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Blade Runner 2049: Thoughts

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I go see very few movies in the theatre, but a sequel to Blade Runner? That had to have the full cinematic experience. A couple of friends also wanted to check it out, so I dropped my money for a Tuesday showing (because it’s cheaper . . . as am I) and we plopped down in our seats.

I am a fan of the original Blade Runner, and more specifically, the first Director’s Cut from 1991. I found a lot to love in the movie, from the setting to the story, to the noir influences. I probably can’t objectively relate to it as it’s been a huge part of my cultural landscape since I was old enough to actually think about the things I was reading and seeing.

That should help situate you for this, because I really enjoyed the experience, and while it might not be the equal of the original, I don’t think anything possibly could be. I think the story was simpler in the original and while 2049 might be a little overstuffed – its running time is 163 minutes – the movie went by quite quickly for me and I was immersed the whole time.

Without spoiling anything, Ryan Gosling plays a Blade Runner in the world 30 years after the original movie. He hunts replicants, and stumbles across a secret that his superior believes could ignite a rebellion between the manufactured workforce and their Human masters. I don’t want to say more than that and the people behind the movie have actually asked that spoilers not be shared. I don’t think this is necessary to the enjoyment of the movie, but it’s also not important to give a general impression of the film.

Everyone seems to agree that the visuals and the soundscape – both the music and the sound engineering more generally – are exemplary. This is an absolutely beautiful movie and one other reason to see it in the theatre is the impact of the sound. Not just the music but the environmental sounds. This is incredibly rich and textured, and you need the best of equipment to fully enjoy both. At times, the heavy bass of the score overwhelmed the sound system of the theatre in which I saw it, and this might be a case where one should splurge and watch it in the best-equipped cinema one can. I saw it in a standard theatre format – no special sound, no IMAX, nothing.

In the Slate Spoiler Special concerning 2049, the hosts complain that there are apparently very many motifs that don’t make sense – Bible references that don’t line up or are contradictory. One of the reasons I could never be an actual critic is that I am not watching a film to deconstruct it but to enjoy it. Maybe if those motifs don’t work the way one expects them to, that is based on one’s faulty expectations and perhaps these are not what you think they are. Just because the character is named Joe, is it necessarily a reference to Joseph the father of Jesus? Maybe one thinks it should be, but if that interpretation doesn’t work with the film as presented, perhaps the director did not agree?

Neither of my friends enjoyed the movie as much as I did. I also don’t think either was as invested in the original as I am. In fact, One friend was very lukewarm on the movie, so I know my experience is not universal, but I found the story and characters worked very well.

The key to all this seems to be one’s opinion of Ryan Gosling’s performance, or perhaps the character he portrays. For me, I was invested in the character, and while I can see why one would expect the character to be an echo of Deckard – whom he resembles very closely in many aspects – I think that he also has many aspects of a different, important character in the original – which is highlighted at the end of the movie. The main difference is that he has Deckard’s cynicism but the other character’s drive. I think it makes a very interesting synthesis.

The one problem that is obvious is the Firefly problem – for a culture apparently steeped in Asian culture (and we prominently see Chinese, Japanese, and Korean text) there were no Asians. There were very few non-White roles at all and no major ones. I honestly find that a real problem, and if you have to ask why I think you may not have been paying attention the last decade or so.

In the end, I found this an amazing cinematic experience. This is a movie I will want to watch regularly. Definitely getting the blu-ray when it comes out. I think it’s a fitting sequel, and it is a much better sequel than I had any hope of ever seeing.

I give Blade Runner 2049 4.5 new-fangled, auto-piloting, kitted up spinner vehicle out of 5. Sumptuous visuals, impressive score and sound engineering and an engaging story make this a great film, an absolute necessity for fans of the original. While its languid pace was welcome, it is a hefty movie that could probably lose a few minutes here and there. The biggest issue was its love affair with Asian culture but not Asian people which really creates a problem of versimilitude in the setting.

You can find out more about Blade Runner 2049 at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can find the Slate Spoiler Special here.

At least Slate’s Stephen Metcalf on the Slate Culture Gabfest agrees with me! That episode is here.