(Spoilers a plenty!)
So I finally saw Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner: 2049’, his sequel to one of my favourite films of…
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way: I AM one of those Blade Runner fans for whom the property should have been left well alone. There was no reason to re-visit it and, no matter what version you watch, they all had satisfying endings and closure. But Hollywood is Hollywood so what you going to do. I just want you to know I am coming at this from a highly biased, utterly inflexible stance. I’ve got baggage, man, and I might have to pay an excess charge.
So with that out the way let’s go over this bloated corpse of a movie like going over the decayed bones of a long dead replicant.
The story of ‘Blade Runner: 2049’ is that… that… well, that’s one of the main problems with this movie — just what, exactly, is it about? Is it about Ryan Gosling’s character K? Nope. Deckard? Most certainly not. A replicant rebellion? No, nothing ever comes of that narrative cul-de-sac.
So let’s not deal with the big picture and dive straight into my stridently irrational problems with this cinematic coma.
Firstly, ‘2049’ has ideas and reveals you can see coming a mile off. Oh, Gosling’s characters last name is simply the initial ‘K’, so when it comes to giving him a first name it’s going to be Joseph right, because Kafka? Oh look, he’s called Joseph, what a surprise! Because when a character is on a wild-goose chase it’s The Trial, right?
Are these literally allusions actually adding to the film or are they just there for intellectual window-dressing? Because at times it feels like the same pseudo-philosophical bullshit the Wachowskis pulled in The Matrix movies.
Slightly more interesting (though not much) is that K is reading Nabokov’s ‘Pale Fire’. Quotes from the book are used to ascertain K’s functioning by his robot therapist, who is a cross between Holden from the original, HAL and the computer from ‘Alphaville’, which is actually a genuinely nice touch. There’s also the fact that Nabokov often played with chess problems in his novels so considering that the relationship between Sebastian and Tyrell in the original was conducted through chess it makes sense to keep the shadow of a chess game as a possible shade in the story.
Less interesting, in fact it is downright boring, is the set-up that K thinks he is Deckard’s son. It’s obvious that K is not Deckard’s son because, if he was, the audience would have let out a collective groan as it was so heavy-handedly rammed down our throats that he was his child that if it hadn’t been someone else instead it would have been one of the most unsatisfying, obvious endings to a movie ever made (as well as the fact that it would be like watching ‘Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull’ or ‘The Force Awakens’ all over again. “Hey Harrison! You’ve got another kid!”). The slog of K thinking he is the child really wore me down. We know it isn’t going to be him so why drag it out to the point of tedium, no matter how grand the visuals?
And that brings me to the visuals and I might need to leave the country after saying this — I found them ugly. Yes, I found the visual aesthetic of the movie to be uniformly dull, monotonous and bland. I know that is the point and that dust has settled over most of the world but I found it extremely tedious to look at. All I remember was sitting and gazing at uniform fiery reds and oranges, like I’d been staring into a bar-heater on full power for three hours.
And then there is the pacing which is appalling. ‘2049’ is slow when it needs some energy and rushed to the point of confusion when vitally important plot points are being revealed. The replicant revolution or Deckard being taken off-world are introduced and jumped into almost immediately, the effect of which is total narrative disorientation. For example, the climatic fight between K and the Terminatrix from T3 seems to come out of nowhere, is anti-climatic and edited almost to the point of incoherence.
And why was Deckard in this movie? He is just dragged about like the confused family dog taken on holiday against its will. If he doesn’t do anything in this film then why should we care about him and his daughter reuniting? Why should we care about anything or anyone in this movie?
And all I learned about Deckard is that he likes “pain” and “cheese”. Seriously, that’s all you find out about Deckard — he likes pain and cheese. So his idea of heaven would be eating an overly hot tuna melt? Is that what this movie is about?
What is this film about? Let’s plough on and maybe we’ll find out.
So Jared Leto’s exposition dumps are frustratingly dull to the point of causing cerebral shutdown as he waffles on about… what, exactly? And then he just drops out of the movie entirely. Why was he even in this to begin with? I guess to link up with Weyland Industries and to tie this up with… Christ, I think I am starting to see what this film is about.
Worryingly it does seem to be setting up bringing the worlds of Blade Runner and Alien together, something that Scott has threatened for a few years now but I always dismissed as a hollow threat. But now we see a Prometheus engineer at Wallace’s office and the reappearance of the genetic globes from Alien: Covenant. Plus the fact that like his recent Alien movies, Blade Runner: 2049 has whole-heartedly adopted the opened ended approach to story-telling. What was the movie about? Find out in the next one where all will, maybe, be revealed! Fucking hell. This is no longer an adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick short story but the setting up, and merging, of a franchise(s).
Then there is the bizarre, sentimentalised idea of idolising the “miracle” of birth. Really? Are we going there, to that well? What, exactly, makes child-birth special, almost mystical, as the film is heavily implying? Having children is the most important thing in life? That it isn’t a biological process but more of a semi-mystical one? Ultimately it is a sentimental cop-out even ignoring the fact that Deckard and Rachel having a kid makes no sense and undermines the ending of all the versions of the original.
And women don’t really fare too well in this film. Two of the females are called Luv and Joi which makes them sound as empowered as a brand of cheap perfume (a perfume you whack straight on the nose for that emphatic effect) and again, what purpose do either of these characters serve? Wait, stop: is every character in this film a robot, a replicant or an A.I.?
The only explicitly human character is Robin Wright’s chief of police who ends up killed in her office… hang on! Where is the security, the cameras tracking these people who enter and leave highly sensitive buildings with an utterly blasé attitude? People can move about easily in this future with being noticed yet also tracked easily and conveniently when the plot desires it. There is no continuity to security or surveillance in this film at all!
So where there any positives? A few. I liked some aspects of the brutalist design. It is different and if this film had been made even a few years earlier the chances are the film would have been swathed in excessive neon like so many of the post Blade Runner movies have been. So kudos for Vill for not going too far down that path, although I did miss the colour. The brutalist approach also highlights just how 80s and 90s cyberpunk and neon-noir now seem.
And that brings us to the biggest difference between the two versions of ‘Blade Runner’ which, for me, is down to one thing — the economic collapse of Japan in the 1990s.
The original ‘Blade Runner’ was set in a time when, back in the early 80s, it seemed that Japanese culture would be the dominating force of the 21st Century. That leap across the Pacific to the west coast of the States fueled by advanced technology seemed not only plausible but inevitable. Kanji would be seen everywhere and sushi stands replacing hot-dog vendors on every street corner. It was also a great way to visually symbolise the decline of America.
But then the Japanese economy collapsed in the early nineties and Japanese influence seemed to recede somewhat. And that was a shame as the Japanese style was one I adored and perfectly fitted futuristic design. But Tokyo no longer seems like the city of the future it once was in movies and science fiction and the novelty of neon as faded. Time moves on.
And, like a four year life span, time is short so let’s move onto…
1/ Okay, this one is super personal but I hated, and I mean HATED, the fact that Villeneuve gave ‘Blade Runners’ water reflections trope actual motivation. One of the great visual motifs of the original was Scott’s decision to have water reflections on the walls of Tyrell’s office. He was asked “Why? There isn’t any water around the place.” And Scott just replied that it was because it looked good, it looked mysterious. Now, however, we do have water all over the place and all I could think was “Well, there’s that sense of mystery gone and why is there water all over the place?” I preferred it when it was just a visual device with no explanation.
2/ Also, nobody smoked in this movie so I missed the retro-noir feel of the original, but as there was so much dust in the air already then nobody smoking was possibly a good thing as with even more atmospheric particles kicking about we wouldn’t have been able to make anything out in the fucking slightest.
3/ The city and police headquarters felt remarkably empty. Apart from a few scenes at the beginning it didn’t have that bustle the original had. Was Robin Wright the only police officer working in that building? Where were Wallace’s staff?
4/What they did with Gaff who, for some reason, has turned into Colonel Sanders and pops up for no fucking reason whatsoever and… speaking English (?!).
5/ “References. You’re talking about references.”
Even though the editing is slow, the references come thick and fast covering everything from Mad Max: Beyond Thunder Dome; the game ‘Inside’ during the orphanage scene; A Boy and His Dog; Her; A.I.; The Right Stuff, and on and on it goes.
6/ Don’t mention “enhance!”
I actually started to find this funny as there are a few scenes involving zooming into an image or a video-feed where you can feel the film creaking under the strain of desperately trying not to say the word “enhance”. I think they must have used every other alternative in the dictionary. Now this is a good thing as every movie made since the original has used the “enhance” cliché whenever it can so it was good to not have it here. But for the avoidance of this word to be done so deliberately and explicitly, and the fact that there are a number of scenes like this, made its absence all the more apparent and, ironically, more present.
7/ The treatment of Rachel.
So not only do they kill her off but they “resurrect” her for 45 seconds only to then shoot her in the head and kill her again? This is where the film went from brutalism to just plain mean-spiritedness. I hated what they did with her.
And as for my last issue? I’m not going to wax lyrical about Vangelis’ original soundtrack and just state it is one of the greatest ever recorded. Whereas ‘2049’s soundtrack is actively aggressive, almost daring the audience to leave the cinema. It is also, like Deckard’s piano, incredibly one-note. Vangelis’ original score had rich variation, differing textures and voices. It could soar, be sexy, mysterious or exotic. 2049, in comparison, is nothing but cinematic tinnitus. There is no melody or theme or motif other than monotonous, blaring noise. It is desperately ugly.
So that was what I thought of ‘Blade Runner: 2049’. What I did do last night was re-visit the original and one of the moments I enjoyed most was when Roy Batty smashes his head through the wall like Vivian in ‘The Young Ones’ and I realised that that was that sort of anarchic attitude I found missing from ‘2049’ — not just the cyberpunk feel but an actual punk feel; some crazy chaos and energy. “That’s the spirit!” And, for me, that was also exactly what was missing.