Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Written by Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ana de Armas
Review by Jordan (for Eddie’s take on the film CLICK HERE)
“Sometimes to love someone, you got to be a stranger”
As Blade Runner 2049 approaches its feverishly anticipated, yet patiently unfolding conclusion, there is a quiet moment of otherwise little obvious significance, where a Frank Sinatra hologram croons a melody of a distant past preserved in a glass case. In this instant I was reminded of the idea that through film we have created ghosts of past people and memories; haunting recollections and lasting images; and this vague but lingering feeling of discontent hovers too over the concept of humankind and their replicants, instilled with human memories but technologically created.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), itself an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), influenced a slew of science fiction films and other fictions with its contemplation on the essence of life in an artificial society. It introduced the irony that an obsolete model replicant with a three year lifespan knew more of the value of life than the man tasked with retiring him, and Denis Villeneuve’s sequel also has us ponder why it takes a near-lifeless dystopia to highlight the value of every free breath. It often takes the loss of something for us to realise its importance; as is explored in 2049, it’s when we’ve lost something that we finally understand its true nature.
The belated follow up, set 30 years after the events of the original, follows LAPD officer K (Gosling), a Blade Runner set on a course that could destroy the delicate balance the grim civilisation is reliant upon. Required to locate his reclusive predecessor, Rick Deckard (Ford), K is exposed to once-alien feelings and introduced to the very real concept of miracles, forcing him to question the reason and source of his existence.
Marvellously framed by renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins, Villeneuve’s film is a visual and thematic work of stylish provocation. I considered at the mid-way point that the most empathetic character was a mass-marketed AI program belonging to a replicant, and that her relationship with K remained the emotional centre throughout. Is her unconditional love and manner to always say what’s wanted/needed simply part of her programming? or did she truly betray her algorithms to develop feelings for her companion? It seems an astute observation from the writers that we’re most willing to accept a beautiful intelligence who would never challenge our ideals.
An interesting flaw is Blade Runner 2049’s overreliance on lesser explored elements of the original. More so than other major sequels, Villeneuve’s dramatically alters the fabric of Scott’s first work, and those who cherish it for its ambiguity and unexplored mystery might not be able to watch it again. The moody simplicity it offered has been mined for narrative depth, and critical moments that relied on this seemed jarring and contrived. In re-introducing this world to audiences there is merit in this approach, and it doesn’t detract from the technical accomplishment that 2049 is, but with Harrison Ford’s reappearance already risky, this was a disappointing artistic direction.
A bold, daring and complex exploration of science and morality, containing the committed performances it needed and intricate design, this is a film of such rare audacity that its problems should ultimately be viewed in isolation and not as symbolic of the whole.