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David Poland

By David Poland

Review-ish, Blade Runner 2049 (no spoilers)


This will be brief (for me, at least).

I don’t want to ruin a single surprise in this remarkable film.

Villeneuve, Scott, Deakins, Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, and a big parade of filmmakers of every shape, size, gender and race have delivered a true sequel, which is also not a sequel as they tend to work with movies.

It is Aliens to Alien… or, ironically, Blade 2 to Blade.

Many of the old pieces are there, albeit in this story they have aged 30 years. But this is not, as Blade Runner was, a film noir set in a dystopian future. There is some dystopia. But the opening crawl gives us some positive news as well. And unless you really like Las Vegas, the world is not as grim as the first time around. And it is definitively not a film noir. Denis Villeneuve, as he has before, finds a more current reflection of well-established genre and takes it somewhere new, both saluting what we love and putting it in the rear view.

At the center of this film is, as expected, Ryan Gosling, who is perfect and not overly solicitous (which tends to leave some ignoring the deft care he puts into his work). But unlike the original, which had literally strong women who were somewhat objectified, our lead is surrounded by women of power… and in some cases, physical power. Each of the three women is complex and an important part of the emotional puzzle of the film. (Technically, I don’t think the film passes the Bechdel test… which is a limit of the Bechdel test in defining films in which women have a strong place.)

And as you know, the film brings back Harrison Ford’s Deckard as well. It turns out to be one of his most layered and rangy performances.

And oh, the setpieces.

The muthaf***ing setpieces!!!

There is a parade of wildly imaginative, beautifully rendered, quite different setpieces. I have my favorites (just gonna say… broken projector… you will understand later) and you will have your favorites. What seems easy becomes complex and what is complex may seem easy.

Villeneuve, Deakins and Dennis Gassner make sets and light and atmosphere into characters a number of times in this film… and it is glorious. It’s not Kubrickian… but it has some of that texture of hyper-reality that Kubrick brought to so many of his scenes.

In the cutting room, Joe Walker brought it all together in spite of serious challenges, especially super long beats that are not “how long a shot can I do” stunts, but need their space. You can feel that the freedom of CG must have made many things harder, leaving to many choices in post. Hard to explain what I mean without getting into specific scenes. But when the edit of what is shot in camera gets matched to a created CG element, it takes a special skill to cut subtly on emotion. And Walker, with Villeneuve nearby, does amazing work here.

Acting is pretty much great, top to bottom. Ana de Armas has a tough role to not allow to become frivolous and gets it just right. Jared Leto also has a really tough line to walk and with the help of some beautiful concept work, brings richness to a cipher. Sylvia Hoeks is like a young Marcia Gay Harden who can also be very physically dangerous. I don’t want to tell you who gives the film’s first unexpected acting turn because you deserve to be happily surprised by the subtly and skill of the performance as I was. Avoid the imdb page if you want to stay pure.

This movie grew on me and continues to grow on me.

One thing that really sticks: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” That title is embodied in this film. That isn’t really what Blade Runner was. There were elements of it, but it was busy with other ideas. BR2049 feels almost like Villeneuve and Ridley Scott had a four-day conversation and figured out what moved Denis about the source material, about the original film, and about 2017… and then brought the greatest film artists in the world together to breathe life into it.

Don’t think about it too much. Try not to read reviews or articles about the film. And while you watch… and just after you watch… deep breaths. Let it bloom in your mind and your heart.

We’ll talk about it again…

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17 Responses to “Review-ish, Blade Runner 2049 (no spoilers)”

  1. Sideshow Bill says:

    Nicely written. Looking forward to this a lot. Happy to hear Ford and Leto are good. Leto worries me.

  2. hcat says:

    “This will be brief”

    That will be the only time this sentence will be used in conjunction with this movie.

  3. Give Deakins his Oscar!!!

  4. Dr Wally Rises says:

    Seconded, but I’d go further. Give Ford his Oscar! I hope this is his Newman in ‘Color of Money’ moment, albeit in Supporting Actor.

  5. Threefecta says:

    SPOILER: If you seen Red Dwarf:Back to Earth (which was a Blade Runner Takeoff) it has a similar reveal.

  6. joe the movieman says:

    I can’t wait to see it. especially what happened in the blade runner universe after 30 years

  7. Triple Option says:

    OK, I’m trying to go in knowing as little as possible. Because of that, I barely skimmed the article. For those who’ve seen it, should I see it in IMAX or 3D? Both isn’t an option for the theater I have a pass for.

  8. The Pope says:

    @Triple Option, I didn’t know it was available in 3-D. I saw it in IMAX and will go back to see it in 2.39:1. I enjoyed the film immensely but for me, IMAX always lacks the elegance of the widescreen ratio.

  9. Ray Pride says:

    There is also the rumbling AMC Dolby format.

  10. Triple Option says:

    @Ray – Yeah, I saw that, too. What is Dolby format? Just more speakers? Sound through more channels?

  11. Ray Pride says:

    More speakers, channels, vibrations. Screen lit to a level that EVERY theater should be lit. My experience: slightly curved screen revealed bits of Windows desktop before movie; light leaks from exit signs streaked corners of the screen, too. Have no idea what the premium is over a dim showing in other AMC auditoriums.

  12. hcat says:

    So excited for this I might see it this go round instead of waiting 3,7,11,15 years for all the recuts.

  13. leahnz says:

    over-hyping is the devil

  14. Ray Pride says:

    Denis doesn’t care about shoes!

  15. brack says:

    “And unless you really like Las Vegas, the world is not as grim as the first time around.“

    This part of the review now seems very eerie.

    Great film. Dolby Atmos theaters will rock your socks off. What a film score!

  16. JS Partisan says:

    This fucking movie, is god damn amazing. I have no idea, if it will connect with a lot of people. Doesn’t matter. This is a great sequel, to a great movie, and it’s awesome that Blade Runner now has a companion. This movie, should win every technical award, and hopefully gets some serious recognition. I doubt it, because it’s too god damn loud.

  17. leahnz says:

    i’ve been thinking about it and i have mixed feelings about BR49.
    the night before seeing it i watched a screening of the restored blu-ray version of the OG BR with Deckard’s first-person detective noir voice-over narration (rare as hens teeth now), still my fave for a few reasons including sentimental, as the movie i saw in the theatre that so blew my mind as an impressionable youth,

    ——————- SPOILERS —————————

    another being: while as a device the narration is a bit clunky here and there it also explains a good deal in terms of plot and fascinating details about the world that simply aren’t revealed any other way in the narrative, such as: “that gibberish he talked was cityspeak, gutter talk, a mishmash of Japanese, spanish, german, what have you. i didn’t really need a translator, i knew the lingo, every good cop did, but i wasn’t going to make it easier for him”, which provides a useful glimpse into the precise cultural soup of the LA 2019 era and deckard’s character; and of course the most crucial detail at the end, that Tyrell did indeed reveal to deckard that Rachel was special, designed with no termination date with her lifespan indeterminate, which he imparts upon their escape into the wilderness.

    the audio/visually restored version highlights the sheer exquisiteness of BR’s design and construction, every shot and scene sublimely and meticulously staged, lit and executed, the flow of these shots so well constructed, the different levels of the BR world so well delineated from the flying cars high over the steaming metropolis to the aerial shots such as from Deckard’s flat and the spaces between buildings down to the scuzzy street level, where the sound design is so multi-layered and intense (the street cacophony such as during Deckard’s assassination of zhora is so loud and gnarly i can barely stand it, how anyone could get used to this is unfathomable and it creates such an impression — also of note the sound design during the final fight between Deckard and roy batty in the abandoned building is so bizarre and unsettling and haunting, there’s nothing else like it). even deckard’s apartment with its cubist and inverted pyramid design sensibility, the light rays and electronic noise and even the whiskey bottle and distinctive glasses, impeccable. everything evokes a mood and a smell and a sense of place in which the characters feel both organic and otherworldly, depending.

    and while there is certainly a sense of majesty and some very admirable visual touches in BR49, it doesn’t really stitch together into an organic whole that evokes mood and place and smell, much of it’s actually quite bland and the story elements are cliché and derivative and contrived, attempting too many things and not well enough examined – ‘Blade Runner’ meets ‘Pinocchio’ with a side order of ‘Her’ (the ‘i want to sex my hologram’ sub-plot, ew) with a good dash of female existentialism and objectification (more about that in a bit) and yet another shitty villain, just to name a few.

    i’ve seen in quite a few reviews that claim BR49 is a further extension of the theme ‘what it is to be human’ so ingeniously achieved in the OG, which is baffling because BR49 barely does this in any significant cinematic way; whereas the OG BR uses the contrast and interaction between the human and replicant characters of deckard, rachel and roy batty – and the added sub-plot of Pris with JF Sebastian as the perfect replicant and the fatally flawed human, with Tyrell as god – to examine the concept of humanity in both a visual and philosophical manner, BR49 fails in this regard because the ways it attempts it, with its focus on the extremely formulaic concept of female reproduction (pompously waffled on by the weak villain wallace in an on-the-nose violent, contrived way) and k’s pinocchio ‘am i a real boy now?’ syndrome.
    this latter concept has little impact because much of the exploration of replicant k’s ‘humanity’ – along with the idea of ‘love’ – is attempted with an objectified hologram, which maintains a layer of artificiality rather than peeling it away somehow to reveal messy humanity.

    also re DP’s comment in this review about the ‘objectified’ women in the OG BR contrasting with the ‘strong’ women in this one, this strikes me as very odd (did we see the same movie?)
    perhaps predictably it’s only been in reviews/commentary by women that i’ve seen mention of the near-constant female nudity, objectification and sexualisation of women and the female form throughout BR49 (the only instance of male ‘nudity’ being a brief glimpse at the blank white nexus 8 statues or whatever those were on display, not sexualised in the slightest), so much so it appears a theme. conversely in the OG BR the only nudity is a brief topless bit in the scene with zhora.
    as for the BR49 female characters being ‘strong’ compared to the OG, let’s see: of the main-ish characters luv is literally Wallace’s replicant slave who does his bidding; joi is K’s male fantasy AI who serves him dinner and strokes his ego and follows him around, one could argue his figurative slave; mariette is a clichéd sex worker replicant but at least has a degree of agency i suppose; and write as the lieutenant, who is the only female character in a position of power with agency. the female characters were well performed, certainly, but this whole ‘BR49 strong women’ thing is quite bizarre really

    ok seriously blathering on so enough for now though i could probably type all day about this shit. there were things i liked about BR49 so maybe i’ll do a ‘volume deux’ for shits and giggles

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon