Friday, October 20, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)


I’ve always wanted to see a sequel to Blade Runner or at least an expansion of the world we see in the 1982 film. But I figured that was just a daydream, even if I did hear rumors about it from time to time. In 2017 we got a follow up that looked promising from all the trailers. Director Denis Villeneuve was at the helm of this endeavour, and I’ve found his work to be pretty interesting. Maybe we had a second excellent sci-fi film in store for us during 2017 after the magnificent War for the Planet of the Apes.


K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner, an officer working for the LAPD that hunts down rogue Replicants. Usually these artificial humanoids are older models with a tendency to rebel against human masters. During his latest assignment K comes across some clues that hint at the impossible: a Replicant giving birth to a child. K’s superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), fears that if news of Replicants being able to procreate got out, then there would be mass panic in the already unstable world. K is tasked with finding and retiring this “miracle” child.

K starts his investigation, finding and putting together clues. His girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) offers her take on the case, as well as some moral support. He meets with the creator of stable Replicants, Niander Wallace (Jered Leto) who keeps things close to his chest. The case gets very dangerous, as it becomes apparent that others are looking for this child, and will murder to get it. Eventually his search leads him to seek out the old Blade Runner, Deckard (Harrison Ford) to find out his role in these mysterious events. What revelation will be unearthed when K finally discovers the answers, and will they change the world as he knows it?

Good Points:
  • In nearly every way, expands and evolves the world of the previous film
  • Delves into the future noire concept with both feet, and also twists it in interesting ways
  • Excellent performances by the entire cast

Bad Points:
  • If you don’t like the original film, than you won’t like this one
  • Moves at a deliberate pace, focusing on clues and characters over action
  • Some of the music is so overpowering and loud that it distracts


This sequel takes everything from the previous film and expands and builds on it. From a production point of view it is startling, pulling us back into that world with ease. It has a measured pace, that fits the tone and style of the movie. The themes it explores are familiar. Even more impressive are all the layers to explore in this movie. Some of the music overplays its hand, but other times it feels like a perfect continuation. All told, this fan of the original film loved the sequel. I can’t wait to revisit and explore it again.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 5
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 4
Total:  5

In Depth Review

More human, than human? You decide.
I’m going to do my best to keep this review spoiler free, and will either revisit or write some in depth posts in another blog after the movie comes out for home viewing.

Blade Runner 2049 pulls off one of the trickiest issues for a sequel. It keeps things familiar and yet expands and develops on what came before. The film is closely tied to the previous film from a narrative and thematic sense. But it also acts as a mirror or bookend of it. Some scenes, shots, dialogue and confrontations are taken from the previous film and replicated (pun sorta kinda intended) in a way that changes the meaning for the new film. In that way, to get the most out of Blade Runner 2049 requires intimate knowledge of the 1982 film.

But even if you’ve only seen the original film a couple of times, Villeneuve makes sure that you can follow this film from its main detective plot, as well as the side plots dealing with Joi and Wallace’s role in the whole film. And just like the previous film, this movie focuses more on K’s hunt, his character and the way the case changes him.

Rough day at the office for K.
That search is what drives Blade Runner 2049 in many of its production decisions. This is not an action film. This is a detective drama set in the future. It moves at a measured pace, with a few action scenes to punctuate moments. But this is not a thrill ride. It was never intended to be one. But the film is pretty long, and I can understand why some folk may feel it drags in places.

Villeneuve is a fan of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and it really shows. He is dedicated to bringing the world presented in that film back to life in nearly all aspects. He advances some technology and design for the 2049 setting, but all those changes are based off of what was presented in the 1982 original. So you still have some very analogue technology in the film, but pushed forward a bit in places. There are now holograms of various sizes through out the city, something that actually was more inspired the cityscapes of Akira.

And you thought Vegas couldn't get gaudier.
The film does move outside of Los Angeles into some of the battered landscapes near San Diego and into Las Vegas. Seeing these new locations adds a bit of spice to the familiar locations of the previous film, and reduces some of the claustrophobia you feel. But visually it is a twist on the original film. Deckard was a man lost in the mire and filth of the crowds of Los Angeles. K is a man lost in the desolation and loneliness of the vast world. There are many shots of K standing in stark relief to these deserted locations, offering an interesting visual contrast.

The visual effects are truly impressive. You get a great mix of miniatures, computer images and fully fleshed out sets that are full of detail. It is a tribute to the original film’s dense production design, and it gives Blade Runner 2049 the same realistic feeling. This world feels lived in, it feels beaten up, it feels like it may be on the very edge of collapsing. I was never pulled out of the film because of some incongruous visuals.

I'm not touching you. Does this bother you?
Instead Villeneuve is uses unreality of visual effects to his advantage. Holograms play a key role in the story and themes of this film. At times they can appear realistic, at other times they look incomplete and unresolved. That imperfection against the reality of the sets and human characters makes them stand out on purpose. Sometimes that flickering gives them a forlorn feeling. Other times they feel uncanny, and not to be trusted.

The sound effects in Blade Runner 2049 build on what we heard in the original film. Most of this is real world sound effects with only some unique sci-fi sounds added in for the vehicles or some of the technology used.

Both Blade Runner films build thier unique sonic world with the scores. The original was composed by Vangelis, and is a score that is immediately feels like part of city. Nothing else really sounds like Vangelis’ score, not even other Vangelis albums from the period. There is a darkness to the score that really comes through.

It is still raining in L.A. even in 2049.
For the sequel Villeneuve ended up dropping his regular composer Johann Johannsson and went with the duo of Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. These two composers do a fine job of using Vangelis’ style and tone and expanding it in a more modern way. They use many of the same vintage keyboards and synth sounds that Vangelis utilized, and they even carry over his Tears in Rain theme from the previous film. But what fans of the older score will notice is that the tone and atmosphere feels almost perfect.

I think he is attempting to use his Scanner powers!
There are two changes here. The first is that the score for 2049 lacks some of the blues/jazz influences that Vangelis utilized in key scenes. It doesn’t hurt the film, but it does make the listening experience of the album feel a bit too samey at times. I know, film score fan first world problems. What I’m not a fan of is the HORN OF DOOM effect that is used in the score. You get those long sustained portentous whole note blasts of sound in this score. We first heard this in Inception and it was ridiculous there (at least in my opinion), but by the time we hit 2017 this effect is so tired and stale. Nearly three quarters of all trailers use that ridiculous HORN OF DOOM effect. To hear it invade the Blade Runner world is a disappointment. The problem also becomes troubling in the sound mix of the film, because these blasts are so invasive they draw attention to themselves and pull the viewer out of the film.

Now to be clear this kind of thing appeared in the original score and mix to the earlier film. But, it seems like the new composers picked up on the single track that this did occur in and proceeded to sprinkle it a bit more in this film. I found it distracting, and there were a few moments where it seemed dreadfully out of place. Why the music was blasting away at a few characters walking toward K, I’ll never know. Just an odd bit of scoring. In some ways it may work better as a listening experience as part of a Blade Runner concept album.

I hear no body walks in L.A.
It is a bit tricky to talk too much about the acting without spoiling some of the plot revelations, so I’m going to keep this a bit more surface than I normally would. The entire cast does a really great job in their roles. Each character is a shade of grey in this film, and that keeps everything slightly off balance. It can be a tough role for an actor, but everyone steps up to the challenge. Gosling in particular has some very tricky balancing to pull off. His performance feels restrained, but always with something simmering underneath. When things get brought to a boil, the emotion feels earned because we’ve seen him holding it in for a good chunk of the film. It is one of those performances that may seem a bit dry when the movie starts, but it really seemed to evolve for me over the course of the film.

It is great to see Ford playing Deckard again, and he does a very good job. That bitterness that we saw in the previous film seems to be amplified by his life after the first film ended. Ford plays a key role, but don’t expect him to have a lot of screen time, just enough for it count. And he gets a great scene with Jered Leto (who balances mysterious and disturbing perfectly) that puts Deckard through the ringer.

She looks nice and helpful now... but just wait.
But my favorite performance in Blade Runner 2049 has to go to Sylvia Hoeks as Luv. She’s the femme fatale of this future noire, and man does she play it to the hilt. This is one replicant you don’t want to get on the wrong side of, and of course K finds himself on the wrong side of Luv. Without giving too much away, I will say that she does a good job of keeping you feeling off center. When she’s on the screen early in the film, you are uneasy. But when she starts showing up in the final half, you get tense – because you know she is willing and able to do just about anything. She makes for a great antagonist.

Now the challenging part, the writing and direction. It is really hard to cover these without any spoilers, but I really think that if you are interested in the film you should check it out first. I’ll cover what I like about these elements, but avoid diving into the themes and plot points too much.

Deckard has seen some Dangerous Days indeed.
Blade Runner 2049 was made by fans for fans. You can tell that everyone involved in the film wanted to make a sequel worthy of the previous film, one they hold in high esteem. It starts with the plot. You could have gone so many different ways with a follow up, and they could have taken a quick and easy action packed movie set in the world fashioned in the previous film. But instead, they decided to carry over the detective noire concept as well. In fact I would say the case at the heart of this film is more engaging than the one in the previous film (which was really an extended bounty hunt). In 2049 we get more investigation and personal links that act as clues. K must engage and understand each person he encounters if he is to solve this mystery. These plot points are intriguing and carry the viewer along with him. As K closes in on the truth it starts to impact his view on the world and how he sees himself. But like everything in this universe, the writers keep it all in shades of grey. Truth is a tricky thing, and just like the previous film, when the case closes some questions are still left unanswered, not just for K, but also for the viewer.

What is great about the script is that it really does work as a standalone film, with K acting as an excellent protagonist. But the writers know Blade Runner very well, and use the new story and characters to impact how we view the original film. It really does take themes from that film and shape and twist them in new ways. Not an easy task to pull off, but the script manages it. This film feels like it needs to exist, not like it was thrown together just to get another movie based on 80s nostalgia.

Replicant prostitutes... of the FUTURE!
Villeneuve handles the entire production with amazing skill. He gets great performances out of the cast. He keeps the production feeling true to the original film. But he also takes a very good script and makes it even more impressive in the way he lays out scenes and constructs the movie. I sound like a broken record here, but I’m really impressed with the way the new film, in all of its aspects, enhances the previous film and pushes things forward. It takes someone with an eye for details (and in the older film Ridley Scott’s obsessive fascination with production design make it even more challenging) to craft a film like this. It can be watched by casual fans and enjoyed. But if you are one of those more obsessive fans (which I admit, I’m one) you’ll find so many layers and levels in this film. It is a remarkable achievement.

"All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."
Is it a milestone in science fiction, or one of the greatest movies of the century? I wouldn’t go that far. In fact, I think this movie has a very specific audience. You have to have enjoyed the original film, and there are plenty of people out there who don’t like it at all. You have to be willing to watch a film that is slow paced and just as concerned about visual storytelling and letting the atmosphere soak in, as it is about moving the plot along. I’ve seen some people call it a super expensive art film, and yeah I think that is a good description. It is not a summer blockbuster. I’m frankly surprised the film got made the way it was. But I’m very happy that it was. I can heartily recommend seeing it (and on a big screen to soak in that atmosphere), but only if you meet those caveats. Blade Runner 2049 is a journey well worth taking and revisiting.

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I warned you. Don't get on the wrong side of Luv.


  1. Yeah, I'd probably describe it as a SF art film. I've seen many post and YT videos that have been posted addressing many of the speculations that the film posits, and trying to address answers to some of those questions. I had questions too as well. But the more I read and heard those type things, and the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that the film was made with that built-in.

    It ask more questions than it answers--much like the original movie. Some have ask: Who put Anna in the bubble/ jail enclosure? Who buried the bones found in the desert? Why did Deckard lie about Rachael's eye color? How did Deckard stay hidden all those years, and so on. Kuddos to it for that reason.

    1. Yeah there are lots of elements to dig into with this film. I agree with you that this was done on purpose. I think the director really tried to mirror the first film in so many ways, and that is certainly one of them. What helps this approach is the depth in the design and thought that went into scene set up and costumes and everything. You can just dig into all these details, because they took the time to flesh those details out. The more I think about this movie, that more impressed I am by it.

  2. Sylvia Hoeks' Luv is indeed an effective villain. I like the irony that she herself violates her protocols -- blatantly when confronting Joshi -- apparently because she enjoys it.

    When Philip K Dick was writing the notion that population would drop seemed wildly improbable. Only in advanced countries have birthrates in fact dropped below replacement level, but they have done so at least there. Maybe the trend will go global after all someday -- though not by 2049 I'd wager.

    1. Yeah that scene with Luv and Joshi was intense. Both actresses really pulled it off. Is Luv behaving more human than the human? If so, she may be living up to that protocol. :)

      Yeah it is an interesting approach. But I think Dick was counting on another world war or some kind of nuclear devastation. I haven't read enough of his work to be honest. I did read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" but it was so different from what I was expecting (based on the film) that it really threw me off. Need to give it a reread to really see how I feel about it. His style wasn't working for me either, but I hear that is something that lots of folks struggle with.

    2. True, many of PKD’s stories do involve landscapes of post-war rubble and “slag” (a favorite word of his) and things like leftover Terminator-style robots. While he was imaginative, his prose is indeed as euphonious as a dropped drawer of tableware, probably because he was rushing something out for next paycheck.

  3. The film definitely warrants multiple viewings. I plan on going again. Villeneuve's films keep getting better in my opinion. I believe his next project will be Dune and I think he would be the perfect director for it.

    1. I've only seen a couple of his films, but the ones I've seen I really appreciated. Hard to say that I enjoyed them. He obviously liked dark material. The Lynch fan in me really liked "Enemy". And I just haven't gotten around to seeing "Arrival" yet. It is in my queue.

      I will say that after seeing his approach to "Blade Runner" I'm actually pretty excited about his take on "Dune". There is a book that requires care and dedication to really pull off. If he is allowed to take that same type of care with "Dune" as he did here, we may actually be in store for a full fledged sci-fi masterpiece. Looking forward to it.