Customized Miracles; Customized Angels:
Blade Runner 2049
If you haven’t seen the 1982 Ridley Scott-directed Blade Runner then you will still find an enormous amount to enjoy about the 2017 outing; but it is only fair to say that this is a sequel in its truest form. It is not content to merely rehash the original – one of the great classics of science-fiction cinema – but rather takes the many themes of that film, deepens them, extrapolates from them and yet somehow manages to stay almost as enigmatic and mysterious.
Scott’s film exists in five versions that I’ve seen. (I’ve heard that there’s even more.) And I’ve seen my favourite version more times than I can remember. If you’re a BR virgin then the two to avoid are the studio one with the hideous narration and the extended cut. In my opinion the director’s approved cut is the purest in form. In fact, it’s pretty much a perfect film.
It is also unusual (along with Peter Weir’s cut of Picnic at Hanging Rock) in actually being several minutes shorter than the first cinema release. Everything that is not strictly necessary has been stripped away, with one particularly crucial scene added.
Given my love for that original it was with some trepidation that I heard that a sequel was on the way. In fact, it was less a case of trepidation than of a lot of teeth-gnashing, cursing and mutterings about Hollywood bastards who have respect for nothing and are completely bereft of new ideas.
Then the name of the new director was announced and I began to feel actual hope that this was not going to be a complete stinker. Add to that Ridley Scott as a producer and the return of the original blade runner himself, Harrison Ford… and I was suddenly not only cautiously hopeful but really optimistic.
French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve is one of the most interesting directors to surface in recent years. And with last year’s brilliant science fiction film Arrival he became somebody whose work I was determined not ever to miss.
With Blade Runner 2049 he has not only lived up to expectations but surpassed them. It is a superb piece of filmmaking all on its own; but, as I say, you will just get so much more out of it if you have a working knowledge of the 1982 film.
Villeneuve has been quite emphatic in asking early reviewers to keep plot details to a minimum – and when you see the film, you will know that is with good reason – and I intend to respect that.
I’ll simply say that Ryan Gosling plays the new blade runner, Officer K, himself an advanced form of replicant (or android, and a word that has entered the language) whose grim and joyless task it is to ‘retire’ older models.
The world has moved on from 2019 – now, incredibly, almost upon us – but not as much as you would think. We still have those spinning, flying cars; the in-your-face advertising; and the use of technology in indulging people’s sexual fantasies. They’re all ‘improved’ of course, but essentially the same. K is working for the singularly unpleasant Lt. Joshi, played by Robin Wright in one of her top-notch ruthless roles. And in the course of his work he comes across a new twist to the replicants and one that could bring down civilization – although, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely clear on why it was so devastating, quite leaving aside the fact that it didn’t seem all that worth saving. The world has always adjusted. That’s a minor quibble, and will likely be cleared up with another viewing.
Very roughly taking over from Rutger Hauer as a female replicant is Sylvia Hoeks, outstanding as Luv, who in turn works for the sinister Niander Wallace (Jared Leno), who has his own twisted ideas on where replicant technology should be going; and Ana de Armas is truly memorable as K’s hologram lover, Joi.
The wait we get as K tracks down Deckard (Harrison Ford) is well worth it; and when he does finally meet him, the run-down and exhausted Las Vegas setting damned near eclipses everything else in this marvelous film, complete with some very unexpected and lovely nods to Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. And the great cinematographer Roger Deakins must surely be in for an Oscar for his work throughout. It is breathtaking.
But it is the film’s understated themes that are even more enjoyable than the settings: I would imagine that writer Philip K. Dick, who created Decker’s world in his book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? would thoroughly approve of the screenplay from Hampton Fancher and Michael Green.
The concepts and questions that made the first film such a mindteaser are all here: the musings on identity; what actually constitutes Life itself; where does the soul come into it, if at all; the accuracy of memories; how would we react to meeting our ‘maker’?
In fact, a real review of this wonderful film should properly wait until everyone who is going to see it has seen it; perhaps then a proper discussion can begin.
It’s a long film and may be too slow-moving for some tastes, but that’s OK: the original wasn’t exactly embraced as a classic initially, nor did it make much money at a box-office that seemed to be expecting to see Ford in another Star Wars shoot-em-up. I hope that this one will find an audience, just as the first one did.
I also found that it will resonate with those involved in Ireland’s current and very contentious debate on the issues surrounding abortion. Throw in climate change and at least half a dozen other ideas and you have the kind of subjects that science-fiction at its very best does so well, and which should long ago have brought it out of the ghetto that it has been confined to by the unimaginative.
And Blade Runner 2049 is science-fiction cinema at its very best.