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In 1982, Ridley Scott released Blade Runner (a loose adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). It was an intriguing cross between science-fiction and film noir. Harrison Ford starred as Rick Deckard, a Blade Runner assigned to “retire” several rogue replicants (a replicant is a human-like robot and a Blade Runner is a detective whose job it is to hunt them down and kill them when they stop being useful). At the time of its release, it failed at the box-office and was considered to be a bit of a disappointment by critics. It took a while, but eventually the praise came. Now it is considered a classic of the genre and has influenced many science-fiction films that have been made since. And finally, thirty-five years later, there is a sequel.
Blade Runner 2049 takes place 30 years after the events of the original and stars Ryan Gosling as K, a Blade Runner assigned to eliminate the previous model of replicants. He soon becomes embroiled in a mystery that could change what it means to be human. Also involved are Robin Wright as his police lieutenant, Jared Leto as Wallace, the creator of the newer replicants, Sylvia Hoeks as his enforcer, replicant Luv, and Ana de Armas as K’s AI companion, Joi. Harrison Ford also reprises his role as Deckard. That is all of the plot I will reveal, but I will say that the story here is a fitting follow-up to the original. It takes some of the more thought-provoking aspects from that film and moves them forward in an interesting direction. Ridley Scott has handed off the directorial reigns this time around and that allows the sequel a chance to explore this landscape in a completely different way than the original.
However, the story, while good, is not the main reason to see Blade Runner 2049. The main draw is the visuals painstakingly created by director Denis Villeneuve. Every detail of every frame appears to have been carefully crafted by Villeneuve and his team. From the sets to the clothes, from the lighting to the way that elements are arranged in each shot, the film is a wonder to look at.
The original Blade Runner mainly took place in a dystopic future Los Angeles. 2049 explores much more of California and even travels to Las Vegas for a dream-like trip to a rundown old casino. The great cinematographer Roger Deakins creates a gritty realism even in this futuristic world. He and Villeneuve ground it in an internal logic. The visuals may be amazing, but they serve the universe that has been created, instead of the other way around.
Generally speaking, that is how the screenplay works as well. It uses the visuals to enhance its story. There is not a lot of speechifying or exposition. It is a credit to screenwriters Hampton Fancher (co-writer of the original Blade Runner) and Michael Green (a Jewish screenwriter, comic book author and television producer) that they never let their cleverness as writers get in the way of the breathtaking visuals. The imagery speaks for itself.
Blade Runner 2049 is not going to please every viewer. It is dark, long, slow-paced and not always easy to follow. It is a sequel to a thirty-five year old movie that is far more appreciated by critics and film aficionados than by general audiences. For me, it never dragged and the pace felt natural instead of slow. The images, the intensity of the performances and the subtlety of the writing all add up to an original, fascinating and brilliant film. It is one of the best films of the year. 5 out of 5
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews