DIR: Denis Villeneuve • WRI: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green • PRO: Broderick Johnson, Andrew A. Kosove, Bud Yorkin • DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Dennis Gassner • MUS: Benjamin Wallfisch, Hans Zimmer • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas
Shooting through the neon-tinged smog and giant holograms of Philip K. Dick’s future, director Denis Villeneuve has come out the other side and all but landed a seemingly impossible feat in the form of a Blade Runner sequel. This is the kind of thing dedicated fans of the original secretly both yearned for and feared. And as a lifelong fan, I had grave doubts, the concept of a sequel seemed repulsive, but Villeneuve’s commitment to the project was a powerful blessing. And, ultimately, his passion and unyielding loyalty to the world of Blade Runner have crafted a potent cinematic experience that’s both comfortably familiar and breathtakingly unique. Blade Runner 2049 safely derives from the ancestral roots of Ridley Scott’s iconic visionary opus without compromising its value in any way.
Blade Runner was, and in many ways still is, a seemingly singular cinematic phenomenon, a precious rarity in commercial cinema, an art-house film within the guise of a mainstream blockbuster. Blade Runner was based on Philip K. Dick’s science fiction novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, where he invited us into a world that’s an ecological nightmare, where real animals are mostly wiped out, rogue androids hunted, and where living conditions have been choked by a vast urban sprawl and endless industrialization. In Dick’s writing, we’re constantly reminded that the cost of the illusion and gratification offered by technology could be our humanity. Dick’s rendering of the future gave us a haunting hallucinogenic vision of the present that’s as relevant now as ever.
In 1982, Ridley Scott birthed a devastating vision of that future, a bleak dystopian urban fever dream, and used it as a cinematic canvas to explore the nature of our perception and our reality. Scott partially drew inspiration from the work of Moebius and Heavy Metal. The result was a revolutionary vision that allowed for a more mature concept of science fiction than had ever been experienced in popular cinema. Audiences at the time expecting another incarnation of Han Solo got something else, something that was part science fiction, and part Chandleresque gumshoe detective movie, with a dosage of Plato at its core. It baffled audiences, before building a credible following and, over time, has garnered vast acclaim. For 2049, Scott passed the directorial torch to Denis Villeneuve, and Villeneuve holds it up reverently, honoring Blade Runners’ undisputed legacy, illuminating its themes, and crystalizing them for the present moment.
The year is 2049, the Los Angeles skies are hazy and acidic, bleached of all color. This is the kind of city where the hail of rain can sting flesh. The holoscreens on the dash flash on Officer K.’s face, he looks up. Outside the window, a cold blur of changing landscape sweeps below. Officer K. (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner, assigned to kill replicants. He lands his hovercar on the bleached rural terrain outside the city. The air has an industrial taste and smell, tinged with a toxic chemical aftertaste. The earth has an icy lifeless pallor, and there are the skeletal remains of a single tree. What K finds buried out here in the dirt, sets him on a trajectory with the past and forces him to confront the nature of his reality. He’s on a head-on collision course with former blade runner Rick Deckard, who mysteriously disappeared 30 years ago. It also puts him directly at odds with Neander Wallace, who, out of the ashes of the Tyrell Corporation, has become the principal designer of replicants and ruler of a corporate empire.
Villeneuve’s direction is fuelled by a piercing vitality and passion for the thematic content. There’s not a stagnant breath, and there are few opportunities wasted if any. Villeneuve has succeeded in creating a layered and textured living breathing world, where you can feel everything from the cold assault of the rain and snow to the dryness of the dirt.
Helping Villeneuve achieve his vision is his brother in arms cinematographer Roger Deakins ASC, BSC with what appears to be the most complex work of a career defined by exceptionalism. Even when it’s not necessarily urban, Villeneuve ensures with great care that there’s some reminder grounding us in the suffocating urbanness of the universe we’re in. It’s a techno apocalyptic hell, where even the most barren landscapes are infested with the by-products of technology. Adding fuel to fire, this vision is elevated by a kaleidoscopic score which draws from Vangelis’ groundbreaking work. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch deliver a hypnotic electric score that makes you think your ears died and went to synth heaven. Zimmer and Wallfisch submerge us in the ambient jazzy sounds of pearlescent memories, and the droning hellfire of sonic genius.
Dennis Gassner’s production design is as staggering as it is majestic. Los Angeles’ towers and sky rises are etched across the skyline like computer chips, and statues and hieroglyph adverts for Sony and Atari glow blindingly through the darkness. Neander Wallace’s corporate lair is a sacred environment bearing the resemblance of a temple built for modern Pharisees or Pharaoh’s. Gassner’s captivated the potent subtext of 2049’s narrative themes and incorporated them with masterful skill and subtlety within its visual design. Likewise, Renee April’s costume design is fine-tuned to the subtleties of story and character with a grounded and fervent realism.
Harrison Ford’s return as Rick Deckard offers us a cast iron performance, molded with nuance. Ryan Gosling shifts gears creating a dynamic interpretation of the jaded detective that’s searing with vitality. And Jared Leto brings a religious zeal as corporate titan and android designer Neander Wallace. The cast is rounded out with iconic turns from Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Sylvia Hoeks, Ana de Armas as Joi, and Robin Wright, who provides a stern maternal strength as Lieutenant Joshi.
The script is crafted chiefly by the original writer Hampton Fancher, with assistance from Michael Green. Hampton Fancher’s script still harbors the eternal mysteries and ambiguities that are so central to the essence of the original. But he never seeks to replicate the original, this isn’t a carbon copy, it follows a path set in motion by its predecessor, but offers its own unique journey and thematic evolution. In the original, as Deckard suspects, and Rachel discovers, our perception can distort the reality of the present. 2049 amplifies this theme and principally focuses on how our perception of the past can distort the present reality.
When I first saw the original Blade Runner in my mid-teens it was a transformative quasi-religious experience, and the pioneering abilities of the filmmakers behind it seemed vast, omniscient, and of mythic proportion. And it’s no less the same with Blade Runner 2049. In Villeneuve’s film we’re constantly chasing our illusions, and somewhere over the rainbow in the not too distant future reality might not be what it appears to be. For anyone who hasn’t already, now is the time to bow down and pledge allegiance, Blade Runner 2049 confirms the breadth and scale of Denis Villeneuve’s vision. This is sickeningly good cinema. 2049 is a celebratory onslaught, a feast for the soul and senses. It’s the rare kind of film that baptizes you in the blood sweat and tears of pure artistry, letting a ubiquitous electric feeling race through your body, assuring you that the pure magic of cinema still exists.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Blade Runner 2049 is released 29th September 2017