Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi thriller Blade Runner redefined its genre, and Denis Villeneuve took on a hefty challenge in attempting to create the perfect follow up to such an influential classic. (Disclaimer: I have not seen the original film, so this review is coming from unbiased eyes, for lack of a better term). Villeneuve is behind recent cinema successes Arrival (2016) and Sicario (2015), both of which excellently exhibit his talent for creating worlds that just ooze style. This modern adaptation follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a young Blade Runner who discovers a long-buried secret that would have a huge impact on his world. His investigations lead him to former Blade Runner, Officer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for the past thirty years.
Blade Runner 2049’s lengthy runtime may unnerve some viewers, but the film is a true spectacle of an eerily vast future. The combination of a constantly dark and miserable Los Angeles of 2049 with the obnoxiously bright and multi-coloured neon signs and skyscrapers make every scene incredibly dynamic. The harsh orange hue of the surrounding lands makes for an almost shocking contrast to this overbuilt world. These shots create a satirical glance into how the biggest cities could look – total darkness bar the striking neon of commercialism, as if only branding lights up the world. Every scene is beautifully and cleverly crafted in this manner. The cinematography is intriguing and even the darkest parts of the film are beautiful to watch. Villeneuve teams this visual experience with the always incredible talent of Hans Zimmer, who’s futuristic, booming and often unnerving score make the entire movie a sensual feast.
It’s fair to say that visuals are not enough to justify a film that runs close to three hours in length. There are quite a few arguably unnecessary lingers, either on certain characters’ faces, or on throwbacks to the original. These are the only parts of the film that feel somewhat forced, and they feel out of place in an otherwise stylish movie. For me, a film over two hours needs to have good reason to be, and Blade Runner 2049 not only satisfied that, but left me wanting more. Given the nature of the film, it could have developed into ‘best bits’ with an abundance of cheesy references that weaken any credibility it had (admittedly there was probably a few I missed…). For me, it managed to remain very sophisticated as a standalone film. The plot felt concise and grounded despite the over-the-top sci-fi universe and it was all made real enough to not be sucked in by the extravagant future created. The film moved slowly but built suspense at a steady rate, making sure that even though it ran quite long, it still ended before you expected it to.
Ryan Gosling was an interesting choice for the lead role. Looking at Harrison Ford in his day the link seems reasonable – both ‘heartthrobs’ at a high point in their career. Officer K seems similar to Gosling’s role in Drive – straight-faced and, to an extent, gloomy. However, Officer K exhibits emotions that his replicant-type are not expected to, and Gosling delivers this imbalance well. In what seems to be a growing trend in Harrison Ford’s filmography recently, he reprises his famous role as Officer Deckard, as done in both Indiana Jones and Star Wars in recent years. His performance is enjoyable, but bless the man is getting old and these action-thriller roles do an awful lot to highlight that. His appearance in the movie is pivotal – in that he plays a key role to the plot rather than just a nostalgic throwback, and he did well with what he could, without stealing the limelight away from the leading man this time around.
As a newbie to the Blade Runner universe, I was thoroughly impressed with Villeneuve’s attempt to follow up the classic. His films have a fine balance between minimalism and extravagance, if that is even possible. The plot remained grounded despite the obvious risks of rebooting an 80s classic, and both in terms of visuals and audio, it was an incredible experience. Whether it is, or it is not the film fans wanted, Villeneuve certainly took advantage of a very intricate story and made it into something that could stand alone among today’s most impressive blockbusters.
Ciara Dillon – Film Editor