Kevin: “A visually stunning, emotionally frigid exploration of humanity in the guise of a blockbuster sci-fi film, made by a unique filmmaking voice firing on all cylinders.” That would be both an accurate description of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” as well as Denis (“Sicario,” “Arrival”) Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049,” which appears to be following in its predecessor’s footsteps by tanking at the box office despite massive hype and overall good reviews, although just as with the original it may very well become a cult hit that people keep revisiting and exploring in the years ahead.
While I had previously talked about my general respect for the 1982 original despite not feeling like it’s the sum of its many interesting parts, I was still interested in seeing where Villeneuve and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins took the story (plus my screening at the Alamo Drafthouse featured a Q&A with “Blade Runner” star Sean Young, which I will discuss at the bottom). First though I wanted to get Mike’s perspective on the sequel, as he is by far the biggest “Blade Runner” fan among the Squad here. So Mike what did you think about “Blade Runner 2049,” and how does it measure up the original?
(Major spoilers to follow)
Mike: Let me start off by stating for the record that I’m a huge fan of the original “Blade Runner” and I never wanted to live in a world where a sequel to this move would ever be made, even with Ridley Scott at the helm. Actually I should make it clear that I’m a huge fan of “Blade Runner: The Final Cut” and not that over-narrated happy-ending studio bullshit that Warner Bros. forced upon the world because they were scared silly over a few negative focus groups.
“Blade Runner” is a fantastic sci-fi film that took the genre of film noir to an entirely new level, not to mention it’s the work of a master filmmaker in his prime. Even though I would say the same about Denis Villeneuve as well, initially my expectations for “Blade Runner 2049” were pretty low, especially once Harrison Ford showed up in the teaser trailer, which historically has never been a good sign. My initial thought was that this was going to be “Blade Runner: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” or “Blade Runner: The Force Awakens.” I mean how many times is Harrison Ford going to come back in a franchise as someone’s old lost and forgotten dad? Spoiler Alert: The answer to that question is THREE. Three times … “Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars,” and now “Blade Runner.”
As you may have gathered from the title, “Blade Runner 2049” takes place 30 years after the 2019-set events of the original, when legendary “blade runner” Deckard (Harrison Ford) is sent to track down and kill several Nexus-6 “replicants” (i.e. robotic slaves) who have escaped from an off-world colony. While doing so he falls in love with Rachael (Sean Young), a Nexus-6 replicant herself, and they eventually run off together to hide from a society not ready to accept their kind of human/robot love.
We pick up this storyline in “Blade Runner 2049” when “K” (Ryan Gosling), a newer-model replicant, stumbles upon clues that Deckard and Rachael have successfully evaded capture for 30 years and also managed to produce a child together. Meanwhile Wallace (Jared Leto), having taken over the Tyrell Corporation to become the de facto father of every replicant in existence, wants the child so he can reverse engineer it and decode the secret to replicant reproduction, which would in a sense make him a god. All the while, there is a secret replicant revolt in the works just waiting for some explosive information like this to tear society apart and prove that replicants are “more human than human” and not just a slave race.
Oh, and one more thing, Ana de Armas plays K’s holographic girlfriend Joi and she is the most perfect woman in the universe in every way. Ana, if you’re reading this, please call.
Overall I thought the film was very good, way better than I expected it to be. It took all the elements of the original “Blade Runner” that worked and expanded on them without falling into the mire of most sequels by pandering to the lowest common denominator and copying those elements outright. For example, if an alien pops out of someone’s stomach and the entire audience jumps, you bet your ass the producers are going to make damn sure every sequel for all of eternity will have the same thing happen.
Not only was K not just a direct rip-off of Deckard’s character, he was actually more complex and interesting than Deckard was in the original. It was also a pleasant surprise that Deckard wasn’t just shoehorned into the story as a throwaway character. His role was important, and Harrison Ford gave a great performance that didn’t require a series of “I’m too old for this shit” jokes to get the point across.
The cinematography, the production design, and the art direction will certainly earn Academy Award nominations, and for good reason as “Blade Runner 2049” is visually stunning. There was no overabundance of noticeable CGI to distract the viewer, and the score by Hans Zimmer was befitting the epic subject matter. There were definitely moments they could have trimmed in order to shorten the running time, but even as a slow burn it didn’t feel particularly “long” to me despite being nearly three hours in duration. Honestly, “Blade Runner 2049” really has me at a crossroads. The very essence of my being is to drop my pants and take a steamy shit all over the hard work of others, but in this case I’m constipated. I liked it too much!
I’ll just end on a high note with more photographs of Ana de Armas so we can all go to bed happy tonight …
Kevin: Thanks Mike, now while I am in my refractory period I’ll say that I also liked “Blade Runner 2049” quite a bit. While I think both of us agree that “It was too long” is one of the lazier pieces of film criticism, there are a few scenes in the second act that seem to go on longer than they need to and kind of slow down the momentum of the story right when it should be ramping up. But overall I was into the mystery, I liked being immersed in a world that is both recognizable from “Blade Runner” and also its own thing, and if nothing else we should appreciate the rare instances when a studio spends nearly $200 million on a dense, R-rated, adult sci-fi film with no interest in being a “crowd pleaser.”
Having said that, here are a few more thoughts/questions/problems I had with “Blade Runner 2049” after walking out of the theater:
– First off, I’ll start by acknowledging that “Blade Runner 2049” gives movie fans the moment we’ve been waiting to see all our lives: Harrison Ford and Jared Leto finally sharing a scene together! That’s right, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro’s long-awaited get-together in “Heat” now takes a big backseat to the meeting of Indiana Jones and Jordan Catalano. Actually I had a hard time concentrating on what was being said in their scene because I kept imagining how much grumpy old man Harrison Ford probably hated every second he had to be around douchebag/Method Actor/Oscar winner! Jared Leto.
– Actually I didn’t really remember what Leto’s grand plan in the movie was because I was so totally into the film that I forgot he was in it, and when he showed up I kind of groaned internally and just tuned out whatever he said. Although I also wasn’t exactly clear about this replicant uprising that gets teased but then never really followed up on (please tell me “Blade Runner 2049” wasn’t intended to kickstart some new trilogy that will obviously never happen, a la “Alien: Covenant”). I will say that even if that plot thread doesn’t exactly pay off, I was glad that we didn’t have to see yet another sci-fi movie that ends with the conflicted hero eventually becoming the Neo-type leader of the resistance because a prophecy has foretold that he is the Chosen One who will yada yada yada.
– One trait “Blade Runner 2049” shares with a lot of sci-fi movies that I don’t like is people in power talking about how this or that revelation will completely change the world or cause a revolt or undo society or some shit. But we have no idea really what the society of “Blade Runner 2049” is like because we basically only spend time with like five characters for most of the movie, and from what we do see of society it’s a shithole that is apparently cool with genetically engineering slave labor and then killing them when they get too uppity.
– Speaking of, we are told in the opening text that while the Nexus-6 replicants like Rutger Hauer from the original had four-year lifespans, there are also older-model Nexus-8 ones with open-ended lifespans like Dave Bautista (by the way, since replicants were engineered to be super strong, why would you also make them huge like Bautista since that would just make them harder to put down if need be?). Mike as the resident “Blade Runner” expert here, did they ever mention these Nexus-8 versions in the original? Or were those the ones that revolted before the events of the movie and caused all this blade runnering in the first place?
– I guess technically it’s still left a mystery, but “Blade Runner 2049” seems to strongly come down on the “Deckard is a human” side of that debate. I’m old enough to remember that there really never seemed to be a question that he was human until the ‘90s, when Ridley Scott decided to reverse-engineer what had just started as an amusing fan theory into definitive canon. Way before “Prometheus”/“Alien: Covenant,” this should have been our first sign of Scott’s ability to destroy whatever sense of mystery one of his films once possessed, as his “Final Cut” might as well be called “Blade Runner: Deckard is Definitely a Replicant Version.” I always thought he was human since the alternative makes no sense, because if you were going to send a replicant to take down other replicants it would mainly be because they are stronger than humans, yet this supposed “replicant Deckard” constantly gets his ass kicked by all the other replicants throughout “Blade Runner.”
(And even though he didn’t direct “Blade Runner 2049,” Scott apparently will not stand for Villeneuve injecting any sort of interesting ambiguity into his own movie, as he said in this interview that he told Harrison Ford before the filming of the sequel: “[I said] dude, if you weren’t a replicant, the film you’re about to do wouldn’t exist. So when [audiences] see the film, it’s essential [to know] that in the present film, he’s a replicant.”
A) Apparently Ridley Scott is a 79-year-old man who uses the word “dude.” B) I don’t think he ever actually read the script or saw the finished movie because that sentence makes no sense. C) He also in that interview seemed to be under the impression that “Alien: Covenant” was profitable enough to justify a sequel, so take whatever he says with a grain of salt.)
– By the way, why is Deckard considered such a great “blade runner” considering the other replicants seem to get the drop on him all the time and could have easily killed him at several points during the movie, but either get stopped by other people or just take pity on him. I agree with Mike that Ryan Gosling’s K is a more interesting character than Deckard, mainly because Deckard is probably one of the least interesting and most passive protagonists in all of sci-fi. By all rights Rutger Hauer should be the hero of the movie, while Deckard doesn’t really seem to like his job and he does it with a minimal amount of enthusiasm, which actually now that I think about it totally proves that he’s human like the rest of us.
– Another thing I liked better about “Blade Runner 2049” is that we get way more of an investigation aspect in this one versus the original, whereas outside a couple of minutes where he tracks down Zhora at the club, Deckard’s “investigation” seems to mainly consist of him hanging out at his apartment (also like I said in my earlier post, since the police explicitly say at the beginning of the movie that the escaped replicants probably came to Earth to find Tyrell, why the hell didn’t they just stake out his apartment?).
– I liked that they didn’t take the story in the direction we thought it was going, even if Ryan Gosling being Harrison Ford’s son is waaaaaay more plausible than Shia LaBeouf. I also like that they didn’t have to make Deckard some badass at the end to stroke Ford’s ego, as Deckard instead spends most of the climax sitting in a chair (although I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Ford broke his goddamn leg again just doing that).
– While Ana de Armas is super hot and I would welcome any future in which some version of her greats me at the door, I’m not sure why the film needed to stop cold in several places to basically remake that movie “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of ScarJo, with a sex scene that is almost an exact replica(!) of the one from that. I’m also sure there are a lot of think pieces that could be written about how noticeably more sexualized the world of “Blade Runner 2049” is compared to the original, where women were more of the 1940’s femme fatale variety versus the creepily objectified versions here. Perhaps it’s a sign of how much society has degraded in 30 years.
– In a movie that’s not exactly bursting at the scenes with humor, I did like the quick glimpses of the advertisements for Pan Am and Atari from the original. Although apparently Sony thinks it will still be around in 2049, which may not be the case if they finance a few more expensive flops like “Blade Runner 2049.”
By the way Mike, I know you love “Blade Runner” but I’m sure you’d agree that it’s not exactly a movie you watch while folding the laundry. I noticed that right before “Blade Runner 2049” came out that the original was trending on the iTunes Top 10. Do you think that actually hurt the sequel at the box office, because a lot of people who either never saw it or who had not seen it in a long time decided/remembered that the original can be kind of slow going and thus didn’t end up seeing “Blade Runner 2049,” which may account for the fact that it suddenly opened less than $15 million below projections?
Mike: All very good points! I actually do think that people deciding to watch the original first probably did negatively affect the box office of the sequel, because yes the original is long and time-consuming and you do need to actually sit there and pay attention. You can’t watch “Blade Runner” for the first time and check Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and WhatsApp, all while also getting text messages and ordering dinner on Favor and expect to be blown away.
“We have no idea really what the society of “Blade Runner 2049” is like because we basically only spend time with like five characters for most of the movie, and from what we do see of society it’s a shithole that is apparently cool with genetically engineering slave labor and then killing them when they get too uppity.”
I actually disagree with you on this one Kev, because I think the fact that the current society is pretty much a bleak disgusting shithole is exactly why it makes sense that it could crumble at any moment for any multitude of reasons at all. I feel like I got the sense that Robin Wright’s character had the temperament of someone who was so exhausted from putting out fire after fire over the years that she was mentally prepared to move right along to the next emergency, which was no doubt right on deck. Today it’s replicants that can reproduce, tomorrow it would have been the poverty stricken middle class that’s working two jobs and still can’t afford to put a hot synthetic dinner on the table. There is no happy ending for humanity in this universe. Mankind’s options are:
- Starving to death.
- Dying in a replicant war.
Or BEST CASE SCENARIO:
- Continuing to unhappily live in the ashes of a once great empire.
“Did they ever mention these Nexus-8 versions in the original? Or were those the ones that revolted before the events of the movie and caused all this blade runnering in the first place?”
I don’t recall if they ever mentioned Nexus-8 models in the original. Rutger Hauer and his bunch were all Nexus-6 replicants, which are the models that revolted and stole a spaceship to come back to Earth and track down Tyrell. According to Wikipedia, Rachael was a Nexus-7, so I’m sure Gosling is an 8 or above.
“Why is Deckard considered such a great “blade runner” considering the other replicants seem to get the drop on him all the time and could have easily killed him several times during the movie, but either get stopped by other people or just take pity on him.”
I don’t think Deckard was a great blade runner because he was particularly good at killing replicants, which he’s not, as proven by the fact that he’s always getting the shit beaten out of him. I think the idea was that he was the best at actually figuring out who was a replicant and who wasn’t.
“I’m not sure why the movie needed to stop cold in several places to basically remake that movie “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of ScarJo, with a sex scene that is almost an exact replica(!) of the one from that.”
I hated that stupid movie “Her” and the more everyone seemed to love it and dote over how much of a genius Spike Jonze (real name Adam Spiegel) was for directing it, the more my hatred for it grew. I don’t remember the sex scene from that movie, but I definitely remembered this one and hoped that someday that technology comes to life because I can tell you that it would save many a marriage if you could completely change the way your partner looked in bed from time to time!
Kevin: Yes but only if you splurged to get the Ana de Armas-model replicant and not the Lena Dunham version. And speaking of lovely ladies, as I mentioned earlier my screening of “Blade Runner 2049” was fortunate enough to feature a post-film Q&A by Sean Young, who despite having a reputation for being “crazy” as even she admits, was delightfully funny and candid about both her experiences with “Blade Runner” and Hollywood in general (and in case you were wondering, yes she was in a movie produced by Harvey Weinstein and she knew he was a “pig” back then).
Among her anecdotes was the fact that her brief cameo in “Blade Runner 2049” came at the last minute and possibly only occurred because the filmmakers were afraid she would be a thorn in their side if she wasn’t included (in exchange for her participation she got her son an internship working for the special effects department). She also discussed how the industry has changed from when you could film a production like “Blade Runner” in Burbank rather than Budapest as with the sequel, the fact that even she doesn’t get the whole “Deckard is a replicant” idea, the way cocaine shaped how a lot of films in the 1980’s were made, and how Harrison Ford was apparently not super nice to the then-20-year-old on the set (she said he has “mellowed” since then, which makes wonder how much of a prick he used to be if this new grumpy ass version is the “nice” one).
All in all she seems like the kind of person you’d like to have a drink with and hear some great stories, and if you live in Austin you might get the chance, as apparently she is living here now and starting a business giving tours of iconic locations featured in “Dazed and Confused,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and “Office Space.” If you live in the city or are just visiting (in which case enjoy your stay but please stop moving here!) you can check it out at www.AustinFilmTours.com.
And while we’ve been discussing some cinematic visions of the future, let’s end with a little blast from the past, as Young mentioned taking a number of Polaroids behind the scenes during the making of “Blade Runner,” several of which are included below:
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