First Impressions: “Blade Runner 2049” (Film)

Although I originally hadn’t planned to see “Blade Runner 2049” at the cinema, I had a sudden spontaneous moment of inspiration yesterday and decided to see it.

But, since I’ve only seen it once, this won’t be a full review. No doubt, after I’ve rewatched it at least once more when it comes out on DVD, I’ll have formed a suitably detailed opinion about and understanding of the film to be able to review it fully (although I’m not sure when I’ll post said review). But, I wanted to write about it now too.

So, this is a long, rambling “first impressions” article – based on just one viewing of the film. I’m still forming my opinions about the film, so this article will also help me with this too. It might also explain why this article is such a long ramble as well. This article will also contain a lot of comparisons between this film and the original “Blade Runner”.

“Blade Runner 2049” is a different film to the original “Blade Runner” in many ways. I’m still not entirely sure if it’s as good, better or worse. Although many of my comparisons here will sound negative, this is only because they’re the easiest comparisons to notice. But, even though some parts of this article may sound cynical, “Blade Runner 2049” is a very good film. But it is also a sequel to a perfect film.

This article will contain SPOILERS, but I’ll mostly try to avoid major ones.

Firstly, the story of “Blade Runner 2049” is really good. It’s deep, compelling and confident enough to move at a pace that feels right.

Yes, there are a few elements of the story that I don’t fully understand (I’ve only seen the film once, after all) but it keeps the complexity, humanity and depth of the first “Blade Runner” film. The film’s story also has several plot threads that are left intriguingly ambiguous too, such as a group of replicant rebels that the main character encounters at one point.

Like the original film, this sequel raises more questions than it answers. Interestingly, the film’s conclusion focuses entirely on a powerful moment of human drama, with the after-effects of both this moment and the greater significance of the film’s events left unshown – kind of like in the director’s cut of the original “Blade Runner”. So, it’s good to see that the film doesn’t spell literally everything out, and still leaves a lot to the imagination.

This film is actually a lot slower-paced than the original “Blade Runner”. Although there are some frenetic moments, most of the film has a surprisingly slow and contemplative tone to it. But, even though the film feels longer than it’s gargantuan 163 minute running time, this actually works in the film’s favour, since it almost feels like a TV mini series.

There are lots of lingering close-ups, silent moments and slow conversations. Whilst this is in keeping with the original “Blade Runner”, that film tended to use these kinds of moments slightly more sparingly in order to give each one a greater level of dramatic significance. By contrast, the cumulative effect of all of the many “slow” moments in “Blade Runner 2049” is to give the film a more intimate, artistic and human tone. This also makes the film feel more modern too.

The atmosphere of the film is very different to that of the original “Blade Runner” too. Although I still can’t think of a way to articulate this fully, it feels very different in many ways.

One example of this is how the city in “Blade Runner 2049” feels like a much sleazier and more vicious place (eg: nude holograms, high street brothels, anti-replicant graffiti, sweatshops, utilitarian architecture etc..) than the coldly indifferent, but warmly old, city in the original “Blade Runner”.

One interesting thing about the film is that the location design feels a lot more spartan than the intricately cluttered locations of the original “Blade Runner”. Although it is really awesome that this film reveals a lot more of the “world” of Blade Runner, it feels like all of this extra breadth sometimes comes at the expense of depth. The smaller number of locations in the original “Blade Runner” (due to the budget limitations) left a lot to the imagination and allowed for a much more focused aesthetic and atmosphere.

The set design in this film often feels a lot more spartan, post-apocalyptic and utilitarian when compared to the complex aesthetic of the original film.

Yes, there are still beautifully bleak cyberpunk cityscapes (including the Tyrell building 🙂 ), a kipple-filled “old future”-style casino (where Deckard now lives), some 1960s/70s style brutalist architecture and some interesting use of orange mist. But, on the whole, the film feels like a more minimalist “Blade Runner”, grounded more in post-apocalyptic realism than in awe-inspiring visions of the future.

A good example of this is Officer K’s apartment. Although the kitchen looks a little bit like the kitchen from Deckard’s apartment (and there are a few wall tiles that are similar to Deckard’s apartment), it is a rather stark, cramped and featureless apartment.

The bare walls are a cold shade of grey/blue, and the room feels cramped rather than cosy. Again, this might reflect the fact that Officer K is clearly a replicant. A fact emphasised by the fact that the only company he has in his apartment is a hologram.

But, saying all of this, the film’s stark location designs also serve as something of a blank canvas that places a much greater degree of emphasis on the characters and the story than on the world of the film. So, I can understand this creative decision – and, from this perspective, it works fairly well. This film is a lot more story-focused than the original “Blade Runner” was.

“Blade Runner 2049″‘s depictions of violence are both in keeping with and different from the original “Blade Runner”. One of the central themes of the original “Blade Runner” is that violence is almost always presented as slow, painful and ugly. It is meant to be shocking and aversive, rather than slick or thrilling. Whilst “Blade Runner 2049” stays true to this philosophy in many scenes, the violence in the film sometimes has a cruel quickness to it that sometimes feels a little bit too slick (but, other times, brilliantly emphasises the cruelty of certain characters).

Surprisingly, although I’ve been comparing this film to the original quite a lot, there are some interesting connections between the two films.

Deckard (who probably isn’t a replicant) actually makes a few appearances later in the film. However, the events between the first film and the sequel have turned him into a grumpy, bitter, paranoid old man who seems like a tragic shadow of his former self.

Likewise, the scene with Deckard, Wallace and a clone of Rachel is unsettling and shocking – but the dramatic value of this scene is left somewhat understated.

But, on a lighter note, the scene when Officer K visits Gaff in an old folks’ home is a pretty cool scene (with Gaff even making an origami sheep, perhaps as a reference to “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep”). Plus, one central object in this film is a small wooden horse that Officer K finds – which is a rather interesting parallel to the unicorn from the original “Blade Runner”.

Officer K is a really interesting protagonist. He’s a replicant Blade Runner, who knows that he is a replicant. This has a huge effect on the style, tone and narrative of the film. Although the film briefly shows him encountering anti-replicant bigotry during a few early scenes, his replicant nature is often a much more subtle and understated part of the film.

As a character, he’s also shown to be something of a blank slate too – often being something of a nice guy who is also brooding and tough. His curiosity, artificial memories and quest for self-understanding is also one of the main driving forces of the film.

The film’s main villain, Niander Wallace, really doesn’t get enough screen time. Yes, he’s meant to be an evil version of Eldon Tyrell, but he only appears in a couple of scenes – which kind of makes him seem a bit more like a cartoonish villain. An evil hipster with a god complex, a sadistic personality and a love of slavery. Yes, there’s something to be said for leaving his character slightly more mysterious. But it is interesting how he stands in contrast to the more paternalistic, but seemingly benevolent, character of Eldon Tyrell.

The film’s police chief is both similar and different to Bryant from the original film. Although she’s a lot more professional than Bryant, there’s a paranoid bleakness to her character which fits in really well with the atmosphere of the film. She mostly treats Officer K as an equal, even helping him escape from scrutiny at one point. But, she’s also something of a complex character since, during one drunken conversation, she almost seems to view Officer K as a novelty or a machine when asking about his memories.

A more interesting parallel between the old and the new film is how the film’s artificial memory designer seems to be a lot like J.F. Sebastian. The memory designer is ridiculously talented but, due to an auto-immune disease, she cannot leave Earth and also has to live in a futuristic glass bubble that is reminscent of the holodeck from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. As a character, she’s really interesting (and I’d love to talk about her more), but she really doesn’t get enough screen time.

As you would expect, the film has a lot of rather interesting themes and motifs that can’t be fully deciphered on a first viewing. For example, there’s probably some significance to the fact that one character is called Joi and another is called Luv.

Joi is shown to be a companion hologram who is designed to please her owner (and she goes from being a 1950s-style housewife who makes holographic food for Officer K near the beginning of the film to being the kind of brave co-investigator/companion that Officer K needs during later parts of the film).

Luv is shown to be a coldly cruel and sociopathic replicant who seems to be completely devoid of all love or emotion (other than perhaps anger or fanatical loyalty to Wallace). On a side note, she’s also something of an “evil detective” character, who contrasts perfectly with Officer K in this regard.

There are lots of interesting comparisons to make between Joi and Luv, but one is that they both represent opposite extremes of the concept of obedience (which links in to the themes of slavery, exploitation etc.. in the film). Joi is willing to risk her life for Officer K, and Luv is willing to kill if it furthers Wallace’s objectives.

There’s probably a lot more parallels and thematic stuff going on in this film but, again, I’ve only seen the film once. Hence the limited number of examples here.

Musically, the film is interesting – containing things as diverse as loud dramatic music, Elvis music and even a rather dramatic use of the “tears in rain” music from the original film. However, although the music fits the film reasonably well, it doesn’t quite have the consistency of Vangelis’ soundtrack to the original “Blade Runner”.

All in all, I’m still forming my opinions about this film. It’s a very good film. It’s a work of art. But it is also very different to the original “Blade Runner” in terms of characters, themes, atmosphere, visual design, pacing etc.. too.

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6 comments on “First Impressions: “Blade Runner 2049” (Film)

  1. babbitman says:

    I’m glad you went to see it! I know you’ve seen them but if other readers want more background to the setting of 2049, check out the mini-prequels which also contain a rather good first look at Wallace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMP1YpQSGhQ
    I loved 2049, probably because it has lots of depth to the characters and the plot, as well as lifting some of the main themes from the original, the main ones being “what is real?” and “should we value something that isn’t real?”
    Neither the original nor the new film were really my wife’s cup of tea as she likes to be able to engage emotionally with characters and that can be quite hard when they are supposed to be artificial or (as in the Final Cut of the original) a hard-boiled film noir investigator with the ‘internal dialogue’ removed. She also found 2049 to be really slow. So if you weren’t a fan of the original you may find the new film to be a bit tedious. But I thought it was like watching a glorious novel and savoured every second.
    The relationship between K and Joi is really good. Both of them are artificial but show warmth and love to each other. Again, as in the original, despite ‘lack of empathy’ being the reason to retire rogue replicants, none of the real humans show any real empathy.
    Great ending and feels kind of set up for a potential sequel, which would be another big ask and would have two great films to live up to, not just one!

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Thanks 🙂 Yeah, I forgot to mention the mini films in the article, although they don’t really give that much more info (other than a little bit of extra backstory) about Wallace’s character. My favourite short film has to be the anime one (Black Out 2022) though – seriously, I’m still amazed that the director of Cowboy Bebop got to make a “Blade Runner” anime 🙂

      But, yeah, the “Blade Runner” films can be something of an acquired taste, I guess. The slower pace in the new film surprised me a little though, I mean even the original film seems fast-paced by comparison LOL! But, in a world where all of the popular films are superhero movies etc… an intelligent, slow-paced movie is something of a refreshing novelty. Plus, yeah, the slowness kind of gives the film the relaxing feeling of reading a novel too.

      Yeah, I forgot to mention that too. Firstly, then there’s the slightly eerie scene where K meets the giant holographic Joi advert after Joi’s death, and realises that she isn’t really the same – which also helps to imply that the original Joi actually had a unique consciousness and emotions. Then there’s also the scene where Joi deliberately puts her life at risk (by being transferred to a portable device) so that she can help out K [edit: Which doesn’t seem like something she would have been programmed to do, if she was just a computer program].

      I’d agree about the ending too. The decision to focus on a small-scale moment rather than all of the large stuff going on in the background was a really interesting choice. But, yeah, it does certainly feel like a sequel is being set up – although, from what I’ve read online, this may possibly not happen due to the relatively low American box office for the film during it’s opening weekend.

  2. Two sides to a story says:

    One of the more interesting and cogent reviews I’ve read.

  3. Spencer Clayton says:

    One of the BIGGEST flaws if one stops to think about it, and it also kinda refutes the idea that we don’t know if Deckard is a Replicant – of course he is – is the fight between K and Deckard. Rewind to the original Blade Runner where the what we think is very “human” Deckard first gets roughed up pretty good by Zora, then Leon just about kills him with a couple of swift hits, and then of course the most awesome chase scene between Roy and Deckard. Now we fast forward to when K barely can take on the big Nexsus 6 at the protein farm, so clearly K is pretty strong. But when he takes on Deckard, it’s a very even match to the point where Deckard says something like, “We could do this all day or we could just have a drink.” What happened to the very human-like Deckard, that even though he’s a Replicant, he certainly didn’t have those uber powers in the first movie!! I reflect on this every time I’m doing chin ups, thinking of how Deckard was hanging at the very end only to be pulled up by Roy. Roy breaks Deckard’s fingers, and he screams in pain when he wraps a towel around them, yet Roy drives a nail through his hand and seems no worse for the wear.

    Love both movies equally well, but this one Cinematic flaw spoils it for me when I think back. Of course to get box office momentum, you gotta have a thrilling face-off, but abandoning the very human traits of Deckard in the first movie for something more rough and tough just wasn’t a good call, in my opinion.

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen anyone else have similar thoughts or comments. Spread the word – I’d love hear what others think.

    – Spec’er…

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Thanks for mentioning this 🙂 I can’t believe that I didn’t notice it, especially given how well-planned a lot of the fight scenes in the original “Blade Runner” are (for example, in many of the fight scenes, only one person has a gun at any one time – which adds a suspenseful imbalance to these scenes). I’m also surprised that I didn’t notice the thing about Deckard feeling pain whilst Roy doesn’t either.

      Still, we might be reading too much into it, since almost-invincible protagonists seem to be something of an annoying modern trend. I mean, compare the first and fifth “Die Hard” films. In the first film, McClane accidentally injures his foot, which makes him seem vulnerable and adds suspense and tension to the film. Whereas, in the fifth film, he’s pretty much a superhero who can crouch next to explosions and fall through several windows and floors with barely a scratch.

      As for Deckard’s human traits, I found the idea that he’s turned into a bitter and paranoid old man due to all of the stuff that has happened between the two films to be a really brilliant piece of character development.

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