Do Movie Executives Dream Of Electrifying Film Franchises? (*) BLADE RUNNER 2049 Reviewed


Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Directed by Denis VilleneuveProduced by Ridley Scott, Bud Yorkin, et al. Written by Hampton Fancher, Michael Green and Philip K. Dick (i.e. based on his novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?) Cinematography by Roger DeakinsEdited by Joe Walker. Production Design by Dennis Gassner. Art direction by Paul Inglis, et al. Visual FX by… how long have you got? Musiby Benjamin Wallfisch and Hanz Zimmer. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Robin Wright, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Dave Bautista, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos.


“Welcome my son, welcome to the machine / What did you dream? / It’s alright, we told you what to dream” Pink Floyd, 1975.

Have you ever seen a miracle? I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. I’ve seen Mrs Freudstein, first thing in the morning, minus any slap… and just very occasionally, I’ve sat down and watched a sequel to a great movie that was worth making and worth watching…

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) had to struggle through development hell, studio interference (all well documented elsewhere… I would point the interested reader in the direction of Paul M. Sammon’s Future Noir tome) and (how many?) variant edits, not to mention box office indifference, to emerge over a period of decades as one of the undisputed Top 5 (easy) greatest Sci-Fi films of all time. Apprehensions about a sequel were understandable but the news that Scott would be executive producing settled a few nerves. Subsequent teaser material that actually looked rather good, followed by the approbation of friends whose opinions I had every reason to trust, ultimately convinced me that I was going to have to go and check out Blade Runner 2049…

The sequel doesn’t, as might have been expected, dip into the huge tranches of material from Philip Dick’s source novel that never made it to the screen first time out, though the opening scene (in which Gosling’s Blade Runner, a Nexus 8 model factory set to obey its human creators, retires a replicant hiding out on a remote farm) is virtually identical to one that kicked off an early draft screenplay of Scott’s original. Thereafter Blade Runner 2049 spins a consistently engrossing (despite its whopping two-and-three-quarter hours running time) yarn by the simple expedient of inverting the action of its predecessor.


In the original, Ford’s Rick Deckard was on the trail of a bunch of “skin jobs” and an unwitting voyage of self-discovery, with shattering implications for his own perception of who and what he was. This time Gosling’s “skinner” K (or should we call him “Joe”?) is searching for Deckard and the game-changing baby he is said to have conceived with the late Nexus 6 Rachael. He too seems to be on the verge of a radical shift in self understanding but not quite in the way that the viewer is being led to believe (well, it’s not an easy thing to meet your maker…) The way this film undercuts our expectations in this regard reminds me of what the late William Hjortsberg did in Falling Angel (here at THOF we prefer to cite the sublime occult noir novel rather than the mess Alan Parker made of it in his 1987 screen adaptation, Angel Heart), for which Ridley Scott, of course, penned a foreword (in thanks for Hjortsberg’s scripting efforts on his Legend, 1985).


It’s obvious from the off that Villeneuve and his massive crew (the credits sequence deserves a credit sequence of its own!) were intent on capturing the look and the spirit of the original, their mission supported by a Vangelisalike OST and cast returnees Ford, Edward James Olmos (as the pensioned off, reminiscing Gaff) and Sean Young as a rotoscoped Rachael. The visual splendours of Blade Runner 2049 would be more capably chronicled by another Rachael of my acquaintance (how about it, @hypnoticcrescendos?) and even if its dialogue does lacks that bit of noir snap, Villeneuve adheres to the canon closely enough to satisfy the first film’s most ardent devotees and, by implication, the most demanding Dick heads…

Philip K. Dick always maintained that his voluminous pulp outpourings boiled down to a search for the answer to two questions, namely: “What does it mean to be real?” and “What does it mean to be human?” Put ’em together and the implied question is: “What does it take to live a good… or an authentic… life?” Villeneuve and co have done a man’s job of framing this question (if not necessarily coming up with anything like a definitive answer to it) although of course as men they remain obdurately fascinated and baffled by women, the old familiar Madonna / whore dichotomy represented here by, on one hand, the martyred matriarch Rachael, Ana de Armas’s ministering cyber sprite Joi (hope home entertainment systems catch up with Fancher and Green’s imaginings in my life time… the possibilities depicted here certainly trump an evening in with my 5.1 surround set-up) plus, let’s say, a.n.other… and on the other hand, Sylvia Hoeks’ cold-blooded killer bitch Luv. It seems like a matter of mere days since I complimented Double Date‘s Kelly Wenham on wrestling the “sexiest fight scene” laurel from Joanna Cassidy’s 1982 pasting of Harrison Ford, but Hoeks reclaims it for the Blade Runner franchise with several eye-watering scraps in this one. Whew, between her and  Famke Janssen in  GoldenEye (1995)…. what is it about violent Dutch women that so strangely stirs my soul? (**)


Joi… ministering cyber-sprite?


… and the commercial reality.


The genius pulp Art of Virgil Finlay. Inspiration?


Sylvia Hoeks as “Luv”. Infatuation.

Ford contributes an interesting take on where the Deckard character would be after all he’s gone through in the last thirty years. As for the new corporate villain, Niander Wallace… well, he’s played by Jared Leto and I’m factory set to say nothing bad about anybody who looks so much like Jennifer Connelly (though admittedly BR2049’s stylists have gone out of their way to mask the likeness). I’d like to have seen some sort of resolution / retribution for his character but I guess we’ll have to wait for that (and word on the looming replicant insurrection) until a third instalment. Unfortunately, rather than tailgating its predecessor’s long incubated stellar status, Villeneuve’s film seems to have emulated its achievement of tanking at the box office, which means that we probably won’t see another sequel until at least 2052… by which point Harrison Ford and indeed I will be definitively “retired”. Hm, time to start thinking seriously about that android replacement I’ve been pondering… “More Freudstein than Freudstein” is our motto here at The HOF.


Tim Anderson’s fabulous pulp paperback vision of Blade Runner…


… and the “real” thing.

(*) Sure they do.

(**) Sorry if things took a slightly lubricious turn for a minute, there. I’m only human, you know…

… pending the results of my recent Voight-Kampff resit I am, anyway!

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