Blu-Ray Review – Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 is, of course, the long-awaited sequel to the absolute classic that was Blade Runner (1982). It arrives after a long development process: versions of the script have been around since the 1990s, when Philip K. Dick hanger-on K.W. Jeter wrote a quite awful sequel to the book (and then two more). Stuart Hazeldine tried to turn it into a script, which was justifiably rejected, and what finally made it to the screen was a completely new story that has very little to do with Jeter’s work (although there is a plot element in common between the film and his third Blade Runner book). The final script came from a story by Hampton Fancher, one of the scriptwriters on the original, and was then polished with him by Michael Green.

The film begins with a new blade runner, Officer K (Ryan Gosling), who is sent to “retire” a replicant, who has gone rogue. In the process of finding him, K starts to unravel what happened to Rick Deckard and the replicant Rachael, who disappeared together 30 years previously.

The future world as seen in the original Blade Runner was Los Angeles; in the sequel, LA is still that world with a few changes, but outside of its boundaries there is a barren landscape. San Diego is where LA residents dump their trash, and Las Vegas is a contaminated wasteland with extremely high radiation levels. This actually hearkens back to the original book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? although it’s Oregon, not Vegas.

The information K discovers due to the slowly revealed mystery of what happened to Deckard and Rachael could lead to the obliteration of the human race by the residents. Very quickly, you realise that K himself is a replicant. There are still physical replicants like K, but a new generation of replicants has been developed that are complex, programmable holograms, like K’s wife Joi (Ana de Armas).

The fact that director Denis Villeneuve was able to pull this off is amazing. If there ever was a film that did not need a sequel, it was Blade Runner; and director Ridley Scott, who had been attached to the project for some time, did not return to make it. It wasn’t until 2014, when Scott decided to step down and handed the reins to French-Canadian director Villeneuve, that there definitely would be one. In the past five years Villeneuve has become one of Hollywood’s best new directors, with films like Sicario, Prisoners, Enemy and Arrival showing his versatility.

Villeneuve always works with Roger Deakins, one of the finest cinematographers of all time, and their collaboration is all about doing as much physically in-camera as possible. He has gotten his 14th Oscar nomination and it looks like he might finally get the long overdue award. When they use CGI, it’s always well-chosen. What they have done here is pretty jaw-dropping at times.

The film has been criticised for its portrayals of women, but the critique doesn’t really fit. Two of the strongest characters are female: Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, one of the villains who is working for Jared Leto’s mysterious Niander Wallace. That said, it’s intended to be a dystopia, so the limited roles played by women fit the corrupt, corporate-controlled world depicted. The character of Joi also reflects the archetypical PKD dream girl he wrote in his novels at the time. Edward James Olmos’s Gaff also makes a cameo which besides Harrison Ford is the only actor who returns fully, Sean Young’s Rachael appears but it’s a mixture of stand-in and digital superimposition.

It’s a surprisingly emotionally surprising film as well. How funny is it  one of the most affecting performances of the year will be Ryan Gosling, often accused of being “robotic,” as an android? And it leaves a lot of mystery open, even in the final moments. However, there probably won’t be a sequel, even though the possibility is there, because it has stupidly underperformed at the box office. My take on why is that the budget should have been capped at $100 million. The film is 2 hours and 40 minutes, and due to the length, it played on fewer screens at the multiplex than it should have.  It was then sold more as an action movie, which it isn’t, and it was then snubbed for some awards most notably director. But then the original did not do well at first, so it’s in very good company.

The Vangelis score for the original was one of the most iconic film scores of all time. He didn’t return for the sequel, so the original plan was to bring in Jóhann Jóhannsson, who had scored the three Villeneuve films. But in the 11th hour, a few months before the film’s release, a new score was created by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Woolfisch. Personally, I’m not a massive fan of Zimmer, who tends to go for the bombastic. The result is in the same vein as Vangelis, and the original score is quoted a lot (e.g. the main theme and ‘Tears in the Rain’), but it’s surprisingly subtly done and very good.

I received the condensed 1-disc Blu-Ray so I can’t comment on the 2-disc version which includes an extra half an hour of extras. The 1 disc includes a solid 30-minute making which has some interesting insightful behind the disc, some behind the scenes vignettes and the short films which were released online before the film which connects the two films. In any case, it’s definitely going to be one of the biggest sellers on Blu-Ray this year and maybe it will sell well enough we can get the third film.

★★★★★

Ian Schultz

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