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Possibly the most anticipated genre offering in the last decade is Denis Villeneuve's BLADE RUNNER 2049. Being a huge fan of the original, Camus finds himself more than a little excited and just as scared. Will he see things you people wouldn't believe?
 
  "I'd been offered a lot of movies in my life – big sci-fi movies – but I always felt it was dangerous to do those big movies because there's a lot of pressure when you make them. I said if I do it one day, it will be for something that is really worthy and really meaningful artistically for me."
  Director Denis Villeneuve*

 

Here's the tease. You will not see another film quite like Blade Runner 2049. As immersive a world – perhaps more so – as its predecessor, it's a visual and aural experience that is truly and beautifully cinematic. Villeneuve's skill in creating this glorious and genuine work of art is breathtaking. Go. Just go. It manages to capture the original's melancholy soul and augments it with just the right tonal shades and dizzying landscapes. This is a Blade Runner movie, no question and it's pleasingly extrapolated from its father (it wants more life) and is by no means a lazily designed re-hash. Like mother!, I'd love to write about it in more detail but I'll have to wait for the secrets not to be secret anymore. There have been a lot of fire-spewing towers under the bridge. Let's go back in time – though perhaps not 30 years...

The ecologically devastated future of Blade Runner 2049

I am almost a week away from the 3D (faux) IMAX screening – booked by mistake as I prefer 2D but what the hell – of the next film from a filmmaker who seems to imbue all his work with a profound intelligence and a concomitant, integrated artistic sensibility. Skip this paragraph to get to the review. I have a strong urge to eulogise. Villeneuve is the worthy inheritor of Ridley Scott's cinematic legacy. His diverse oeuvre is astounding for the one thing that filmmakers are rarely gifted with – consistency. Each of his films seems to be exceptionally well-crafted, prime examples of their genre and the trailer for Blade Runner 2049 has done nothing to make me think otherwise about the sequel to a genuine classic. An hour ago, social media's response to the first press screenings hit the digisea; they were all overwhelmingly positive. Scared now. I still have mother! rattling around in my head. Is there a chance that Villeneuve and co. can dislodge it? I've never been more ambivalent. I love that the Jennifer Lawrence allegory is haunting my dreams but are electric sheep soon to be counted instead? A few days later the review floodgates were opened (an apt metaphor given two scenes in the new film)... 97% 'fresh' on Rotten Tomatoes. What is going on? I've never seen such critical adoration for a film (with the single exception of The Times in the UK that didn't buy in to the human story). Again, I've not seen it yet and I am foaming at the mouth to do so but also scared these reviews have been overstating the case. Harrison Ford's own verdict was "fucking awesome," but then he is selling it but he has never been so effusive in the past about any of his films and he's starred in quite a few classics. Of the many stories that circulated about the original Blade Runner was a script-aborted opening sequence of Deckard arriving at a farm in the middle of nowhere, 'retiring' the farmer and ripping out his jaw-bone to read off the serial number. I thought that was a fantastic idea for a first scene – every act a question, a world set up with such brutal simplicity. The pre-released clips suggest that this is how the sequel opens... Two days. Cannot but have to. Wait. Saw the original for what must have been the fortieth time this evening. It still holds up and there are still things in its detailed frames that I am noticing anew. Extraordinary. Gaff's origami unicorn T-shirt donned, car narrowly parked, a hot-dog devoured, seat taken. Here. We. Go.

Ryan Gosling as K in Blade Runner 2049

It is two hours after my (faux) IMAX, 3D screening of Blade Runner 2049. It is everything people are saying it is. It's epic, intimate, hugely exciting, devastatingly violent (you really feel the nasty moments), surprisingly emotional and (my favourite) it's intelligent. This is artistic filmmaking at the very highest level. Like all great art, the film provides you with an experience that seems narratively so obvious given the context of its creation but a story you would never have been able to predict. I know that's a paradox but please live with it. So here's the spoiler free plot. Blade Runner and LAPD human-controlled replicant 'K' (that has to be a nod to the 'K' sandwiched by Philip and Dick) retires a fellow replicant and in so doing discovers the remains of a body. The rest is for you to enjoy. No more plot details. That would be mean. I am merely going to write about what I think are the film's strengths. So I hope you really enjoy the following 84 pages. I also hope none of the following counts as a spoiler but then you'd have to see the film to understand why they are spoilers. Something pleasurable as a memory moves into a mind space, welcomed by the brain. The focus of that memory is a physical object, a small wooden horse, a symbolic allegory of invasion, one of 2049's best metaphors. I actually shuddered once I made that connection. God, I love art by smart people. How would you react knowing that everything you had based living your life on was a fabrication, or even worse, what if the fabrication was a lie concealing and obscuring a reality you'd not been allowed to live? Philip K. Dick puts the Phil into philosophy.

The film has a constant propensity for presenting subtext and allowing you, the audience, to complete a cinematic idea despite the temptation for the filmmakers to spell it out. Twice. In terms of allowing you the wonderful experience of interpretation, 2049 ranks right up there with 2001: A Space Odyssey. "It's beautiful!" is a phrase in the film, which, if you lock the subtext down, are two words that both resonate so deeply, in such a primal human way. When a character asks another why she/he was motivated to help, you scream in your mind the words the character should say but she/he doesn't because that's an audience's thought. This transference of interpretation to the spectator is what makes the sequel to Blade Runner a work of art. Denis Villeneuve and his tremendously talented team have managed to recreate gunfire that feels and sounds completely original. I have no idea how he did this but it is vastly appreciated. With my film-going companion assuring me that I was watching the movie with IMAX's own patented surround sound system (which was not his beloved Dolby Atmos) I still have to report how amazing the sound design was. There were moments where I thought the sound was going to crunch hard into distorto-land but it kept itself inside the boundaries. Just.

Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner 2049

Ridley Scott seems to be lashing out petulantly against the concept that makes great art great. In a quoted interview regarding the endless and frankly dull argument about whether Deckard is a replicant or not, he sullenly states that it was his design that Deckard was a replicant in the original Blade Runner... Yawn. "I directed the fucking movie..." he says. But an artist has no claim on the meaning of his art. That's what makes the sequel genuinely great. If Deckard is a replicant then the entire thesis of Blade Runner (manufactured humans being more human than their human assassins) becomes meaningless. Yes, I know about the origami unicorn connection ("if I know your inner most thoughts, they must have been implanted...") but a movie that screws with its own rules is, in effect, cheating. Let's ignore the voice over at the tail end of the original... "Tyrell had told me that Rachel was special, no termination date..." I wish I could get to the root of Scott's assertion of Deckard's status. Narratively it seems redundant, a lot like the alien birth at the end of Prometheus. Yeah, so what? How does that impact or affect the narrative? Answer, it doesn't. It may even harm the story. Villeneuve has said in interviews that Deckard's human/replicant status is not specifically stated or confirmed in the sequel. The closest we get is when K asks Deckard if his dog is real. "Ask him," he mutters as the dog enthusiastically laps up whisky from the floor.

Hans Zimmer (it's that man again) and Benjamin Wallfisch do a sterling job of replicating the 80's Vangelis groove and it's often difficult to separate sound effects from the music cues but the most important thing is that the score faithfully retains the original's aesthetic. I really wonder what happened to Villeneuve's regular musical collaborator, Jóhann Jóhannsson, who's had to sign a non-disclosure agreement over his termination. Don't publicity people know that this causes more curiosity than less? The truth will out. The score slash sound effects are a huge contribution to what makes this film so extraordinary. See it on the biggest screen you can find with the most speakers you can be enveloped by.

I sincerely want to write more but I'd be treading on so many spoiler toes, it would be unseemly and quite insensitive. Just see it and then enjoy my Blu-ray review in the months to come in which I can let loose on some of the sequel's truly extraordinary aspects. "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe..." How I celebrate the truth of that statement.

 


*http://www.slashfilm.com/blade-runner-2049-denis-villeneuve-interview/

Blade Runner 2049 poster
Blade Runner 2049

USA | UK | Canada 2017
163 mins
directed by
Denis Villeneuve
produced by
Broderick Johnson
Andrew A. Kosove
Cynthia Sikes Yorkin
Bud Yorkin
written by
Hampton Fancher
Michael Green
based on characters from the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by
Philip K. Dick
cinematography
Roger Deakins
editing
Joe Walker
music
Benjamin Wallfisch
Hans Zimmer
production design
Dennis Gassner
starring
Ryan Gosling
Jared Leto
Harrison Ford
Ana de Armas
Dave Bautista
David Dastmalchian
Mackenzie Davis
Barkhad Abdi
Carla Juri
Robin Wright

UK distributor
Columbia Pictures
UK release date
5 October 2017
review posted
7 October 2017

Related reviews
Blade Runner – The Director's Cut
Blade Runner: The Final Cut – Ultimate Collector's Edition

See all of Camus' reviews