35 years ago, the world of Science-Fiction was changed forever. The creative vision of Ridley Scott showed the world that Sci-fi films didn’t have to follow a franchise or stick to normal conventions; they could be bold, risk taking and above all, have the ability to make you think. In all that time we never thought a sequel was possible and often thought it would be a bad idea, but now, it has happened and the question we have to ask ourselves, is this; have they made another Mad Max: Fury Road or an Indiana Jones 4?
Well, the best place to start is the story. This isn’t a remake or reimagining, it is a pure continuation from the first film. Original writer Hampton Fancher and comic writer Michael Green have teamed up to present the same themes and style as the original, but on a scale unlike anything we could’ve imagined. 30 years on from the events of the first film, we follow the life of new Blade Runner, replicant Officer K (Ryan Gosling) who now ‘retires’ old replicants who are deemed dangerous and uncooperative. He lives in the dystopian city of Los Angeles with his holographic companion Joi (Ana de Armas). Soon, he is informed by his superior Joshi (Robin Wright) that new replicants can do something that is a serious threat to humanity and that the only one who knows the real truth is former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). K soon realises the full extent of his existence and the lives of every other replicant in the midst of this ruined world. Without any compromise to the original film, the story is a modern marvel of writing.
It still holds on to the themes of AI, the meaning of existence, the damage being done to Planet Earth and the juxtaposition of imagery and objects, creating its own unique brand of surrealism, with a hint of Shakespearean imagery in there as well. Director Denis Villeneuve is the perfect choice for this film; a modern and exciting poet who really understood the risk of taking on a film like this. He tends to refrain on letting humour into the story, but that is fine by me; he has still kept to the neo-noir roots of the original film and left plenty of room for the actors to perform. Ryan Gosling’s example of playing Artificial Intelligence is enough to rival the likes of Alicia Vikander or even Michael Fassbender, presenting a poetic performance of mystery and shear coolness. Harrison Ford brings back Rick Deckard in the best possible way; smooth talking, still fighting and still full of confusion and wonderment of how replicants are even possible. Then, there are the supporting performances; the blind replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, who was actually blind for the production), the ever shape shifting Joi, the sinister replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), the ever reassuring and asserting Joshi, the femme fatale Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) and a surprise cameo of Sean Young as Rachel, they are all nothing short of perfect.
That was always the incredible thing about Blade Runner, the performances were incredibly solid for a Science-Fiction film, especially when you consider the visual effects of the original. Back then they blew everyone away, and I think the same thing could possibly happen with this film as well. Giant holograms on the streets of LA, flying VTOL cars straight from the original film, greatest product placements I have seen for Atari and Peugeot, drones that are both abstract and detailed and even the monitors that scan faces and pull police records are nothing short of miraculous to the human eye. It is a feast of effect, but that is not the most surprising thing about this film.
It is much more practically based than you think; real explosions, miniature set pieces, no digital gun animations, it all looks very real and feels very real. The films brand of surrealist beauty is also continued in the VFX and sound design, through the use of juxtaposition; the sounds and sights of a beautiful forest in the middle of a decaying city, electronic flying car noises, the heavy sounds of gun shots, slick scanning noises, the gruesome sounds of a slimy birth of a replicant and then there is the general vibe of LA, the hustle and bustle with neon and holographic advertising everywhere as if to say “it isn’t as bad as it seems…”. The CGI and sound effects in this film are perfect, and then we get to music.
Originally, regular collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson was going to compose, but due to conflictions with other projects, he was forced to drop out. In his place, comes modern masters Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, just fresh out of doing Dunkirk (2017) together and have creating that the great Vangelis could listen to and be proud of. They have kept the original themes of the first film, but have created their own brand of pounding electronic music that can only be described in two words; beautiful and loud! It isn’t however too complex, it is simple and elegant, much like the original film and that is how it should be. It works very well with the sound design as well, helping to heighten the relationship between scenes of great activity, to scenes with eerie silence. With some help of holographic Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, the music to the film is sensational.
But the music and story of Blade Runner 2049 are not the only parts of what make it such as success; the other part, that is essential to this genre, is the look. Production designer Dennis Gassner clearly has an Oscar heading his way for what has done for this film everything from the futuristic city of LA to the decaying ruins of Las Vegas is simply stunning. The strip enveloped by red dust and broken statues, the enormous wall of LA the shields the city from the ocean, the interiors of Wallace’s company with moving light and water ripples clad all over the walls and even the night club with holographic Elvis is some of the most inspirational and realistic production design I have ever scene. Forget green-screen, that would be wrong for a movie like this, it has to look and feel real in every frame.
If I thought the production design was good, then wait till you hear about the cinematography. The legendary Roger Deakins has now made his 3rd collaboration with Denis Villeneuve and what he has made here, is quite possibly, the best piece of cinematography of this century. Shot on just one Arri Alexa XT, the colour palette, the design of the light and use of shadows and composition of the imagery, really make this film come to life. The DP of the original, the late Jordan Cronenweth could look at this and feel proud of what Roger Deakins has done; the light filtering with water, the red landscapes of Las Vegas, the soft falling snow, I could go on and on. And then there is Joe Walker’s editing; he has made this film last 163 minutes, and to some that may seem long, but for me, it is perfect; a noir film needs to take its time, and he has done exactly that. If these 2 people don’t get Oscars for their work, then what is the point in the Academy?
And then, there is the looks of the characters and the little things of the movie. K still has the long and heavy overcoat that made the original Blade Runner so iconic, Joi can change from looking like a 50’s housewife to a Vegas performer in one nanosecond and Wallace is like a combination of a Buddhist monk and Tony Stark, they stand out very well. What I really love about this film is that it still has all the little details from the original film; origami animals, ‘those’ whisky glasses and yes, they have the original blaster from the film.
Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of a visual masterpiece and quite simply, one the best sequels of all time. With rock solid performances and direction, stunning visuals and music, this film has to be seen, preferably on as big a screen as possible.
I give this film a 10/10!