Blade Runner 2049 is a complex beast of a movie. Gargantuan in many ways, both good and bad, it’s a film that we’ll be wrestling with for years to come.
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Picture a white landscape, tiled with buildings that are only distinguishable by the lines between them. Lights swirl beneath the surface – slowly shifting signs of consciousness – as the camera flies along towards an unknown destination. Eventually, it reaches a small farm, where Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) emerges from a tent to attend to a boiling pot of soup. LAPD blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling), is already waiting for him.
These images are how director Denis Villeneuve stakes his claim to one of science fiction’s most beloved properties: by moving outside of its city and into a whole new behemoth of a universe. Sure, LA is still there, and it’s still perpetually raining, but it’s no longer the main feature. We’re treated instead to an endless buffet of visual delights from outside its borders. A wasteland of orange cloud, fields of trash that orphans scrounge shelter from, the cold white of long-dead farmland, the list goes on. Visuals-wise, there isn’t a damn second of this film that isn’t meticulously crafted. That’d be impressive for a normal blockbuster, but then you notice the run-time, and it hits home what an achievement Blade Runner 2049 is. Villeneuve has blown his competition out of the water, and for that alone he deserves commendation.
He also deserves commendation for expertly walking the line between old and new. It’s not just that he’s expanded the world, it’s that he’s managed to do that while staying true to the original’s iconic aesthetic, and also appropriately updating it. Not only is the colour palette wider, but modern VFX techniques are used alongside old ones to stunning effect. At times it feels more like a homage than an actual sequel, and that’s absolutely a good thing. 2049 is the kind of film that Nicholas Winding-Refn would make if you drowned him in money, and who doesn’t want that?
Even the politics get a good once-over, with climate change and drone warfare now sub-textual factors. It’s not subtle, I’ll give you that, but it helps the film feel appropriately contemporary. Villeneuve has transposed our modern worries onto a familiar template and given it a fresh coat of paint.
That fresh coat can feel jarring at first, though. Lighting enthusiasts will pick the problem up instantly – cinematographer Roger Deakins has lit everything far too well for a supposed noir film. A bright, clean office? That’s not noir, and it’s certainly not Blade Runner, what the hell were they thinking? Have faith, my friends, the second half of the film contains all of the heavenly contrasts you could ask for. One character even jokes about preferring the lights to be brighter, so at least you know Villeneuve is in on it. Again, not subtle, but it’s something.
It’s also undeniable that 2049 is a much more bombastic film than its predecessor. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch‘s score is probably the worst culprit, but he’s only matching the rest of the film’s various explosions and fist-fights. Where the original went small, 2049 goes big. You can partially excuse this enlargement with the fact that 30 years have passed since the events of the first film, so it’s natural for things to have escalated in some ways. But still, it’s hard not to feel a bit weirded out by it. 2049 is Blade Runner reimagined as a true Hollywood blockbuster, and it’s hard not to miss the intimacy of the original.
Blade Runner 2049 is the kind of film you can write entire theses about; it’s that big. Unfortunately, that enormity is also a double-edged sword, and will probably divide fans for years to come. One viewing just doesn’t feel adequate to understand its complexities; there’s too much information demanding to be absorbed. I’m sure that opinions to it will shift over time, as they did with the original. For now, be assured that it is well worth your time and consideration. You’ll walk out desperate for a second viewing, and that’s a remarkable feat for a three-hour film. It’s a miracle, really, but Villeneuve has delivered the best film we could have hoped for.
Blade Runner 2049 is available in Australian cinemas from October 5
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures