Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista
Words: Christian Abbott
With the original Blade Runner, Ridley Scott created a dark, art deco infused world. A world bathed in rain and neon in equal measure, defining the now prominent sub-genre of neo-noir.
For 35 years that world has fascinated fans and newcomers alike. The mysteries left open, the philosophical questions it brought forward and the palpable feeling of believability in a reality that goes beyond fiction and becomes a dreamlike vision of an alternative future.
Over the coming decades and the numerous re-edits of the original film by Ridley Scott himself, it is now seen as the masterpiece it is, a defining moment in genre fiction and science fantasy at large.
The prospect of reaching the heights of this film seemed almost impossible, yet with Denis Villeneuve (of Arrival fame) working alongside Ridley Scott and Roger Deakens behind the camera, this sequel seemed the best it could possibly be.
Set 30 years after the events of the original, we now follow the young Officer K – a blade runner. His job is to “retire” the older model replicants, the ones that could deny their programming. On one such job K stumbles upon a mystery, one with which the ramifications could alter the very meaning of humanity.
“More human than human” was a line frequently spoken in Scott’s original, a phrase that permeated the fabric of this strange world. Villeneuve has applied it to this sequel in new and exciting ways. He subverts many of our expectations and truly gives his work its own identity, outside of the looming shadow of the original. Hampton Fancher and Michael Green have written and constructed a sequel uninfluenced by the pace or ideologies of modern Hollywood filmmaking. The aforementioned pace is slow and deliberate, at times too much so, yet it has been done to allow us to soak up the atmosphere of this world.
There are long stretches of silence, which is the most surprising aspect of this film; Vangelis famously scored the original with a now timeless sound. The music bled into the environment in a way few films can hope to accomplish.
Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch have taken over duties this time and while the expected deep-electronic score is there and brilliantly constructed, it is the active choice to withhold on sound in many moments that adds to 2049’s unique feeling.
Of course, Villeneuve has kept the story in line with the events of Scott’s original, but with the added benefit of technological advancements, it has allowed him to open up this world in vast new ways. We see beyond the alternative LA, one which now seems more in line with Mega City One, the constant rain, adverts oscillating for space, dirt and darkness have never looked more beautiful. Roger Deakens once again proves he is one of the finest cinematographers working today.
On a purely visual level, this is one of the most stunning films ever conceived. Shots leave you in awe, the construct is astounding. On a technical level, this is as good as Hollywood gets. Sadly the story doesn’t quite live up to the visuals. While it is an intriguing narrative, the contents can feel shallow. It rhymes with the film but many of the issues have been covered not only in the first but in the 35 years following it. The ending in particular feels slightly unsatisfying, leaving things open for more films.
With that said, it can’t be stressed enough how phenomenal this movie can be at times, there are scenes that stick with you for days after seeing it. Villeneuve in expanding this world has revealed its true ugliness; society has descended to its base levels. It is truly as disturbing as it is beautiful to behold. If the original was a dream, this is a nightmare – one that must be seen to be believed.