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BLADE RUNNER 2049: Even More Of A Slow Burner Than The First One

Now playing at multiplexes from here to the off-world colonies:

BLADE RUNNER 2049

(Dir. Denis Villeneuve, 2017)
Now, for a long time I didn’t think that there would actually be a sequel to BLADE RUNNER. But then, I didn’t think there’d be more episodes of Twin Peaks, more PLANET OF THE APES movies, or another GHOSTBUSTERS, or…well, you get the idea.

So, yeah, I should know better than to discount what the studios might still consider viable commercial properties. So here’s the long-awaited BLADE RUNNER 2049, coming 35 years after Ridley Scott’s original, but, wait, it’s actually more the follow-up to the DIRECTOR’s CUT that was released in 1992, or maybe it’s the sequel to the 2008 FINAL CUT.

There has been much debate as to which version of the first BLADE RUNNER is the definitive one (we can disregard the International Theatrical release, the US Broadcast version, and the Workprint), mainly because there’s an argument as to whether or not the protagonist, Rick Deckard (Harrison ford), is a replicant (a human-like robot, for those not in the know), and which version confirms this (or not).

Denis Villeneuve (PRISONERS, SICARIO, ARRIVAL), working from a screenplay by Hampton Fancer, who co-wrote the original with David Peoples, and co-wrote this one with Michael Green; posits a new LAPD Blade Runner named K played by Ryan Gosling, who’s trying to solve a mystery involving a box he found on a mission full of the bones of a replicate.

The film tells us right off that Gosling’s K is a replicant, who may be a little conflicted about having to retire his own people as we learn in an opening fight scene with Dave Bautista (Drax in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies) as a runaway replicant.

Through some detective work, with his boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) breathing down his neck, K discovers that the remains belong to a replicant named Rachel, who died in childbirth. That’s the same Rachel – the replicant played by Sean Young that Deckard fell for and left Los Angeles with for greener pastures at the end of the first one.

Meanwhile, we see K’s homelife where he interacts with his love interest, an electronically produced hologram named Joi played by the fetching Cuban actress Ana de Armas, who really breathes a lot of life into this project. At one point, Armas secures a prostitute (Mackenzie Davis) for K so that she can engage with a surreal threesome with him.

By this point, one is probably wondering ‘what about Deckard? Where’s he?’ Well, get comfy as BR 2049 is two hours and 43 minutes and it’s well over half the movie before it gets to Ford.

In the meantime, we meet Jared Leto as the sinister yet zen-like Niander Wallace, who’s the films equivalent to the original’s Dr. Tyrell as he took over the corporation from him; Sylvia Hoeks as Wallace’s killer servant Luv, Carla Juri as Dr. Ana Stelline, a designer of the implanted dreams in replicants’ minds, and Lennie Jame as Mister Cotton, who runs a child labor camp, and helps K find Deckard.

K is led to believe that he may be the son of Rachel and Deckard, as there’s a memory of a wooden horse that he previously thought was implanted, but the date carved in it is his birth-date which is the same date carved in the tree where Rachel was buried.

Ford’s Deckard finally gets his screen-time in the last third, and it’s the lovably gruff, grumbling, rough and tumble performance we’ve come to expect from the 75-year old icon. It’s a shame he couldn’t have entered the movie sooner.

When I was 12 and saw the original BLADE RUNNER – the 1982 theatrical release – I wasn’t a fan at first. I found it to be very slow, dreary, and I disliked Deckard’s drab demeanor (I was expecting something more along the lines of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, I guess), but with repeat viewings it really grew on me. The 1992 DIRECTOR’S CUT really won me over, and I also loved THE FINAL CUT, though I’d be hard pressed to list what were really the crucial differences.

Upon seeing the trailers for this sequel, I knew one thing – even if the film is a disappointment story-wise, it’s was going to look amazing. And, sure enough, it looks fantastic. Cinematographer Roger Deakins’ Oscar worthy visuals beautifully capture Dennis Gassner’s production design which expands on the definitively dystopian world of the original, adding the vast orange vistas of the deserts outside of LA, and the gorgeously lit lairs of Wallace’s opulent palace.

You’ll have plenty of time to luxuriate in those sets, as the film stretches out for long sequences, between what few action scenes there are, where K is flying or walking through them to get to his various destinations.

While the visuals expand on the look of Deckard and company’s world, the narrative doesn’t expand much on the idealogy of the world Phillip K. Dick created in his 1967 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” because Fancer and Green’s screenplay predominantly focuses on circling back on the events of the previous installment.

Also circling back is the score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch that jars throughout with otherworldly pulsing electronica that re-purposes the main themes of Vangelis’ soundtrack for the first one.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 has moments that are eye-poppingly immersive yet it also has moments that are dull as hell. 


To fully embrace the experience, it will definitely help to be a fan, or have at least seen the original. But it’s even more of a slow burner than the first one was. If you saw the original (or any version) and thought it was boring, then this one will bore you even more.

But Overall, Villeneuve’s take on the BLADE RUNNER is a fascinatingly flawed anti-epic that should delight the casual and the hardcore largely because it’ll give them something new to talk about.

However its received, I bet that decades from now, there’ll be a different version (BLADE RUNNER 2049: THE FINAL CUT perhaps?) that we’ll all probably prefer.


More later…

Don’t Diss On Matt Damon And Miss THE MARTIAN

Now playing at multiplexes from here to Acidalia Planitia:

THE MARTIAN (Dir. Ridley Scott, 2015)

Two years ago around this time we had Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY, last year there was Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR, and now there’s this year’s cerebral sci-fi fall release about astronauts struggling for survival in space, Ridley Scott’s THE MARTIAN, an adaptation of the 2011 bestseller by Andrew Weir that I never got around to reading. And with the news that they just found water on Mars, it couldn’t be more timely.


Set in the near future, the film stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, a NASA Astronaut who is left behind by mistake on Mars when the crew of the Ares 3 mission are forced to evacuate during a dangerous dust storm. In the chaos, Damon’s Watney is impaled by flying debris and sent flying off into the distance, leaving his team members to believe that he’s dead.

After Watney regains consciousness and gets back to his house base module in the middle of a large northern basin on Mars called Acidalia Planitia (a real area on the planet) he sizes up the situation via a direct-to-camera video log: “I have no way to contact NASA or my crewmates, but even if I could, it would take four years for another manned mission to reach me, and I’m in a hab designed to last 31 days.”

Our hero figures in order to make water (I guess this aspect is now retro-dated) and grow food on a planet where nothing grows, re-establish contact with NASA, and make the months long journey on the Mars rover cross-planet to the landing site of the next mission he’s “going to have to science the shit out of this!”

Meanwhile back on earth, NASA scientists and officials, including Chiwetel Ejiofor as Director of Mars Mission, Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Kristen Wiig as NASA’s head of public relations, and Sean Bean as the flight director, find out that Watney is still alive and they attempt to do the math, with the help of Donald Glover as a awkward scruffy astrodynamicist, and unravel the red tape needed to get him back.

Oh, and the NASA brain trust struggles with whether or not to tell the returning crew headed by Jessica Chastain, who, guilt-stricken at leaving behind her fellow colleague, would surely go against orders to turn her ship around to go back and try to save him if she knew. Also on board with Chastain are Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie, who each have their moments and add to the film’s driving force of humanity.

Damon’s performance as the can-do optimist Watney is so solid that you’ll forget about the controversial crap he’s said that’s had him raked over the coals by the press lately. Here he’s a guy you are really rooting for as he successfully grows a crop of potatoes and laughing with as he bitches about the only music he has to listen to – Commander Chastain’s disco collection on her computer: “I will not turn the beat around!”

Despite the stakes, which do carry considerable weight, this is one of Scott’s sunniest and most fun films. Especially when compared to his last space epic, the ALIEN prequel PROMETHEUS, which I found more grueling than a good time.

Sure, there shades of many movies in play here from APOLLO 13 to CASTAWAY; from the aforementioned GRAVITY to 127 HOURS and so on, but THE MARTIAN never feels derivative. Drew Goddard’s tightly scripted structure smoothes out the tropes into a thoroughly engaging, and consistently gripping narrative. It’s also the second film I’ve seen this week that well utilized the 3D format – THE WALK was the other.

THE MARTIAN and THE WALK, which both open this week, are also alike in that they are inspirational epics that were immaculately shot by the same cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski. I’ll be shocked if Wolski doesn’t take home an Oscar next year for one of these visual feasts.

It’s so nice to be back in the ‘movies are getting good again’ season, with such a marvelously gripping movie as THE MARTIAN heading the herd. Just don’t be dissing on Damon so hard that you miss it.

More later…