Blade Runner 2049 and the first film

I have a good memory.

The first Blade Runner (1982 ) was not a big success, at least not at first.  I remember the review in the Toronto Star by Ron Base. He didn’t like it.  At one point (perhaps speaking of the Oscars?) he even spoke of “boring old Blade Runner”.  Heresy in my view!  It caught on later, via video, and with subsequent versions.  But at the time, I recall being furious that it lost out in the art direction category, where brilliant foresight & anticipation of the future  ought to be rewarded by rights.

Nope. Gandhi won for art direction. E.T. won for best visual effects.  I can understand that second one at least.

I was just fine with the voice-over version, where Harrison Ford’s character seemed to be a sci-fi version of Philip Marlowe from a Chandler novel.  But in 1982 people weren’t ready to deify Harrison Ford, indeed he was still viewed mostly as a pretty boy whereas his performance in the new film might get some attention from the Academy as best supporting actor.  He’s okay, as I’m not sure he really deserves it this time, whereas I would have been really happy to see him recognized for his work in 42 as Branch Rickey.   Oh well.

The decision to make a sequel –Blade Runner 2049–is a curious one, coming so long after the original. The first film was more of a cult hit rather than a commercial success.  And considering the huge cost of this new film, I wanted to make sure to see it before it vanishes from the cinema, a film that needs to be seen on the big screen.

There’s a great deal of violence in the new film, but come to think of it, that’s also true of the old film.  There was a great deal of what felt like gratuitous and even pornographic violence, particularly the way two of the women in the old film died.   Unfortunately the spectacular outbursts of aggression in the new film are every bit as bad as in the first one.

The first film was not short (roughly two hours), but this one feels really long (closer to three hours!). I can’t deny that there were times I was hoping it would end. That length seriously compromises the number of showings per night, making it harder to make money.  There was one moment when I considered walking out, for one of the most pointless homicides I have ever seen onscreen.  It made no sense except as part of the bloody spectacle. But we stayed, and I was glad I did.

The futurism of the first film was one of the first things to grab me, a sense of authenticity in its window on a possible future world.  At times the new film seems intent on replicating things we saw in the first film such as the streetscape, the food vendors and the pleasure units.  Maybe I need to see the film again, but I didn’t have the same sense of accuracy in their ability to predict a future world.  They were perhaps feeling a bit constrained, so intent on pleasing anal fans (like me??? gulp) that of course they had to give us a look at a much older Edward James Olmos’ character, and –as expected– he has his trademark origami.

Some of Vangelis’ music from the first film is replicated, perhaps as a leit-motiv we can recognize. The theme that I’m thinking of first appears early in the first film when we get a look at a big towering building that could be an icon for the bravest and most positive view of our future: a future that seems to have vanished.

The theme seems to be a proud motto proclaiming their faith in science & technology.  In the new film—conceived in a time when the future is a much scarier place than it was in 1982—the theme becomes much more wistful, like a fragment of a remembered dream upon waking.  But we do hear it.

 

That first film did give us glimpses of something more dystopian, but with every passing year, as our world gets more and more like those dark and creepy images, its prophecy seems more and more astute.  The second film has its moments but still stops far short of the obvious trajectories one can see on the news every day, whether in the realms of ecology & nature, in policing and weaponry, or in surveillance and authoritarianism.  Sadly, the realities of the past year seem to be outstripping this film, as a template for horror.

Director Denis Villeneuve certainly does a good job keeping things moving, in a very long movie. All of the characters seem genuine, and a couple are totally detestable; I will let you discover that for yourself.

I expect that there will be at least one more film after this one, considering that the story seems like the first chapter of a much longer epic.  But then again I’ve also heard that they aren’t making nearly the $$ they hoped to make (on a colossal investment after all), which might signal the end of the franchise, at least for the time being.

There are some wonderfully poignant moments. I won’t spoil it except to suggest that if you’ve seen the first film, you will be reminded of a great deal this time around.  It’s not unlike Episode 7 of Star Wars, that mostly gives us a story we’ve seen before, with only a few twists.  This time, too, we’re seeing characters from long ago, only older; this time it’s Rick Deckard rather than Han Solo, but we’re again watching Ford’s weathered face reacting to what’s happening around him.  Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright offer great performances.

I found the sound levels in the theatre a bit too high, such that whenever anything sudden happened, one would jump.  I look forward to seeing it in some video medium, when I don’t have to endure such a ridiculously loud soundtrack.

Those who like such things, will probably love the film and should try to see it before it leaves the big screen (my rationale in going tonight).

And those who don’t know the older film, or who don’t enjoy this sort of film (like the person sitting beside me often with her eyes closed)? Steer clear.

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