“Blade Runner 2049”

Blade Runner 2049

THE PROLIFIC SCIENCE-fiction novelist Philip K. Dick, on whose short story the original Blade Runner was based, phrased the question of what it means to be human by asking, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” In Dick’s novel, Rick Deckard hates his pet, an electric sheep, precisely because he knows that it, like the androids of the story, feels nothing for him no matter how much he cares for it. Of course Deckard, played by Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott’s 1982 adaptation, eventually learns that androids may, in fact, be capable of empathy, which prompts an extreme change in how he understands himself and a little soul-searching, if I can put it that way.

Blade Runner 2049 picks up, as they say, where its predecessor left off. In this world, in which thirty years has passed since the events of the original film, it’s Officer K (Ryan Gosling), an efficient new-model android hardwired for compliance, who is preoccupied not so much with his own humanity (or lack of it), but with existence itself. K works, like Deckard, as a blade runner, tasked with hunting down and “retiring”, in the language of the era, rogue older model replicants.

At the start of the film K travels to a secluded protein farm as part of an investigation into a growing replicant freedom movement, and finds there the hulking figure of Nexus-8 Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) in addition to a buried box containing bones. It isn’t long after that “Constant” K, as his superiors at the LAPD call him on account of his reliability and unflappable bearing, starts to have doubts about the nature of the work, concluding that anything born must have a soul.


K’s home life, meanwhile, is unremarkable but for the constant presence of a holographic––but highly realistic––A.I. (Ana de Armas) that can change in a moment from doting housewife to lively intellectual. Her realness is jarring, and the spell is only broken, so to say, when rain lashes down on her projected image and causes it to flicker and disintegrate.


K’s home life, meanwhile, is unremarkable but for the constant presence of a holographic––but highly realistic––A.I. (Ana de Armas) that can change in a moment from doting housewife to lively intellectual. Her realness is jarring, and the spell is only broken, so to say, when rain lashes down on her projected image and causes it to flicker and disintegrate. Her very existence asks the question that is the drumbeat of the film: what does it mean to be “real”? All the while the streets of Los Angeles glow with giant hologram women with colourful lego haircuts and emptiness in their eyes, and long outdated brands such as Pan Am and Atari decorate shop fronts and windows.

Blade Runner 2049 is a meandering, slow-burning, thoughtful sort of film that’s similar to but also distinct from the original. The probing script, which is co-written by Alien: Covenant writer Michael Green and Hampton Fancher, who wrote the first film, assures a certain feeling of continuity, as does the lugubrious mise-en-scène: like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 walks a line between film noir and dystopian sci-fi. It’s hard not to think for instance, as K roams the streets of this gloomy and wet Los Angeles, silhouetted in a long coat, of The Maltese Falcon; the scenes in which K meets Niander Wallace at the vast golden headquarters of the Wallace Corporation. meanwhile, owe a great deal to Boris Ingster’s Stranger on the Third Floor, which itself draws heavily on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Special praise is due for Roger Deakins, whose cinematography pitches Officer K in all his insignificance and inner turmoil against what seems like an endlessness of bright and cheerless neon and forbidding dark clouds. But Deakins’s closer shots are also stunning: his interpretation of K’s visit to the headquarters of the Wallace Corporation is a supreme example of fascinating and attractive cinematography. In one shot, in which K walks with Wallace’s henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) through a room lined by glass boxes containing replicant bodies, Deakins captures the darkness behind them and the golden light ahead, with the caged replicants, dangling like puppets, of course marking the way.


Special praise is due for Roger Deakins, whose cinematography places K in all his smallness and inner turmoil against what seems like an endlessness of bright and cheerless neon and forbidding dark clouds. His depiction of K’s visit to the headquarters of the Wallace Corporation is a supreme example of fascinating and attractive cinematography.


With a running time of a hundred and eighty-five minutes the film is too long and slips, at times, into a self-indulgence that risks allowing the film to sail over the line separating profundity and pretentiousness. Blade Runner 2049 also lacks the thematic subtlety of the original, though in a dramatic and visual sense it surpasses it in. Gosling’s portrayal of Officer K is icy and inscrutable, and calls to mind his performance in Only God Forgives, while supporting performances from a grizzled Harrison Ford, who reprises his role in the original, and Robin Wright, who plays K’s stoic L.A.P.D. superior Lieutenant Joshi, are predictably captivating.

Any efforts to remake the films I love the most tend to make me nervous, and the 2017 version of Ghost in the Shell left me in need of a strong drink and possibly extensive counselling. But Denis Villeneuve, who is already one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, has managed with Blade Runner 2049 to create something that is loyal to its predecessor and yet ambitious, and profound in its own way. There are shortcomings to Blade Runner 2049, but it is quite clearly a worthy sequel, which, when you consider the impact of the original, is high praise.

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‘Arrival’

Review: 'Arrival'

ONE OF THE most tedious things you can be told upon leaving a film screening is that ‘the book is better’, and it’s always excruciatingly clear that whichever smug bastard says this does so only to convey that they’ve read the book and are therefore a literary, intellectual type of person. That said, when it comes to Arrival, the book––or rather the story––on which it’s based is better.

It’s a point that isn’t completely irrelevant because in comparing Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life to Denis Villeneuve and Eric Heisserer’s adaptation you see Arrival’s (admittedly few) shortcomings. But Arrival is, nevertheless, brilliant, and puts beyond doubt first that Amy Adams is one of the greatest actresses of her day and second that the sequel to Blade Runner is safe in the hands of Villeneuve, who has yet to make a poor film.


Arrival puts beyond doubt first that Amy Adams is one of the greatest actresses of her day and second that the sequel to Blade Runner is safe in the hands of Villeneuve, who has yet to make a poor film.


The film opens to the beautiful electro-acoustic music of Max Richter, and a series of flashbacks in which the linguistics expert Louise Banks, played by Adams, plays with her daughter, who dies in adolescence from cancer. In the present, twelve extraterrestrial spacecraft appear across the planet, prompting the U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to ask Banks to form a team with the physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and try to decipher the alien language so, ultimately, they can find out why the extraterrestrials have come to earth and whether they pose a threat.

It will appease science-fiction skeptics to read that that the film is not about aliens: it’s about Louise Banks and, by extension, her relationship with and memories of her daughter. Arrival, therefore, belongs to Amy Adams and she turns in an Oscar-worthy performance that for large tracts of the film is not only purely physical, but purely facial, because she is made to wear a hazmat suit during her meetings with the aliens. The focus on Dr. Banks is so intense that Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, who are given second and third billing respectively, are nearly demoted to extras; nevertheless both of them––particularly Renner––turn in excellent supporting performances.

Amy Adams’s performance, then, is necessarily minimalist, and minimalism is a theme that runs through the film. The score, by Jóhan Jóhannsson, rarely moves away from a discordant, uncomfortable hum, and the representations of the alien spacecraft, the aliens themselves, and other sci-fi elements such as zero gravity are tasteful and restrained, proving––and it’s one of Villeneuve’s achievements––that to see ‘the monster’ (or in this case, the monsters) is not to un-suspend the viewer’s suspension of disbelief. Max Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight, which plays at the beginning of the film and which many viewers will remember was used extensively in Martin Scorsese’s brilliant Shutter Island, is a subtle evocation of vagueness and otherworldliness. (In fact, this is one of the distinctive features of Richter’s music: it’s one of the reasons that The Haunted Ocean played during the now-famous dream sequence from Ari Folman’s award-winning Waltz with Bashir.)


Sci-fi elements such as zero gravity are tasteful and restrained, proving––and it’s one of Villeneuve’s achievements––that to see ‘the monster’ (or in this case, the monsters) is not to un-suspend the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.


But any departure from this theme of minimalism, which incidentally is a quality of Ted Chiang’s writing and storytelling style, is jarring. Outside of the main plot of Arrival described above is a secondary thread relating to the developments at the other spaceship sites and what is going on across the United States, and not only is it unnecessary but it’s harmful to the main storyline. It seems that screenwriter Eric Heisserer felt that the plot needed more drama, but the drama is plainly artificial, and it takes up screentime that might have been better used explaining key concepts such as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, semasiography and the process of learning a new language from scratch.

Arrival is, nevertheless, smart and sophisticated, genuinely thought-provoking and deeply moving. It’s the sort of film that will re-kindle a love of cinema in the hearts of those who have been worn down by a seemingly endless string of vacuous superhero films, sleep-inducing horror flicks and big-budget, franchise trash.

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