1982s Blade Runner, although not a commercial, box office hit, found it’s footing on home release and has since been one of the most dissected and studied Sci-Fi films of all time. The cult classic, now regarded as one of Ridley Scott’s finest films was nothing short of a visual masterpiece. Scott’s interpretation of how the future would look more than 30 years ago is stunning and probably one of the closest predictions of how the modern world would pan out. However, for me, the film never offered much more than an incredible visual experience. Whilst aware of the existential themes of the film, I was never blown aware and unlike others who love the film and I never thought back on the film after I watched it. Though overall an enjoyable watch, I found myself wanting more and always feel like I have missed something that those who love the film were clearly aware of. Now with 2049 hitting theatres after a 35 year hiatus in the franchise, I once again find myself the anomaly amongst the stellar reviews.
First of all, once again from a visual standpoint this film is faultless. Denis Villeneuve once again has proven himself as one of the finest discernible directors working today. One detail that Villeneuve executed perfectly was the advancement of the world that Ridley Scott created. It is clear that close attention was paid in order to further the technology predicted by Scott in 1982, instead of just integrating the world we have today into the film. On top of this the visual effects are exceptional with not a single frame looking computer generated. Although the film had the help of a budget exceeding $150m, its use of practical effects as a preference and only incorporating CGI when necessary provide a much more visceral experience.
Amongst the technical achievements of Blade Runner 2049 is its score. Provided by Hans Zimmer, it is distinctly reminiscent of his work on Interstellar, which earned him an Oscar nomination back in 2015. The music, although not everpresent, made itself known when it was there, jumping out of the speakers adding an incredible sense of wonder to every scene in which it was used. The score was also accompanied by excellent performances across the board. Ryan Gosling was the clear standout in this film but it is Harrison Ford who turns in by far his best performance in recent years. Jared Leto is surprisingly tolerable in this film and he manages not to be distracting or over the top for the scenes in which he is sparingly used.
However, as stated earlier on, this film is not without its negatives. At 2 hours and 43 minutes the film is a slog. And similar to my thoughts on Arrival (Denis Villenueve’s most recent film), the pacing of some scenes was poor, bringing the film to a halt multiple times. There were countless lingering shots, all just a second or two too long but cumulatively probably contributed to about 20 minutes of the already bloated runtime. Similar to a gripe I have with Sam Mendes’ style of filmmaking, Villeneuve uses a multitude of establishing shots to introduce to nearly every scene, which can grate on you when it is clear that the film is in some need of revitalisation. Maybe this is an issue with the editing as well, but had the film been less ruthless with its obtuse pacing a good chunk of the runtime could have been shaved off. Though this may take away slightly from the visual kudos this film is trying to achieve, it would have certainly made it more accessible to more casual cinemagoers.
It seems though that the film’s pacing is a universal concern for even the biggest fans of this film. Another issue i took with the film was it’s missed opportunity to attach some emotion into what turned out to be quite a grey film. Certainly the story line with Ryan Gosling’s ‘K’ was one that could have tugged on the heartstrings had it been approached differently. The arc he has is one that would naturally provoke a reaction from the audience, and it did, but it lacked that overall punch to it, that the film could have really benefitted from. Also, it sets itself up as a detective story, having ‘K’ stumble onto a thread that unravels gradually throughout the film. While mainly a metaphor for his own self discovery, the revelation at the end is somewhat predictable and a bit of a let down. Considering it took 160 minutes to reach the finale, I expected that there would be a bit more I could take from it.
Overall, though, I would say that any fan of the original Blade Runner will be delighted with what this film has to offer. It is a true sequel that develops on the original, maintaining the same archetypes and tone and thankfully doesn’t suffer from the studio trying to build a franchise around this property. I would go as far to say that it is better than the original too, with the investigative nature of the story providing for a more enticing story than the original. However, if you did find 1982s Blade Runner to be a bit dour and boring at times, I personally wouldn’t recommend this film. Denis Villeneuve, whilst putting his own stamp on it, has followed the same parameters of storytelling that Ridley Scott opted for 35 years ago. It is at times confusing and doesn’t pander to the audience as most Hollywood films these days do. Although this will be a positive for some people, an approach where the audience has to do a lot of work to get something from the film definitely takes away from the actual experience of watching it. And what many critics will call masterful storytelling, I will say that more casual film fan would just use the word ‘pretentious’.
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