Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Actors: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto
What happens when you give 150 million dollars to an art film? You get Blade Runner 2049. Because that is essentially what Blade Runner 2049 is, a very expensive art film. But hey, I'm not complaining, I wish they did this more. But seeing the box office numbers it seems that we will be stuck with constant cookie cutter action blockbuster films moving forward. Which is a shame because if there was a film that needed to be praised with admissions, its this one.
When I first heard a Blade Runner sequel was in the works, I was so scared. Although I am not a huge fan of Sci-Fi, Blade Runner has always been my favorite film from the genre (not considering 2001: A Space Odyssey because it would be unfair for anything to compete with that masterpiece). Not only do I like the film for what it offered, I even love the original book by Phillip K. Dick. It offered a different experience from the film as it focused more on the philosophical aspect of replicants and humans. So you can understand how worried I was about Blade Runner 2049, what with Hollywood trying to milk everything. However, when I saw that Ridley Scott was producing the film and the director was Denis Villeneuve I was a bit more excited but still cautious. I'm very happy to say that this film will make fans of the original proud and the creators Blade Runner 2049 did it justice.
What does it mean to be real? What does it mean to be human? These are the questions that have been repeated again and again in Blade Runner, the book, and its sequel. I enjoyed how the film kept the philosophical aspect of these questions in 2049 and how it was tackled. Although I actually would have preferred more of it rather than dragging out other aspects of the film, but I will get to that later in this review. I was really happy to see the film keep themes of mortality, souls, and real vs artificial. I thought the ending played really well into giving the viewer something to think about when it comes to these themes. "K" who now knows he is just a replicant like the others, lays on the snowy steps feeling in the fresh air and feeling the snowflakes landing on his hand. On the other hand, his sister, who was "born" is inside stuck in a glass prison. If you noticed, she was simulating snowfall in her chamber and the snow was passing right through her hand. This scene brings up the question, what does it mean to be real? Here "K" who is "not real" is outside experiencing real snow and living his life like a human. While his sister, who is "more real than usual replicants" is cooped up inside and everything around her is fake. So who out of the two is more real? That is what the director wants us to think about as the credits start rolling and it was really effective in doing so for me personally.
Now I want to talk about the greatest strength of the film, obviously its the visuals and the sound. Although I am not a huge fan of Sci-Fi, I feel like I know why many people enjoy the genre. People enjoy it for the aesthetic and the world it creates. From what I can tell, Sci-Fi fans love these huge and deeply detailed worlds where the rules are different and everything in that world functions differently from what we are used to. It's those little elements that may not have much screen time but add so much to the world. Like in this film we see a scene where Ryan Gosling is sitting and we see a tiny scene of people taking food from this strange looking vending machine that had multiple languages and screens on it. This vending machine may have taken a long time for a designer to do for only 10 seconds of footage. But that's the appeal of Sci-Fi I believe, how the whole world has its own rules and elements that make it unique. That is one of the key points that makes Blade Runner 2049 a success. The huge budget was put to great use as everything was really detailed and fit the world so well. Villeneuve managed to keep the same feeling of the original Blade Runner of this dark and ominous world but more refined and modern. The visuals in the film were top notch. The cinematography surprised me so much and it is what Sci-Fi desperately needs. The colors and the lighting as well were beautiful. From the neon lights engulfing the dark rainy city to the muddy tone of the dessert. Each area gives off a unique aesthetic yet they all blend in into one cohesive world. Furthermore, the Wallace headquarters was beautiful. The shimmering water effects bouncing off the walls of the building was incredible to look at. It also brought back memories of the original Blade Runner. If you watched some interviews with Ridley Scott, he talks about how he created some effects during the 80's. One that really reminded me of the 2049 scene was he explained during Deckard and Rachel's first meeting, the reflection in the Tyrell headquarters was done by holding a mirror over some water and moving it to get some sort of shimmer. Whether it was the old technique or the new one, both looked incredible in their respective films and added a lot to the aesthetic of the world. Finally, the sound in the film. It really helped pull you into this bleak world. What I enjoyed about the audio aspect of the film was that it was never over used. The creators knew when to allow silence to take over and they knew when to add the loud ominous sounds that give you this dreadful sensation. All in all, the audiovisual elements of this film was incredible. I am not saying they are the best we have ever seen. But for what it's worth, the film did a brilliant job at the visuals.
Now comes the somewhat negative portion of this review. I need to address the elephant in the room because it can't be ignored. Although I enjoyed the themes of the film along with the audiovisual aspects, one thing just keeps on clinging to me every time I think of the film, and that is how much this film drags on. At a run time of 2 hours and 43 minutes, this film has a lot of issues with its pacing. The problem with the film is that the viewer is forced to see the character confirm things that the viewer already knows. Like in the first half of the film, when "K" is trying to find out who the child is. The viewer knows that "K" is the child (or knows that this is what they want us to think) by the first half hour of the film. However, it takes "K" another full hour just to finally come to terms that he is the child. The thing with art films, and long films as well, is that they usually have that run time in order to develop a character for their character driven film (ex: The Master), or sometimes to try to have a grand tale which needs time to convey (ex: Apocalypse Now). However, Blade Runner 2049 is neither of those. The film is not trying to develop the character of "K" that much as it focuses more on the quest that he is going on. On the other hand, the plot is not that complex to warrant that run time. I understand the film's visuals help a lot in battling with the long run time, but I still feel like it could have been better if it was a bit shorter. If the film was like half an hour shorter while having a longer directors cut, I feel like it would have helped with its theatrical release. This is not saying that the plot is bad, or the pacing is horrible, on the contrary, I feel like the plot fits well and its simple enough to be able to drive the story and the subtle themes. However, it does drag on at certain points which causes a disconnect between the viewer and the film. The entire time, the film is pulling you in with its gorgeous visuals and audio while the plot just suddenly pushes you away for a bit and ruins a bit of the experience for you. Obviously this is a preference issue, some people may enjoy how the film takes its time, but personally I would have preferred if the film focused on other aspects. Like I said before, the philosophical aspects were great but it only encompassed like 10 minutes of the film. I wanted more and I just had to look deeper to find it as seen from my interpretation of the final scene.
I know this review dragged on, but I guess I'm keeping with the theme of the film. I want to talk about some of the other elements that the film did well other than the main points I touched upon above. Like the CGI, it was so smooth and slick. There was no disconnect in the aesthetic (I think I used this word around 50 times in this review) of the film and the CGI, it all blended well together. The acting was great as well. At first, I was confused seeing Ryan Gosling not reacting to anything, and it just felt weird. Like when he was going to the orphanage and was being shot down, he was just straight faced. But then I realized that at that point in the film, he was just a replicant, but as the film progressed, he knew there was a possibility that he was something more so his acting changed. More emotion was shown and it really helped in my ideas of the themes of what is real or not. We know that "K" is just a replicant, but just him knowing that he might not be one made him change his ways and act with emotion, which was really interesting. Also, I liked Jared Leto's role, I just wished I could have seen more of Wallace and his thoughts. It seems that they focused on Luv more than him. But to round up, I enjoyed most of these elements and helped increase the enjoyment of the film.
Blade Runner 2049 is film that is very unique. It is a very expensive art film, and I feel like we will not be seeing something like this done in the near future. So I recommend you all to go and watch it even if it does drag on at times and seem too slow. It is worth it for the incredible visuals and amazing audio. Couple that with great themes and passionate acting and you have nothing short of a good movie. I am happy that this film is good, yet I am sad it is flopping. Hopefully producers will take risks like these because at the end of the day, these are the films that will be remembered 50 years down the line. Making a cookie cutter action film will just be forgotten in a matter of years. Nevertheless, this year has been much better in terms of quality when you compare it to the awful year of 2016. We had films like Dunkirk, Baby Driver, Blade Runner 2049, and to a lesser extent It, Wonder Woman and Get Out. As we move into Oscar season films, I just hope this year continues this upswing and the trend goes on to 2018.