel attack at the waste site. The fight scene at the slippery, curving, base of the sea dam was quadruple jeopardy, excellently conceived and played out; later it also showed the attention to detail in this film as there were dried salt marks on their trousers.

 

Wallace - a strange, otherwordly villain pursuing replicant reproduction by birth to expand his workforce and empire off world at any cost, although it certainly seems like he has unshakable self-belief in his motives (playing a role that is rumoured to have been intended for David Bowie, had he not so sadly passed away). His selection of upgrade plugins to connect with his hovering, fish-like drones, was cleverly disturbing, as they zipped around communicating with dolphin-click-like noises. Jared Leto not only chose to wear silver contact lenses (rather than have them put in post-production) but also kept them in all the time to get into character, having people lead him around the set as they effectively rendered him blind while they were in.

See the Short film below for 2036 background on Wallace.: 2036: Nexus Dawn

 

I completely fell in love with Ana de Armas as Joi. The holo-projection effect was brilliant, a mix of shimmer, see-through and mapping of her entire 3D shell - along with the clever move to use the bonus that K gets for terminating Sapper Morton to buy Joi a quazi-hard light drive to allow her to leave the apartment; possibly echoing the replicant yearning for identity by her gift to K of deleting her from the apartment system with the external drive being her only generator...like a real girl (a twist on when Mariette meets K for the first time and on hearing the start up tune for Joi comments: Oh, you dont like real girls). Her need to give K greater physical contact may be another example of that shared quest, as well as pleasing him, and the scene itself of melding with Mackenzie Davis as a pleasure model - Mariette (reprising the role that Daryl Hannah played as Pris) - in a holo-cum-androidal tryst exists completely apart from the primitive drive of human comparison, but simultaneously strives for it (whilst also unknowingly - or knowingly - facilitating further contact by the replicant rebels ...).

 

Harrison Ford started off playing to type, but really pushed himself in the tortured emotion of seeing what he was told was the skull and mortal remains of Rachel, plus the deeply-effecting emotions of his past, and the tremendously emotional ending, as well as not shying from the close-up ravages of ageing. I think this could be one of his greatest roles. Ford has always maintained that he thinks Deckard is human (although Ridley Scott has stuck to him being a replicant...in the book, Philip K Dick cast Deckard as human), but the mystery was left to Jared Leto to play with during his enigmatic insinuations as he tried to get Deckard to tell him the whereabouts of his child. At first I thought the fact that Deckard had aged immediately discounted his being a replicant, but as with Sapper Morton and his glasses that may not be the case. Ana Stelline has grown into a young woman, so she has definately aged, but could that be something peculiar to her as what may be a new hybrid species?

 

We even get a cameo from Gaff, still practicing Zen origami (a sheep this time...as in Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep) either suggesting his recognition of K as a replicant or perhaps insinuating that Deckard might be.

 

It felt like this film was written and produced by fans, for fans, of the original. It is sumptuously presented, true to the original without falling into the traps that so many sequels do, eschews the unremitting barrage of action that is so characteristic of modern blockbusters, and left me with a deep sense of conclusion and satisfaction. So good, in fact, that I saw it twice in the space of a week and will be certain to watch it many times to come in the future.

 

DJ Burnham October 2017

 

Director, Denis Villeneuve, asked some artists that he respects to make three short films dramatising key events that occured after 2019 when the orginal Blade Runner took place and before his 2049 film. In particular they throw light on Sapper Morton, Wallace and the BLACKOUT: