A Dazzling, Cerebral Vision Of The Future

London

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NO SPOILERS

The figures are in; Americans do not love ‘Blade Runner 2049’. They clearly prefer to see a film about a monster clown living in a drain. The opening weekend for the noir SF sequel was dismal. However it has had a huge opening in the UK and will make back its cost internationally.

In an increasingly divided and culturally infantilised Hollywood culture it’s not hard to see why its domestic numbers are low. BR2049 is not a date movie. It’s 163 minutes long and paced with the slowness of  a European art film. And for unfathomable reasons, its marketing planners swamped the internet with lengthy footage far in advance of the opening.

Although the film is rated 15 in the UK it has been slapped with an R in the US – apparently because of nipples. It is also an unapologetic, long-gestating sequel that assumes you recall and fully understand the implications of the original, the main point being that the line between AI and humanity is being erased, and that Deckard (after much toing-and-froing on the subject) was previously revealed as a replicant.

So let’s look at what BR2049 is; nothing short of a masterpiece. Denis Villeneuve, who gave us serious, intelligent SF in ‘Arrival’, worked with Ridley Scott to craft a sequel that is almost too perfect, from its images of a derelict, atmospherically ravaged Los Angeles to the vast stone halls of light and water where those in power still cling on to the idea of human superiority.

A replicant officer, K, (Ryan Gosling) uncovers a set of buried bones, the first alarm bell being rung over the audience’s heads when we realise that they date back thirty years. K’s attempts to uncover the truth about them sets him against the LAPD Blade Runner unit, and the plot doesn’t so much twist as unfold with simple reveals that feel entirely organic and logical.

The visuals have the elegance and purity of storyboards. Flashes of future-tech and moments of violence are minimised, leaving large stretches of the film silent, still and contemplative. Certain sensations are evoked; a profound sense of loneliness and loss for what we had and ruined, and for what we still have yet to lose. This is twilight’s last gleaming, mankind eclipsed, its collective soul slipping from the Earth to somewhere off-world – and though the door is ultimately left open for a sequel I hope it is not invoked, because it would inevitably have to follow the ‘Planet of the Apes’ template.  A tense, climactic outburst of violence is resolved in an elegiac scene that will remain as an after-image in the mind.

I have minor quibbles; Harrison Ford gets equal billing but his appearance comes late in the movie, along with an unbilled surprise. At this distance at least the film has no single standout scene that will live on to represent it. And although there are strong female roles, the film’s gaze is male, just as the original’s was. The 3D Imax experience adds depth and space.

Will I see it again? Definitely. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a slow burn, long-term future classic with implications that will only grow deeper with passing time. One disturbing idea is that such urban dystopias are not warnings about what we must avoid, but survival guides for when the inevitable occurs to a race seemingly indifferent to its fate. In that sense, the film is a perfect exemplar of how Trump’s kleptocracy is fast-tracking America’s demise.

18 comments on “A Dazzling, Cerebral Vision Of The Future”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    Wild horses wouldn’t drag me to see this. The original was one of the worse films I’ve ever seen. Ironically, it was during a film study course at Birkbeck University. Even “Old Mother Riley’s New Venture” was more enjoyable.

    The narrative was all over the place, everyone seemed to have a gun in their hands at all times, it was so noisy it drowned out what little dialogue there was, it was aimed at anyone with an attention span of 60 seconds or less and worst of all it seemed to be 90 minutes worth of advertising for a soft drink company.

    If I remember rightly, the late film critic Alexander Walker though more or less the same: it prompted him to write an article on the importance of narrative for the Evening Standard.

  2. Adam says:

    Possibly the best-looking sci fi film I’ve watched. It was refreshing to enjoy a film that took its time to tell the story, refused to patronise the viewers, and had some genuinely tense moments. I loved the echoes of the original film, and the deliberate ambiguity around the central themes.

    I also thought ‘It’ was highly enjoyable, helped immensely by the impressive child actors who could actually act, but it is nice to come out of a film and chat with your friends for ages about what you just seen.

  3. Adam says:

    *you’ve – gah! Blame typing on iPhone…

  4. Bill says:

    I guess I’m just missing all the references. What is “Blade Runner 1949”? Must I care?

    I will shortly be moving to an apartment; I seem to have not realized that I have missed out on having a landline phone and TV and internet: Seems I had to have had them all hooked up at the same time I hooked up my water, heat and whatever. Oh, no.

    So, like Fanny Price, I shall have to rely on my isolation to curb and refine my intellect, at an age far advanced of dear Fanny’s; at the age of 61, I guess I shall spend my evenings without the interferences of our lousy modern age. Or hers.

    I appreciate the need of an intelligent analysis of modern culture, don’t get me wrong; however, my situation now releases me from- ALL IRRITATING FETTERS TO MY OWN TIME.

    Surely, you all understand my predicament, as an American, in my age and time. Time to find shelter under a rock.

    Wish the best for me. I love you all.

  5. admin says:

    I think you should watch the film, which is already being rehabilitated here as ‘having the glorious chiaroscuro of a Renaissance canvas’ and ‘rejects the breathless fury of modern-day money-spinners in favour of a hypnotically unhurried contemplation’.

  6. Rachel Green says:

    Blade runner is still one of my favourite films after all these years. I’m really looking forward to seeing this tomorrow.

  7. DC says:

    Of all the reboots, remakes and sequels that have been released in recent times, this is the one I looked forward to and dreaded the most, at the same time.

    Taking film like Blade Runner and making a sequel doesn’t usually go well. I am struggling to think of sequels which are as good as the original (at least where the original was worthy). The list would include: Star Wars V, Toy Story 2 and Godfather 2. There are others but the list of sequels that should not have been made is a good deal easier to come up with!

  8. Brooke says:

    Not about Blade Runner…
    Very nice review of TBOFA and coverage in the Guardian last week. Congratulations.

  9. JILL Q says:

    I love the original “Blade Runner” and I had no desire to see this. I liked the original and feel like this isn’t necessary at all.
    Glad to hear it’s not quite the shallow money grab I’d feared it would be, but still not rushing out to see it.
    And I’m not seeing “It” either, so maybe I’m just not the market audience.

  10. keith page says:

    The original was perhaps the first to show a realistic tatty retro-future, much imitated and ripped-off since. I can’t speak for the sequel but usually they aren’t brilliant.Maybe this is an exception.At least it doesn’t bear the ominous title ‘remake’, usually a guarantee of money-grabbing rubbish.

  11. Jan says:

    Before seeing this Chris I’ ve read two completely opposite reviews of this new Blade runner 2049 and suppose the only answer is to go and see it for myself.

    The original “Bladerunner” was a odd picture for me in that it didn’t take an immediate grip on me. I had to see it over a few times times and people told me things about it for me to really get a handle on the film. Then I liked it immensely. Roy’s speech by amazing Rutguer Hauer (probably with his name spelt badly) the city and the streetlife it wasn’t perfect but is was …rare is about as good a word as I can find. It got you in the end.

    I don’t want to go and see it naused up by some inferior film.

    By the way don’t easily dismiss that film “It” . Scared the it out of me so it did.
    Kings work is great for the pictures because of its simplicity, straightforwardness, it’s downhome storytelling. You’ve said it before Chris the bloke on the barstool chatting to you telling a tale. When they come to tot up the really important figures of literature late 20C early 21C I reckon King will be there. Alongside lot of people leaving most ordinary folk saying “Who?”

  12. admin says:

    King is a great plotter, but he leaves nothing to the imagination. What I like best about BR 2049 are the spaces between the scenes – room for the imagination to breathe. I think in many ways it’s better than the first film.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    But you should see the original first? (didn’t start with ‘so’) I didn’t see BR when it came out, but I’ll bet (will or shall bet?) our library has it. I so often feel illiterate when reading on this site.

  14. Jan says:

    Maybe you are right about King I dunno Chris.

    When I was a little girl I had this storybook of Grimms fairy tales anyway there was this story about an ogre (might t have even been Jack and the Beanstalk) and there was a picture of this giant. I was so frightened by this picture I scratched the face away with one of my mum’s hairpins. Then I regretted it cos I missed the fearsome features! Missed being scared of him.
    Silly but sometimes when I read Kings work there comes along a really scary bit that I can’t face reading in sequence with the rest of the story. I skip over the horror highlight and comeback to it later. I know this is as crazy daft as scratching the picture away but some of Kings work is so powerful, not graphic or gory, but just plain frightening that that’s how I end up reading his fiction.

    Now this may just me being a numpty but lots of folk really get his stuff. You wrote good horror “Roofworld” had great horror and very gory elements but there something about about the way King sidles up to you using very simple basic prose and storytelling and he gets you …Really gets you scared. He wrote loads of rubbish to pay the mortgage (Pet Cemetary, Christine,Cujo) but the good stuff…bloody is good. Like the time travelling one about President Kennedy’s assassination. Tremendous.

    A few weeks back I was up in Staffordshire visiting Lichfield, the Cloud -a hill which borders
    between three counties, the Shugborough estate – and some other very interesting places. This was a group trip and one lady a Brummie (Coming from Birmingham if u r not British ) who was a homecarer. (When a care giver visits a client’s home to assist them to wash, dress and generally help out) told a story that i found both interesting and scary.

    One of her clients lived in a suburb of North Birmingham where the Britons of old had battled with the invading Romans. You don’t think of industrial, modern, multi racial Birmingham the very heart of manufacturing – or what’s left of it left of it in the UK – in terms of the Romans but there’s tons of Roman remains scattered around the city and well up into the north midlands. Before they ran out of steam and decided on the limited Britannica minor status for much of the north. They lost interest a bit above Chester they still occupied the northern lands but did n not develop them on the same scale. Well I digress. This Brummie lady homecarer told us that one day she had called to see an elderly client only to find her with her arm in plaster. The elderly lady explained that at about 4a.m. that morning she had awoken to find she was at the scene of a battle and a soldier dressed pretty much in the style of a centurion was leaning towards her as if to slash at her with a short sword. She had leaned away from.him at some speed and fallen out of bed doing herself some damage. Really odd and even odder the guy seemed either to be very short or that he was beyond knee deep in some sort of soil or mud. Now this ties up with a lot of Roman soldier “hauntings” the soldiers are often only visible above their knees or mid calves. They seem to be at the soil level back in their times. Ground level having risen considerably since then. Lots of sightings in the Welsh marches near lost Roman towns, here in Dorset between Dunrovia and Maiden Castle and beyond. Now I don’t know if this elderly lady had been at the Bells rather than at a battle but she sure seems to have been very convincing. She stuck to her story and it all made some sort of sense kept them fascinated in A+E apparently. The clincher being that there had been a decisive documented battle pretty much in the neighbourhood where this ladies pensioners bungalow was situated. This lady who told the story in her Birmingham accent outlining the facts made it so scary cos she didn’t dress it up. She had gone on to be very interested in ancient history /earth mysteries as a result of this. Makes you think. Makes you think I am putting off getting with my day!! Have a good one.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Loved that story, Jan

  16. Jan says:

    I was putting off picking a load of autumn raspberries.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    Picking stories is as fruitful as any other picking, sometimes more so. Are the autumn raspberries wild? And are they true raspberries?

  18. Jan says:

    No they are from my landlords kitchen garden. Adapted autumn producers. There are lots of wild blackberries here on the farm but I left the picking late + berries appeared very early. Been a funny summer very wet August but also sunny earlier in year. Great fruit apples, berries and pears.

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