Full Review: “Blade Runner 2049” (Film)

Well, although I wrote a rambling, in-depth “first impressions” article about “Blade Runner 2049” after seeing it at the cinema last October, I’ve now got a DVD copy of it (as something of a belated Christmas present). So, as promised in the “first impressions” article, here’s a full review. However, it’s more of a general review than an in-depth essay.

Annoyingly, although a special edition of the DVD was apparently available for pre-order on Amazon before Christmas, this planned special edition DVD release was cancelled before the film’s home video release.

Still, the “standard” DVD edition of the film isn’t exactly a ‘bare bones’ release, since it also contains all three short prequel films and a few short featurettes about the “world” of the show. Even so, it would have been nice if they’d released the special edition DVD they’d planned to release.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Blade Runner 2049”. This review will contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

“Blade Runner 2049” is the 2017 sequel to the 1982 cyberpunk masterpiece “Blade Runner“.

Set thirty years after the events of that film, this film focuses on Officer K – a replicant (a human-like clone/android) police officer in a futuristic version of Los Angeles who has been tasked with locating and killing rogue replicants who went underground after a terrorist attack in 2022 wiped all records of their existence.

Needless to say, this isn’t going to be a “cosy” detective mystery…

After he tracks one of these replicants (Sapper Morton) to a protein farm outside the city, they begin a fight to the death. However, once Officer K gets the upper hand, Morton makes a cryptic remark about how Officer K is only comfortable with doing humanity’s dirty work because he has never witnessed a miracle.

Puzzled, Officer K shoots Morton before returning to his car to send a video report to police headquarters. Yet, Morton’s comment still lingers in his mind. And, after noticing a flower beside a nearby tree, he dispatches a drone to scan underneath the tree. To his surprise, a chest has been buried there. The chest contains a skeleton. But, upon further examination, it turns out that this is no ordinary skeleton…..

Plus, it raises the intriguing prospect of a “CSI: Blade Runner” spin-off too…

One of the first things that I will say about “Blade Runner 2049” is that it is one of the best modern films that I’ve seen. It’s intelligent, visually complex, sensibly paced, it respects the audience’s intelligence and it is very well-written. However, after re-watching it, I found that I slightly prefer the original “Blade Runner” to the sequel. Even so, if you’re a fan of that film, then the sequel is well worth watching (if you haven’t seen it already).

In terms of the film’s story, it tells a reasonably complex (but direct) story which is thematically consistent with the original film and also resolves some of that film’s loose ends too. This film’s story will require you to pay attention, but it isn’t too confusing.

And, yes, it also contains a couple of literary references too. But, even if – like me- you haven’t read “Pale Fire”, then the film will still make sense.

Although the film tells a reasonably complete story with a satisfying emotional payoff, a few things are left unresolved for different reasons. The sub-plot about the replicant resistance is left slightly open, presumably in case there’s ever another sequel (although this unfortunately seems unlikely, given the box office for this film). And, of course, the question about whether Deckard is a replicant is, in keeping with tradition, left tantalisingly unresolved.

There’s also a really cool call-back to the origami unicorn from the original film, that is also a reference to Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” too 🙂

However, as brilliant as the film’s story is, it leans towards grand, large-scale drama. Although this isn’t an inherently bad thing, it means that the film lacks some of the atmosphere and vivid intensity of the much smaller-scale drama of the original “Blade Runner” film.

Seriously, all of the grand drama is really cool, but I prefer the small-scale storytelling of the original film.

In terms of the film’s pacing, I really liked it, but it is something of an acquired taste. In contrast to typical hyper-fast modern movies, this film tells it’s story in a slightly more contemplative and slower-paced way that is more like a well-written TV mini series or a good novel.

Personally, I feel that this helps to add depth and humanity to the film, whilst being in keeping with the fact that the film is an intelligent cyberpunk detective thriller movie. However, if you’re used to modern superhero movies etc.. you’ll probably find this film to be “too slow” or “boring” or whatever.

Yes, this film actually contains *gasp* dialogue, characterisation, atmosphere-setting scenes etc.. instead of just mindless fights and explosions.

In terms of characters, this film is reasonably good. Not only do we get to see a few familiar faces (eg: Deckard, Gaff, Rachel etc..), but the film’s new characters are fairly good too.

By making the main character (Officer K) a replicant, the film can explore the theme of what it is to be human. Although Officer K is presented as a fairly human character (who is treated like a second-class citizen by some humans), his replicant nature is noticeable through his slightly emotionless and mildly upbeat demeanour (this is different to the typical world-weary protagonists in the film noir genre). Yet, he is also often presented as a somewhat lonely figure, which is in keeping with the film noir genre.

Hmm… a table for one again, it seems.

Interestingly, he falls in love with a companion hologram called Joi. And this is where the film also explores what it means to be human. Although Joi displays something of a personality, it is implied that she has been programmed to please whoever has bought her. This is shown by the fact that she initially appears to be some kind of 1950s-style Stepford Wife character. But, as the story progresses, she becomes more like the kind of intelligent, courageous side-kick that Officer K needs during stressful/complex situations.

As the film progresses, Joi goes from this…

… to this. But, whether it is organic character development or merely programming is left up to the viewer to decide.

In addition to this, Deckard also makes a return too. However, the years have not been kind to him and he has turned into a grumpy, bitter old man. This character evolution fits in perfectly with the events between the two films and it really helps to emphasise how much time has passed between the films.

And, yes, this is how Deckard greets Officer K when they first meet.

The film’s villains (and, yes, there’s much less moral ambiguity in this film than in the original “Blade Runner” 😦) are something of a mixed bag. The main villain, Niander Wallace, is only seen during a couple of scenes and he comes across as a bit of a cartoonish sociopath character.

Villain? Moi?

However, his replicant henchwoman (Luv) is a slightly more interesting character. Although Luv is a merciless killer, she comes across as a more complex and unsettling character (than Wallace) due to her fanatical devotion to Wallace.

And, yes, it’s a bit strange that the villain’s side-kick is actually a better character than the main villain is.

This taps into one of the film’s themes, namely that of authority, devotion, servitude and slavery. Officer K has been manufactured to serve the LAPD (despite some cops despising him for being a replicant), yet he rebels against them… because he has been designed to investigate things. It is implied that he is paid for his work, but he is sometimes treated more like a machine than a person.

Likewise, there are a lot of parallels between Joi and Luv. Joi is designed to be devoted enough to die for Officer K, and Luv is designed to be devoted enough to Wallace to kill for him. Both characters show devotion taken to creepy extremes (in addition to emphasising the dystopian gender politics of the film’s dystopian world).

In addition to all of this, Wallace also gives a rather ominous speech in support of slavery. Yet, in a scene where he cruelly murders a “defective” prototype replicant, it is shown than even he is a slave to his own twisted sense of perfectionism. The only “free” character in this film is Deckard, who has lived most of his depressing life in hiding.

Ok, he’s been hiding in a swanky hotel, but still…

Yet, whilst the film covers many of the themes explored in the original “Blade Runner”, I didn’t really notice many more when I re-watched it. When you re-watch the original “Blade Runner”, you almost always notice something new (thematically, visually etc..). Yet, to my surprise, I didn’t really get this when I re-watched “Blade Runner 2049”. It was still as good as I remembered, but there didn’t really seem to be as many hidden depths to it as I had thought there might have been when I wrote my “first impressions” article.

In terms of set design and lighting, this film is really good. It contains a lot of the beautifully gloomy, neon-lit, dystopian cyberpunk locations that you would expect from a “Blade Runner” film, but it also has it’s own distinctive visual style too. Likewise, although the lighting occasionally includes the obligatory modern blue/orange colour scheme (like on the DVD cover), it also includes other colour schemes too.

Yes, there’s still a fair amount of classic “Blade Runner”-style stuff here.

But the film also has it’s own unique visual flourishes too.

However, it also takes a somewhat minimalist/realistic attitude towards set design sometimes.

For this most part, this change works well. However, just like how the grand sweeping drama of the film lacks some of the intimacy of the small-scale storytelling of the original film, the set design here is often missing one of the key components of the original “Blade Runner”. I am, of course, talking about visual complexity.

Yes, there are lots of sweeping cityscapes, grim wastelands and “realistic” interior locations – but the film often lacks the beautifully complex, chaotic messiness of the original film. In the original “Blade Runner”, you will always notice some new visual detail whenever you rewatch it because the set designs are so visually complex. On the other hand, this isn’t really the case with “Blade Runner 2049”. Even so, it is still one of the best-looking films made within the past decade or two.

All in all, this is a brilliant film which shows that good, intelligent, complex films can still be made these days. Yes, it isn’t quite as good as the original “Blade Runner”, but this is only because it is impossible to surpass perfection. But, taken on it’s own merits, this film is one of the best films that I’ve seen in quite a while.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

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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.

Mini Review: “Black Out 2022” [“Blade Runner 2049” Prequel] (Short Film)

Well, although I probably won’t see “Blade Runner 2049” until it comes out on DVD (since I’ll probably end up watching it at least five times, probably more…), one cool thing about it is that the director Dennis Villeneuve hired three other directors to make short prequel films, that were then officially made freely viewable on Youtube.

Although I’ve watched the other two films, I thought that I’d review the third one – “Black Out 2022” – mostly because it was directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the director of my favourite anime TV series (Cowboy Bebop). Yes, the director of “Cowboy Bebop” has made a “Blade Runner” anime! Words cannot describe how cool this fact alone is!

So, let’s take a look at “Black Out 2022”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS. Likewise, apologies about the low resolution of the screenshots in this review – I was so eager to watch the film that I lowered the resolution to 144p, so that buffering wouldn’t be an issue.

“Black Out 2022” is a 10-12 minute animated short that takes place in the year 2022. The Tyrell Corporation has released the Nexus 8 model, who have a normal human lifespan. The combination of this fact, and the shoddy privacy settings on the replicant database, lead to widespread anti-replicant riots where replicants are hunted down and lynched by angry mobs.

Whilst all of this is going on, a few replicants decide that the only way to stop it is to destroy the database via a terrorist attack on a computer facility using a fuel tanker.

Whilst this is going on, the military has noticed that one of their EMP missiles has been launched. However, one of the people in the control room is (to quote from one of K.W.Jeter’s Blade Runner novels) a “rep-symp”, having fallen in love with one of the replicants who is carrying out the attack on the facility.

Yes, this film features a replicant-sympathiser, like in K.W.Jeter’s sequel novels 🙂

After the resulting cataclysmic devastation to the city, replicant prohibition is enacted and the Tyrell Corporation never recovers. However, a text screen then explains that – several years later- the Wallace Corporation manage to repeal the ban on replicants.

One of the first things that I will say about “Black Out 2022” is… wow! Seeing the look and feel of such a familiar film as “Blade Runner” replicated in anime form is absolutely astonishing!

Yes!!! A million times, YES!!! 🙂

Even though I initially started drawing comparisons with the original “Ghost In The Shell” anime (itself inspired by “Blade Runner”), the short film’s aesthetics are quickly shown to be very much based on the original film.

Seriously, there are so many amazing visual references to the original film here – from the cityscape, to the projection room in the police station, to the noodle bar, to ESPER-like augmented reality glasses, to the Off-World blimp, to the Ennis House-style tiles on a building exterior, to the replicant database itself etc.. Likewise, Bryant and Gaff also make a cameo appearance too:

Oh my god! It’s Bryant and Gaff! 🙂

And the noodle bar from the original film shows up briefly too 🙂

And check out the Ennis House-style tiles in the background here too 🙂

In terms of the animation, it is absolutely superb. If you’ve seen the “Cowboy Bebop” movie, you’ll know that Watanabe is an expert when it comes to fluid, fast-paced action scenes and this film doesn’t disappoint here. There are some brilliantly cinematic martial arts scenes:

Such as this fight between one of the replicants and several hooligans.

One of the great things about animation is that you can do impressive things on a relatively small budget, and “Black Out 2022” takes full advantage of this fact.

The destruction of the city is shown in full, with spinners falling from the sky in a spectacular fashion and lots of melodramatic explosions.

Like this scene showing the Off-World blimp crashing into a video billboard.

Or this astonishingly cool explosion scene.

Plus, of course, there’s some cool acrobatics involving a spinner and there’s also a wide variety of different locations too (again, no need to build physical sets etc…).

In terms of the characters and the story, this short film really excels. The nameless replicants are, true to the original film, portrayed as deeply human characters who ponder the nature of their own existence (with one opining that replicants don’t go to heaven or hell – life is all they have).

One particularly striking scene involves an ex-military replicant having a war flashback (which is very reminscent of the “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust” graphic novels) where he discovers that both sides in an off-planet war are only using replicant troops, like they were “toy soldiers”.

Seriously, this scene reminded me a lot of the “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? – Dust To Dust” graphic novels 🙂

The story itself is really well-told too. Although the short film mostly revolves around one event, the background to this event is explored in a surprising amount of depth. Seriously, “Black Out 2022” crams more storytelling and characterisation into just 10-12 minutes than the average Hollywood film would manage in 30 minutes.

The only slight criticisms I have of this film (other than “why isn’t this a feature-length film?” or “why isn’t this a TV series?”) has to do with some of the voice-acting and dialogue. Basically, some of the voice acting has that corny “dubbed anime” sound to it, even though most of it is fairly good. Likewise, although the short film tells a complex story, a few lines of dialogue sound a little bit too simplistic.

In terms of music, this film sticks pretty closely to Vangelis’ excellent score for the original film… and it is a joy to listen to 🙂

All in all, this short film is brilliant. It’s an official “Blade Runner” anime from the director of “Cowboy Bebop”! And, yes, it is as cool as this description suggests! Not only does it manage to cram a lot of storytelling and characterisation into an absolutely tiny running time, but it is also visually and dramatically spectacular too. Best of all, it can be watched for free on Youtube too 🙂 Seriously, why aren’t you watching it right now?

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least five.