Directed by Denis Villeneuve




A quote from the film:  

I can see it. As clear as dreaming. He loves her.






Here is the thing-- the quote is from a character in the movie who is blind.

Ponder that for a moment.    That sort of thing either intrigues you and makes you more interested in seeing the film- or puts you off.   


Although it is not a spoiler in any sense of the word,  I am starting this review with that line because it captures the mood of the film- although not the story.  Make no mistake both this film and its predessor is as much about mood as anything-  atmosphere,  the music,  the scenery, etc define this film-   Close your eyes and imagine falling headlong into a world that is equal parts desolate landscape and sparkling neon.   

Have you ever ridden in the front seat of a rollercoaster at midnight?     Like that.    

Other people can write you their reviews about the story- which is interesting.  Other people can write about the wide range of actors- large and small- known and unknown, and they are spectacular- but I will leave that to them.


My recommendation is that this is a movie to be SEEN and FELT.   It will be talked about and analyzed- because - of course.    My argument is that it is a big screen film meant to be seen on a big screen and experienced because it is visceral and emotional and disorienting.     


So,  of course- the irony.  The thing that makes this fictional movie about robots compelling is the emotional reaction it elicits.  


More human than human.    But of course. 

"They think that details make it more real, but they're wrong. Reality is messy."

Dr. Ana Stelline

That quote is bitterly ironic. (Not a spoiler, don't worry; this review is pretty much spoiler free.) She's talking about Replicant memory implants there and what makes 'good' ones. Her point is that there is more art in what's missing and the messy parts, and that's what makes one emotional, visceral and real. The irony comes from the fact that she utters this line in the middle of the most expensive, overproduced monument to detail-orientation and obsessive compulsion that I've ever seen.

Let's get this out of the way first. Blade Runner 2049 is gorgeous. It is mind-meltingly, visual-cortex-blowing, auditory-center-shatteringly pretty. I saw it in Laser IMAX, and it was pretty much as close as I have come to being in non-gear VR. At one point, a device in the upper left of the screen emits a notification tone, and the entire audience swiveled our heads to look at the thing because it was so compellingly there.

See it in IMAX if you can. Make sure there is a good bass system at the least, because like director Denis Villeneuve's earlier picture Arrival, half the soundscape is in the subwoofer and infrasonic range. The IMAX I was in had those super cool beamforming speakers behind the screen, with the result that - coupled with the screen size - the locational cues for sound were just amazing.

So. Blade Runner 2049. Is it? Is it in fact Blade Runner?


It certainly is in the universe. It certainly purports to be a direct sequel, albeit one with a 30-year interregnum. The characters are there. The storyline events link as they ought to, I suppose. But it wasn't Blade Runner to me, and I've spent a bit of time thinking about why.

There are at least a couple of reasons this might be true (for me, of course). One is that I was furious that this movie got made at all, and I suppose I still am. There was just no need for it other than a cash grab. However, the real problem I had with it was despite its sheer visual overwhelming shock and awe, I had the same response to it I had to Arrival - namely, I was unable to give a shit about any of the characters in it. This isn't to say they weren't cast and acted very, very well; it's not to say the original actors weren't there because they were. But rather than a story - and like the first movie a story with a critical and emotional question at the heart of it - this is a clockwork mechanism which is equal parts fan service and trope- no, cliché- laden 'story.'

Blade Runner was a dirty, brilliant, innovative movie around a single question - what does it mean to be human? That's a Big Question, with a ton of subjective hooks, and you can drape enormous quantities of movie and plot and character around it - and they did. Eldon Tyrell, the quintessential tech nerd, hooked on an engineering challenge without thinking at all - until it killed him - about the impact his game would have on anyone and anything else. The famous 'is Deckard or isn't he' game even. So Blade Runner is a human, messy, organic movie about robots and humanity.

Blade Runner 2049 is a gorgeous, sterile and icy movie about humanity and robots. But although it looked for half a minute like it was going to pick up that question - the one that elevated the original - and run with it, it instead cheapshot the whole thing about ten minutes in, and then halfheartedly played with it like a cat batting a dead bird for the rest of the movie - that is, when it even bothered to be about something.

There are things in it that are amazing. There are a couple of scenes which are not just beautiful, but genuinely thought-provoking. It's just that the movie then immediately throws them away and never refers to them again. I suppose the things I thought worth going see are the cinematography, the rendering, the set dressing (in some specific cases) and the obsessive care with which they aged the Blade Runner future. They did a great job, it's fully believable as a 30-year advance on the original. There are easter eggs in it, or at least callouts to the original. Ryan Gosling is perfect as Officer K, because...well, he's a zero-emoting robot most times anyway. Harrison Ford at least seems to have overcome his distaste for the original enough to actually work, here. Robin Wright is pretty much as badass as she was in Wonder Woman, and it's awesome to see Edward James Olmos and Sean Young, however briefly.

But in the end, I would have been so much happier if they'd made it 'a movie in the Blade Runner universe' and made it the best of those so far, rather than trying to continue the first. Its mishandling of the first movie's questions and story basically makes the actual content of the film utterly uninteresting to me, leaving me only the eye candy.

But damn, that candy is sweet and tart and fucking addicting.

Beware late night showings - this film runs 2:44, although you won't mind that.


I saw the movie again, this time in non-IMAX, and I felt compelled to add one more point - sadly, a negative. I raved above about the visual and auditory design of this movie. I still stand by that, but with one major, major exception, which I believe i hadn't really grasped on the initial viewing because the sound system in the IMAX theater was so good and the mix different. This movie succumbs to one huge, major (in my opinion) super bad cliche in its sound design. Ever since Inception, movies trying really hard to be 'shocking' or 'dramatic' have been using this horribly stupid sound that resembles nothing so much as a foghorn or klaxon, slowed down from 45 to 33rpm. Basically, a huge, blow-your-ears-out BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH noise, sometimes with the tone sliding up and down a bit. I think some cheap effects movies have used it as 'BIG ALIEN WARCRY' somewhere. But whereas Inception's was an actual slowed-down and reversed clip of a piece of a music relevant to the movie, these are really nothing except cheap copies of the monster honkings from Pacific Rim, fuzzed up.

BR2049 uses this. A lot. And it does it whenever it's trying to tell you LOOK LOOK THIS IS IMPORTANT/SUBTLE/COOL ISN'T IT? And as a result, loses about a zillion points. And, in a theater with a good and powerful but not too subtle sound system, gave me a headache by 2/3 through the movie.

Indiscriminate spoilage ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

The thoughtful and, I think, accurately perceptive review by The Custodian gets at the problematic side of BR 2049 (and I'll call the original 1982 film simply BR from here on). I think it might be possible to go a little farther, however.

In the original, the Nexus replicants were unstable, and thus banned from Earth. There was no reason at all for them to want to come to Earth (which BR adequately showed to be a hellhole), but for the fact that the replicants were becoming so human that they could now contemplate mortality in a more sophisticated way. So Roy Batty and the others descended into hell to try to find a way to lengthen their lives.

The original version of the movie had Deckard's voiceover stating that Rachel was a new type of replicant without a pre-programmed short lifespan. Ironically, she died, BR 2049 tells us, just about the time she would have gone were she a regular Nexus 6, except her death was occasioned by giving birth to Deckard's child. It's clear that all other replicants are somehow sterile.

The inhuman and manifestly evil Niander Wallace, a laughably overdetermined character played by the already unlikeable Jared Leto, apparently discovers along with us the fact that Rachel gave birth. As the sequel's analogue of Eldon Tyrell, Wallace's chief stated goal in the film is to diminish the cost and increase the pace of replicant production by moving to a reproduction regime, if only he can figure out how Deckard and Rachel managed it. That's the end of act I, and that motivates the bad guys. To be sure, Wallace is given some lines about wanting to produce replicants to open up many more space colonies, so EMPIRE! is added to his motivations in a sort of pro-forma way.

I do not think that the new film ever makes the point as explicitly as BR did, but Wallace is trying to bridge the gap between replicant and human in a de facto way, while counting on the bright legal line between humans and replicants to permit him to continue exploiting (and selling) the latter as slaves. And so, the plight of the replicants is transformed into a metaphor for chattel slavery, with replicants standing in for historical slaves whose human rights were systematically denied.

There appears to be a resistance network containing a number of the old Tyrell Nexus models (some in the 7 and 8 series, developed after the events of BR, had "normal" lifespans, it seems), who are visibly old(er) and some of the new models put out by Wallace's company. This spells trouble ahead (in the sequels, surely hoped for, if not yet in development), since Wallace's models are billed as being obedient, at least to the point that people allow them to live and work on Earth. The old Nexus models are all fugitives and still give blade runners like Joe, the protagonist, work to do.

In one important scene for the sequels, a leader of the resistance meets Joe and explains their goal of pushing past the bright line into human territory. The presence of (young) Wallace replicants among them (such as a version of the white, bald ectomorphic replicant who served as the file clerk at the Wallace Corporation headquarters) shows that there is something wrong with the obedience conditioning. We thus have the prospect of something like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes before us.

The awful Wallace and the absolutely, psychopathically terrible Luv, his confederate (who is a replicant, it should be noted), diverge in an unpleasant way from their analogues in BR. Tyrell was morally blind, suffering the consequences by having his eyes popped out, yet he is not insanely evil like Wallace. Batty is frighteningly homicidal (most of it off-screen), but is nevertheless a warm, human character. His quest for life, his ironic humor, his love for Pris, his intelligence, and his last-minute emotional growth spurt all humanize him. In 35 years of watching BR I have never felt Batty to be evil. Of course, I would not discount his sins, as he ironically does, as "questionable things."

Wallace is morally blind, too, which is trumpeted at us by his physical blindness. Just as the world he hopes to create will be served by his replicants, he too is served by mechanisms: vaguely fishlike hovering robot eyes that link to his head through some BR equivalent of bluetooth. Behold! One of the "fish," as Wallace himself points out, has a propensity to skip through water like a real fish against efficiency and orders. That un-programmed independence is going to come back to bite him in the ass when the unexpectedly independent replicants revolt.

Luv is such a poisonous character that I could hardly stand to see her on the screen, and was ungenerously pleased to watch Joe slowly choke the life out of her near the end. And there is the problem; the movie seems cold to me because of the evil, evil antagonists. One gets it that since Joe is a superman, he needed an antagonist that would present a challenge, so Luv has to be preternaturally strong, well-informed, lucky, full of resources like orbiting missile platforms, and intelligent. This is not hard when the screenwriter is on your side, but very dull to watch, because Joe just has to go through the motions of trying to get ahead of her or survive her attacks as though she were merely a recurring, if daunting, physical obstacle. A story is more interesting when the protagonist is challenged as well as affirmed, as Samuel Johnson said of fame. The homicidal Roy Batty is able to taunt Deckard: "aren't you supposed to be the good man?", and the taunt bites.

Even though Hampton Fancher has come back as one of the writers of BR 2049, there is a dearth of sharp dialogue and interplay of wit. There is nothing like the confrontation between Tyrell and Batty, or even Bryant's rough handling of Deckard. The movie is, as The Custodian notes, interesting and fun to watch, but it does a poor job of expressing sharp ideas through dialogue, and spends too much time trying to elicit an emotional response from us with spfx and violence, which is not nearly as interesting.

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