Blade Runner 2049

Well, if ever there was a movie I was hoping to like, it was this one. The trailers looked good, and when the reviews came, they were largely positive. So it was a bit of a bummer to find myself deep into its running time while still completely uninvolved, and make it to the end only to realize that what it has to offer is quite, quite thin. I went home and hopefully read “explanations” of the ending, only to discover that yeah, I did get it, and there’s just really not all that much to it.

The difference between the theatrical Blade Runner and the director’s cut [and all subsequent versions] was a revelation, as the removal of the voiceover gave the viewer time to think, which transformed the experience of the movie. This film certainly gives you time to think, but the ideas just aren’t there. In the first, we are contemplating the very essence of life itself. Here the conceit is that two androids can have a baby, and all the issues that spring from that, which I am just not all that interested in. Oh, babies again. The miracle of heterosexual reproduction, again. Sorry if I just find the “ideas” here to be a bit banal and verging on cliché. However, I guess we should be thankful that we don’t have a Blade Runner taking care of and protecting a young, innocent girl.

The other thing is that in 1982, this vision of the future was utterly shocking. What we had then was the optimism of Star Trek, the grubby but still ultra-cool world of Star Wars, or dystopian futures that were still pretty cool, with domed cities and white, minimalist spaces. Blade Runner asked us to consider that the future might look a lot like what our current world is heading toward; a really shitty, corporate nightmare where all the people who can afford to have left. So it was a shock, and shockingly true-to-life. That same future has little impact anymore, and the more accomplished special effects don’t add much, and don’t intrinsically hold fascinating content, as they did in the original. Other trademarks of the original are sorely missed; the explosions and flames coming from smokestacks, the circular lens flares that made the flying cars look stunning, the fact that daytime was so dark it may as well have been night. I found the numerous daylight scenes in the new film to be quite jarring.

This film feels derivative, with heaping helpings of Her, a gentle sprinkling of Logan’s Run, a hint of Soylent Green, and etc. The first was a detective story first and you could think about the big ideas if you wished. This is a grand canvas for big ideas with a detective story invented in order to hang them on. It ret-cons the story of the first film while setting up a big new world of sequels to come, which will probably not be realized now that this tanked at the box office and they realized; “Oh. No one really wants another Blade Runner.”

I spent the majority of the film waiting to become involved in the story, and then it was over. The film is certainly well made and looks gorgeous, but they make a mistake in assuming audience engagement and offering nothing to encourage it. And then the boring big ideas, which are all a bit common—more WAR! The threat of WAR! Factions that could erupt in WAR [in any of the exciting possible sequels, advance tickets available now!].

And then there’s just that je ne nais quoi. Toward the end, simulacrum of Rachel from the first film appears, and the mere sight of her is electrifying, the way so many images in the first film were just fucking electrifying. Ridley Scott knew how to do it (then), to make images that sing and invite you to think without forcing ideas down your throat. Whatever that film had, it ain’t here.

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12 thoughts on “Blade Runner 2049

  1. Yikes. I already had low expectations for this film and after reading your review (btw your reviews are the only ones that matter to me, truly) it seems my worst suspicions are confirmed. Like you said, it’s just not grounbreaking anymore. Nor does it appear to be (basing my guess soley on the trailers) an academic exercise in creating atmosphere which is really all the original amounted to (but it really set the bar for that, didn’t it).

    I mentioned in a previous comment that all the ‘splosions in the trailer were a giant red flag. It’s kind of remarkable when you think about it, that the craftmanship of brilliant directors like Scott and Scorcese seems to deteriorate rather than become refined over time. Oh Christ, now I have to go sit through the thing…

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    • Forget the explosions in the trailer. Ignore CDM for now. His points may or may not be valid, but the film deserves a viewing. You DO have to sit through the thing!

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  2. I read CDM as you don’t follow the “herd” of reviewers (and are typically very well-argued and amusing) but I’ll have to go with the critical herd on this one!

    There’s much to disagree with here but to identify a couple of things – firstly is there something intrinsically wrong with/uninteresting about “heterosexual reproduction”? In the context of a story about replicants you don’t think that’s enough to set the plot in motion? And secondly, many of the criticisms seem purely down to the differences between this film and the original Blade Runner – if they HAD put in “circular lens flares” (with CGI this time) we could have all agreed how derivative that was!

    Anyway I could go on but won’t unless you’re interested! BTW I hope you take these comments in good spirit – I love the site but this review comes across as somewhat bitter and, dare I say it, ungrateful? But that’s speaking as somebody VERY grateful to have received a large-scale, thoughtful sci-fi movie for once… 🙂

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  3. All comments are always welcome and disagreement is fine with me. Feel free to detail your other disagreements if you like.

    I am definitely grateful for a thoughful sci-fi movie, although there are some smaller-scale thoughtful sci-fi’s out there, like The Congress or even Ghost in the Shell, both heavily influenced by the original BR.

    As for the hetero reproduction, the main complaint is “AGAIN.” Totally valid topic, and I can see that two robots reproducing is interesting [although the film could have explored those issues in greater depth], but I felt like it, and the treatment of it, was a bit sentimental and banal. The movie drops the question of whether such a creature would have a “soul,” but doesn’t explore what that would mean or what implications that would have–except that it might kick off a WAR! So I just felt it was a bit superficial, or if it did invite us to ponder some bigger questions, I didn’t really feel it.

    All non-voiceover cuts of the original accomplish a very tricky task of giving you enough material to get you thinking about what it all means and the larger questions. And I find that certain younger critics don’t like the original [and many are saying this film is superior], because to them it doesn’t “say anything.” My feeling is that this film doesn’t have much of interest to say, and what it does say is a bit banal. But it’s all highly interpretive and I have to ask myself if I just missed it. So, sorry if I come off as bitter and ungrateful, but I can only write about my honest reactions.

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    • [SPOILERS AND SUCH]

      Reproduction is obviously a big topic in horror and sci-fi – from Demon Seed to Cronenberg! Acknowledged, in this film it’s as much a motor for the plot as something to ponder in and of itself. After a single viewing it’s hard to say whether the themes will resonate or whether it was “merely” (for me) a compelling cinematic experience. There have been some great smaller sci-fi films recently about AI and similar ideas of course (Ex Machina also springs to mind) but you don’t get too many large-scale sci-fi films these days hence my “gratitude”.

      As for comparisons to the original film, I doubt I will ever watch any film as often and over such a long period as that one – that’s impossible! But the pleasure for me in that film is as much surface as anything – the dense visuals, the creation of the future world and the quirky nods to 40s Film Noir – than the “larger questions”. This film is certainly more story-based and has greater momentum despite its deliberate pacing. Perhaps that’s why some people like it more?

      It’s probably too early to say whether the new film will match up to the original, but the fact that I am even considering it as a possibility says everything! I really did admire the way it took its own direction. And the fact that it’s STILL possible to debate whether or not Deckard is a replicant.

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    • In terms of reproduction then I am guessing you didn’t have a positive reaction to Villeneuve’s Arrival either? Revolving as it does around themes of parenthood? If his next project really is Dune then we can expect a lot of dynastic goings-on, perhaps this is becoming his “thing”! In terms of sentimentality, perhaps it is there in BR 2049 but when is it not in mainstream filmmaking? Wasn’t Blade Runner (the original) sentimental in its own way? I would say Villeneuve’s direct style of storytelling and underplaying of “big moments” amelorates any criticisms on that score…

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      • Thanks for your comments. This is replying to the last two.

        Reproduction is certainly a legitimate topic, but what’s interesting or not is what the movie DOES with it, and I just didn’t feel that this movie had much to say about it. Which is why I felt the whole thing was treated in a heteronormative way, that the assumes we will gasp at how AMAZING it is [the film refers to it as a “miracle”] that a baby was born at all, not what it means. While K brings up the issue of whether the child would have a “soul,” I felt the rest of the movie doesn’t explore that very deeply.

        As for Arrival, first, understand that I don’t care whether or not a certain topic is addressed, it’s HOW the movie treats it. That movie, I felt, used the child as a way to explore loss, and the way we react to it–like would you skip a whole life experience if you knew it was going to end poorly? So I felt that movie invited thought about the topic, where this one just throws it out there [along with several other themes] but, for me, doesn’t go very deeply into any of them. I did review Arrival on this site, and if you do a search you’ll find it.

        What I find fascinating about the case of both films is the way in which a film does or does not invite further thought, and how it does that. To me, the first film, once they removed the voiceover, somehow nails the balance of mostly following a hunt, but leaving a lot of space for thought, and giving enough focused material to invite thought. The new one was designed to be thoughtful, but the ideas it brings up just aren’t explored in an interesting way, and there’s too many threads [like K’s hologram girlfriend, which is a topic for an entire movie–such as Her–but is one theme too many when we’re already supposed to be thinking of android reproduction, and a slave workforce, and whether android babies have souls… etc.

        To me, whether or not Deckard is a replicant has always been one of the least interesting questions about either film.

        As for gratitude, I am definitely glad this movie was made, and that there’s a large-scale sci-fi that is ambitious. I just wish it did a better job. And I’m sorry that if he is now our go-to guy for serious sci-fi, he wasn’t a little less superficial. Being slow and not action-oriented doesn’t necessarily equal thoughful, nor does it necessarily negate sentimentality. It’s not the form of the film, it’s the ideas behind it and how well or not the film is able to express those ideas.

        BTW, have you ever seen Solaris [not Soderburgh version] or Stalker?

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      • I feel like we aren’t going to agree on the ideas of the film – for example what the replicant baby “means”. It means that replicants (or perhaps a replicant and a human) can reproduce – significant in itself. It means/meant a lot to the parents themselves, no doubt. To Wallace it means the promise of being able to breed an army of replicants and colonise the galaxy (i.e. transform human civilisation too). To the replicant “resistance” it’s a symbol of resistance – and quite possibly the key to their future civilisation. And those are probably just the obvious ones!

        But ultimately the “ideas” or what the film “means” are tricky things to negotiate – we’ve all had 35 years to tease out the ideas of the original film (and of course I acknowledge its achievement in that). But ultimately I can see you didn’t engage with the film and that’s fatal – there’s almost no point discussing it! And this is really K’s story, perhaps even to a greater extent than Deckard in the original – I’ve read comments about Ryan Gosling being inexpressive but I thought this was a great performance and was 100% hooked into his plight. Without that, there’s surely no chance of appreciating other aspects of the film?

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  4. At the risk of widening this discussion to unmaintainable levels, yes I have seen and very much enjoyed the original Solaris. Stalker I found too difficult or impenetrable – I didn’t get much out of it, but have read enough to probably “try again” someday (perhaps via the new Criterion Bluray).

    BTW I thought you were asking about the Soderbergh Solaris when I scanned your comment earlier. That’s one of my least favourite films!

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    • No, I don’t think we’re going to agree, and that’s FINE. Differing viewpoints and opinions are not a problem, and I am happy for anyone who reads this site to disagree.

      Well, you’re coming back to what I said in the review–I found the film uninvolving. It presents concepts worth thinking about–the replicant baby most obviously, as you say–but I didn’t feel that the film shaped its content in a way that invited thought and expressed something it had to say. It presented the fact of the baby and assumed that was enough. To me, it packed too much in [the holo-girlfriend is fine, but doesn’t add much to the larger story], while not developing what it did have enough. And [for me] it wasn’t engaging enough to ever consider sitting through again.

      Just curious if you’d seen the Tarkovsky films.

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      • If I can sit through Stalker again, you can watch BR 2049 again!

        Thanks for the discussion, will look forward to future reviews.

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