Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Thirty five years. Thirty five years of rumours and false starts and denials and hints and maybes and maybe nots. Thirty five years. I think it would be darn near impossible to talk about Blade Runner 2049 without talking about the past thirty five years, without mentioning Blade Runner. Without mentioning the seven cuts of Blade Runner.
Conversations around the science fiction films of 1982 tend towards "Remember The Thing? It's cool." Or "Remember when Captain Kirk did that thing? It was cool." Or "E.T. is great fun, eh." You get the idea. People tend to have fond memories and share those fond memories or turn others onto these films so they too can have the fond memories of Kirk screaming "KHAAAAAAAN!!!!" or E.T. phoning home or Conan and the lamentations of the women or the ending of The Thing. Damn. The end of The Thing. Shivers. Anyway. The conversations surrounding Blade Runner have rarely been so… civil. For the most part, folks that love film tend to be a bit opinionated and they also tend to love the hell out of Blade Runner. The first question among film geeks is usually "which version?" And if anyone professes any sort of affection for the narrated theatrical cut, well, they are heathens, infidels, heretics and should be mocked until they feel bad and question their taste and intelligence. And that is only the first argument. Discussions over the past thirty five years have spanned not just the obvious, the nature of Deckard, but also what makes us human; our dependence on technology and what it does to our souls; the ecology of the film; the fashion; the nature of unicorns, origami and otherwise; glowing umbrella handles; the misogyny of the hero versus the humanity of the villain. Blade Runner was a glimpse into a fully realized universe, a peek through a window blind, that left far more questions than it answered.
Is Blade Runner's position on the mantle piece of our collective pop culture consciousness due to its refusal to answer any question satisfyingly but also, to never give the same answer twice? In other words, is it the philosophic meanderings that keeps us returning to Blade Runner? Or is it the peerless production design and fully realized world building? Is it the 1940s aesthetic of the costumes? The deliberately slow pacing? Or maybe it's all the shots of eyeballs and Harrison Ford staring through windshields? Seriously, the film is kinda full of eyeballs and Harrison Ford staring through windshields. Anyway, what all this meandering and blabbering on and on comes down to is this - unlike, say Star Wars which introduces generation after generation to Fun with a capital F, Blade Runner sticks with us despite of its lack of Fun, more for the questions it offers than the feeling of nostalgia. Blade Runner is a jig saw puzzle with no edges, no corners. Hell, the director of the film spent twenty five years thinking about it before he got to a final cut.
And that's a lot of words about Blade Runner. And a lot of procrastination as I figure out how to talk about Blade Runner 2049 without giving anything away. So much of Blade Runner 2049 is a surprise, is a beautiful gift. What can I say about the plot? It's set thirty years after Blade Runner. And Ryan Gosling is in it. Other than that, I'm going to avoid the particulars of the film. I have to. I want you, dear reader, to go into the theatre as empty of expectation and knowledge of the plot as I was.
What I can say is this - every single moment of Blade Runner 2049 is just about perfection. It is, honestly and truly and without hyperbole, a masterpiece, a beautiful and haunting and troubling work of art. Every frame is art. Every sound is art. Every line of dialogue, every plot thread, every performance, seriously everything about Blade Runner 2049 is perfection. In a year like this one, a year with Split and Get Out and Logan and Wonder Woman and Dunkirk and War for the Planet of the Apes and Baby Driver and Personal Shopper and Logan Lucky and John Wick 2 and a few films that I haven't had a chance to see yet, in a year with this many high points, that the high water mark of the year is still being set this late… It's a hell of a time for fans of film. Not only were these all great films, but some of them are the best of the decade, the best of this young century. And Blade Runner 2049 might be among the toppermost of the uppermost when the dust settles and we look back on this insane time.
The score, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is more than a beautiful and slightly discordant update to Vangelis' score of the original film. Shades of the original themes hide under its pulses and rhythms, it enters your consciousness at the most unexpected of times. The hints of the old themes work to give the audience something to hold onto in this familiar and yet unfamiliar place we are visiting. Also, the score feels more like a living thing. The film feeds the music, the music in turn feeds the film. It really is a beautiful and yet troubling piece of art, like the film it accompanies.
And let us continue down this path of trying to talk about a film without, you know, talking about the film. Roger Deakins continues his march through history as the greatest cinematographer of maybe ever. Thirteen times he has been nominated for an Oscar, thirteen times. I think fourteen will be the charm. The production design and art direction continues what was started thirty five years ago, the crowded and vibrant advertising competing against the urban sprawl and the unique and unsettling spaces. But only Mr. Deakins could make it look this real, only Mr. Deakins could make a science fiction film that will sit comfortably beside a painting by Johannes Vermeer. He was already the master of naturalism. Blade Runner 2049 may lead to his coronation as its king.
Every performance in Blade Runner 2049 is near perfection, with layers to unravel. Ryan Gosling, the Canadian Baby Goose himself, is a revelation of stillness and restraint and, paradoxically, energy. Jared Leto is subtle and brings his own to a part that was originally written for David Bowie. Dave Bautista is a treasure and should be cast in every film from here on. But, the women in this film, they are where the film's heart really beats. Mackenzie Davis, Sylvia Hoeks, Ana de Armas, and Robin Wright all shine, all bring light and darkness and charm and depth and mystery to characters that, in a lesser film would be archetypes: the girlfriend, the prostitute, the boss, the villain, the mother, the daughter, Mary and the Whore, the saint and the sinner. We could also get into a whole thing here about the misogyny of the two films, and how maybe the misogyny represents a symptom of a dying planet, but I won't. Ask me about it sometime and I'll bore you to tears with my ideas. But I won't get into it here.
With Prisoners, with Sicario, with Arrival, and now with Blade Runner 2049, Trois Rivieres' Denis Villeneuve has established himself as among the greatest filmmakers of his generation, maybe of ever. He has a singular eye, a singular way of tackling a project and orchestrating something artful but still entertaining, something thoughtful but will still sell popcorn, something difficult but somehow accessible. Mr. Villeneuve and the team he has brought together have made something special, something that, I feel, will still be talked about and argued about thirty five years from now.
I can't wait to see what he has next for us.