Friday, 13 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - 2017

So, this film seems to have been deemed a flop - and half the online writers have written the 5 reasons, 7 reasons and 10 reasons it didn't work. They feel compelled to come up with reasons, because the critics, and much of the audience that did watch it, think it's an excellent film.

I watched Blade Runner 2049 a few hours after re-watching the original Blade Runner (1982) - and my expectations were much lowered because of that. I hadn't liked the Ridley Scott cult favourite when I first saw it in the 1990s, I hated it when I saw it again in the 2000s and I still couldn't hack it in 2017. I understand how my personal aversion to most sci-fi films is attributed to my disdain for, say, the Star Wars franchise, for example (I've also been told that I pretend to hate them only because I like to be 'contrary'), but I maintain that a well-written, well-made film, regardless of genre, will always win my genuine appreciation. Blade Runner does not fit that requirement. I find it too slow and interminable, with a series of long, moody, atmospheric scenes that stop being relevant once the 'mood' has been established; and the mood is unfortunately established multiple times. I understand that this 'original' stylisation spawned many future characters and set-pieces, and for that we will be eternally grateful (I can see how Joss Whedon was inspired by it, when I watch Firefly, his awesome 2003 sci-fi series). I also understand that it broached certain philosophical and existential questions, which I think are still unanswered, about consciousness and what difference having a soul, if there is such a thing, makes. But I still cannot understand why everyone thinks it's a great film, because it bored/bores me.

Anyhow, with low expectations and little faith, I went to see the sequel, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

This is another neo-noir, a mystery that unveils truths of the last 30 years (since the previous film's ending). There is a new philosophical conundrum, an extension of what we saw in the last instalment of the story. There are new replicants, more advanced but more compliant. There are new humans, seemingly more 'soulless' and less conscionable than the androids. In the midst of all this, is K (Ryan Gosling), our new protagonist, with a clear purpose and a remoteness of character. It seems that K's biggest flaw, throughout the film, is that in spite of his lack of humanness, he finds in himself, that most human of all aspects: he finds Hope. And in its pursuit he finally finds Deckard (Harrison Ford) almost 120 minutes into the film, and ties up many loose ends. But the questions about humanity, love, compassion, sacrifice, and hope being the birthright of humans, being the very factors that make humans superior to machines, being the result of a soul - these questions remain asked and unanswered. As they should.

I was unaware when I went to see it that the film was not directed by Ridley Scott, but by Denis Villeneuve. It was only afterwards that I realised this is the work of the same man who directed the excellent Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015) and Arrival (2016). Like those films, this is beautifully crafted and delivered. The cinematography is flawless; whether it is the extreme close-ups, or the large landscape shots, the colours, the movements, the compositions, they are all perfect. Editing is appropriate and nothing feels too drawn out - even the slow, long scenes remain interesting and relevant. And the acting - wow! Most of the film hinges on Ryan Gosling's performance, and like his character in Drive (2011), he has very few lines to communicate what he's feeling. But Gosling's greatest ability is in what he can communicate with his face, and his eyes. And he does not fail his audience here. Not once.

Even as a self-confessed sci-fi-phobe, I highly recommend this film. It requires patience, but it fully rewards the patient viewer. Much, much better than the original.

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