Published on October 11th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant


Blade Runner 2049

A review of Blade Runner 2049 turns into a mini rant about the state of cinema and culture. See, a great movie makes you think.

The original Blade Runner has been a piece of art in motion, morphing and changing from the 1982 original (and sometimes maligned) theatrical cut, through to 2007’s Final Cut, where director Ridley Scott got more say in the final product. In any form, Blade Runner has been a reasonably divisive movie, some people worshipping it as an atmospheric classic of dystopian cinema and others saying, sure, it’s pretty, but it’s soooo boring.

The first time I saw it I was a kid and I remember thinking it was cool, but so cool that it left me cold, at a distance from the narrative. As I’ve grown older, seeing the film (and each cut) again and again, I’ve grown a lot closer to the movie. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve also developed a fetish for cold as ice sci-fi movies, though I actually feel like Blade Runner isn’t ice cold. Maybe it’s just that lush Vangelis score, but it feels much warmer and more alive to me than it used to. I’ve heard a few other people express this change in their perception of the film as time goes on. Maybe it’s a grow-er, not a show-er?

Anyway, that’s all set up for Blade Runner 2049, from (can we call him?) director of the moment Denis Villeneuve. It’s 30 years after Harrison Ford played Rick Deckard, a blade runner — a cop who hunts down and ‘retires’ (kills) androids, also known as replicants. Depending on whom you’re talking to or what cut of the original you’re watching, Deckard may or may not have been a replicant himself. In 2049, Ryan Gosling plays K, a blade runner who is definitely a replicant. And he’s a solitary individual — hated by humans and fellow cops because he’s a ‘skin job,’ and other replicants hate him because he kills his own kind. When a 30-year old body turns up, K investigates a case that has potentially catastrophic ramifications for Earth, humanity, and replicants alike.

Like the original, you might as well jump into a review about Blade Runner 2049 by talking about what you see and hear. Both the audio and production design are a feast for the senses that bring this world to life, a world that is absolutely gorgeous in its dystopian ugliness, if that makes sense. And all of this is captured by Villeneuve and his DP, Roger Deakins, probably the best cinematographer working right now. It’s unthinkable that they’ve never given Deakins an Oscar for his work, imagery that can be sublime and beautiful, while being gritty at the same time, all without running roughshod over the story itself. Here, the imagery compliments the poetic nature of the narrative, sometimes creating a dreamlike state, sometimes a harsh reality.

The running time is two hours and 44 minutes, which was a daunting thought going in. However, I was engaged in the story the whole way. I thought after, what could they have cut out? Could they have cut out the subplot dealing with his Her style relationship with his apartment AI/hologram? It had the least to do with the case he was on. Well, no, because that was kind of the beating heart of the movie, where two non-humans experience something that brings them closer to ‘humanity.’ At that length, there probably was some fat on the story that could have been cut, but I’d need to see it again to figure out what that might be.

People keep asking me, was it good? Should I go see it? My answer comes in the form of a question — do you like Blade Runner? Because it feels like a Blade Runner movie. Yet, it also feels like its own thing. Villeneuve hasn’t done the Alien/Aliens thing here, ramping up the stakes to make a very different movie. And it’s not a Force Awakens/New Hope-style beat-for-beat remake.

It assumes your intelligence, which I love. Entertainment is just fine, but we’re slowly losing cinema that challenges us to think and grow as people. You can tell how much we’ve dumbed down society by the glut of blockbuster tentpole movies in the theatre. Don’t get me wrong, I like a Marvel or Star Wars movie as much as the next nerd, but they are assembly line, homogenous fun, to be eaten (er…viewed) in moderation, like anything else. We’re stuffing our faces with them, yet our brains are starving on the empty calories. Movies are entertainment, but they’re also an art form, and a good art form will invite people to engage with culture and politics and thought, like many movies did in the 70s. Good art will keep our brains (and feelings) from atrophying. We need more than bread and circuses.

I also think that the popularity of movies will wane further once the multiplexers get sick of seeing the same superhero movie over and over again, and cinema will run the risk of collapsing like a dying star. I realize that this movie may not have been the greatest example to use for a mini-rant like this, as opposed to Moonlight or something. Blade Runner 2049 was a blockbuster hopeful, a big budget sci-fi extravaganza featuring two huge stars. But even a spectacle movie like Blade Runner can challenge a viewer. And if the box office is any indication, Blade Runner 2049 is definitely falling into niche audience territory, largely going ignored by the masses.

While I’ve careened off topic like a hovercar with no steering wheel, I might as well add (and this will sound contradictory) that many complain that Hollywood is out of ideas, making too many reboots/sequels/prequels/spinoffs/whatevers. I can’t argue with that, but what I can say is that we need to take each property on its own terms. If we’re going to make more sequels as good as Blade Runner 2049, I’m all in.

So, if you couldn’t make sense of my atmospheric but nonsensical meanderings, I’ll say that yeah, I really dug Blade Runner 2049. Mostly, I need to watch it again. The movie has been spinning and twisting around my head since I saw it, the mark of a good film. It may not be a movie for every multiplexer, but it’s a brilliantly captured story with deep themes about slavery, corporate interests, what you’ll do for your family, what you’ll do for something you believe in, and what it means to be human. And maybe, whether ‘human’ is even something worth being.


POST NOTE: While I’m getting all uppity, I also need to mention the 3D. It’s no secret that I think 3D is a studio scam. The 3D in this movie was non-existent, yet I was forced to pay a few bucks extra to put the dark sunglasses on. You’d think that with all the cityscapes and snowflakes falling, you’d get some semblance of extra dimensions, but it was pretty much nil. This isn’t the movie’s fault, of course. It wasn’t shot in 3D, nor apparently was the cheap conversion really given any kind of thought. Roger Deakins himself has commented that moviegoers shouldn’t see this movie in 3D — yet there were no 2D screenings listed when I bought tickets (it looks like there are a handful of 2D screenings now. Often they list them a day or so before the opening, as opposed to the more advance sale of the 3D tickets).

This is the studios and theatres trying to drain us for more money with crummy gimmicks. I can’t wait to see this movie again in 2D, as it was meant to be seen. I’m not sure if others had this same experience or if the Cineplex just doesn’t know how to show a 3D film. It doesn’t really matter whose fault it is. Again, all these gimmicks are another contributor to the ruining of the movie-going experience that is pushing us into our living rooms for episodic television.

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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