Wednesday , 13 December 2017

Blade Runner 2049 an epic cinematic spectacle for the ages – review

“Tell me, what is my life….who am I without you, by my side.”
— George Harrison

In 1982, Ridley Scott took audiences to a place they had never been before, a dystopian world where the police hunted down not-quite-humans in a film called Blade Runner. Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, the film became a landmark in the annals of science fiction, both visually, with it’s rain-soaked, neon-filled, futuristic L.A. complete with flying cars, and conceptually, delving into the very core of what it means to be human. Now, 35 years later, another visionary filmmaker, Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, Arrival), returns us to this imaginative world in Blade Runner 2049.

The original Blade Runner took place in the year 2019 and starred Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard, a former police detective, aka, ‘blade runner,’ whose job it was to find and kill ‘replicants,’ bio-engineered humans with limited lifespans, when they got out of line. Brought back into service to track down a group of advanced replicants who have escaped to Earth from an off-world colony, Deckard comes to question the very meaning of life as the replicants seek answers to their own creation. Moving ahead 30 years, Blade Runner 2049 features Ryan Gosling as blade runner, K, tasked with tracking down older model, open-ended lifespan replicants who have gone into hiding. Along the way, he begins questioning his own existence as he searches for the one person who may be able to provide the answers he’s looking for, one Rick Deckard.

“Dying for the right cause is the most human thing of all.”

Seeing the world of Blade Runner on the big screen again is a magnificent treat. For this particular Gore4er, Blade Runner holds a special place. Seeing the original on the day it opened, June 25, 1982, followed by John Carpenter’s The Thing, which incredibly opened on that exact same date, marked that moment in time as one of the most memorable in a lifetime of movie-going, and certainly one of the greatest in motion picture history. It’s interesting to note that both films are known for their rather ambiguous endings that warrant continued discussion to this day. and have no doubt contributed to their revered status. Blade Runner was also the very first movie this Gore4er ever owned, an exorbitantly priced VHS copy of the international cut that had the few extra seconds of bloody violence inserted back in. In succeeding decades, fans were treated to additional versions of the movie, the Director’s Cut and Final Cut, which may have changed certain perceptions of the film. It’s all led to an anxiously awaited sequel three and half decades later.

And oh what a sequel it is. In Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villenueve has created a visual feast for the senses, just like the groundbreaking original was. From its futuristic cities and desert landscapes to the Vangelis-inspired score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, less music and more an aural landscape, the viewer is transported to another world, even though it is still planet earth. The movie takes its time – this is not an MTV-generation, Michael Bay fast-cut movie – clocking in at a whopping 164 minutes. Yet it’s pace is deliberate but never slow, as it never feels long – every scene, every moment has meaning or is simply a marvel to behold – and it’s a testament to the film’s success that, despite the bleak and barren future it depicts, you are in no hurry to leave it as the picture nears its end.

“I do hope you’re satisfied with our product.”

Bringing the world of Blade Runner to life once again is an amazing, A-list cast. Ryan Gosling, fresh off his Oscar-nominated turn in last year’s La La Land, leads the way, appearing in almost every scene, as he takes us along on his journey of discovery. From small, intimate, quiet moments to knock-down, drag-out, wall-busting, bloody fight scenes, Gosling takes on the daunting task of carrying Ford’s torch and does so admirably. Harrison Ford himself belies his age in returning to one of his most iconic roles in a career filled with so many. Even though he is the epitome of a movie star, when you see him on the screen for the first time, you’re thinking, that’s a world-weary, retired ex-blade runner. Another Oscar nominee, Robin Wright, does an effective job as K’s inhumane, human boss. And Academy Award winner, Jared Leto, is sufficiently cold and creepy as Niander Wallace, the head of the company that is producing the replicants. Also on tap are Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista as one of those rogue replicants, Dutch-born Sylvia Hoeks as Wallace’s relentless right-hand, and Mackenzie Davis as a street walker who takes a run at K. All are great, but the one who truly lights up the screen whenever she appears, and in whatever form, is Ana de Armas as K’s in-home, holographic companion. Seen in Eli Roth’s depraved Knock Knock, and last year’s War Dogs, Ana is completely irresistible as her expressive eyes pull you in, and she is perhaps the most ‘human’ character in the entire film. We are certainly looking forward to much more to come from the Cuban-born actress.

“I know what’s real.”

While Blade Runner 2049 is faithful to the world created by its predecessor and addresses its same themes of what it means to be human, it’s not a carbon copy, like so many sequels are, by any means. It stands as its own film, while further exploring what came before it. (As for whether the big question left unanswered from the original is indeed answered here, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.) While one’s appreciation of the film will most definitely be greater having seen the ’82 original (in any one of its several versions), one can enter this universe cold, as what’s led up to 2049 is explained succinctly at the top of the film. While Deckard basically performed his job up to the very end, K is sent along a different path right from the outset. The film unravels as more of a mystery with many questions in search of answers, including that of Deckard’s whereabouts. As it considers the very nature of what it means to be alive, it manages to explore both religion and science without directly discussing either. If one is ‘born’ in a lab, then does he/she not have a soul, and does that thus inhibit one from being human? As mentioned earlier, when a computerized hologram shows more compassion and understanding than actual humans, what does being human even mean? Replicants, though superior to humans in strength and other abilities, are looked down upon and get little respect, from the workplace or society, which only adds to their sense of feeling out of place and not belonging in the world they live in. Its parallels are readily apparent to today’s immigrants not being accepted by less enlightened members of the population, or in the U, S of A, the current administration, where instead of being welcomed and appreciated for their contributions, they are ostracized and even sent ‘home’ to countries whose violence they fled or to which they are complete strangers to. Characters in the film are derogatorily referred to as ‘skin jobs,’ just as in the original and it’s pretty clear they are not thought of much more than slave labor, or worse.

“They named you. You must be special.”

Blade Runner 2049 is as ambitious as they come, reaching for lofty heights and achieving them. It’s dark and dreary future notwithstanding, is one that still conveys hope, in the human, or not-so-human spirit. Humanity will live on, in one form or another, with hopefully the more deserving rising to the top. It may have taken 35 years, but Blade Runner has reaffirmed its standing amongst the elite in science fiction. Let’s hope modern society doesn’t take nearly as long to discover its own humanity in accepting and welcoming those off all persuasions and personas.

— review by Brian de Castro

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