Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic sci-fi film Blade Runner gets the sequel it deserves. Some regard the original as one of the best films they’ve seen. Others claim it is an overly ambitious paraphrase of its novel inspiration. Although I did enjoy the original, it felt very dated to me. It could be the age gap. But I have a hard time taking 80’s movies seriously. Cheesy performances, costumes, and sound designs make me wonder how anyone found blockbuster films convincing back in the day. In the case of Blade Runner, its cringe-worthy score distracts from the film’s concept. Rather than use saxophones to heighten a scene they drowned too many scenes in smooth jazz instead. I don’t know about you, but bluesy, smooth jazz has a very specific tone. One of the film’s imperative scenes features Harrison Ford’s synthetic love interest playing him a song on the piano.
Rachael (played by Sean Young) is a human-like robot, or “replicant”. After Ford’s character Rick Deckard administers a test to gauge her emotional responses, he discovers her self-awareness. She is certain that she is human. Subsequently, Rachael and Deckard become close. There’s a lot more to it than that, but allow me to go back to my previous point. An intimate scene between the two is ruined by the aforementioned sax. The derailing of Rachael’s piano solo is one of a handful of tacky moments. Soft dialogue clashes with roaring spaceship effects. The leading antagonists seem like carbon copies of Joker and Harley Quinn. Additionally, the action sequences take away from the storyline. That bugs me with action flicks. But especially with Blade Runner. Due to a dreary pace, the action was desperately needed yet felt unsatisfying. So why did I say that I enjoyed the original? It is simple.
I truly appreciate creative ambition. In spite of its hiccups, Blade Runner has an edge to it that I love. Scott’s vision of marketing and societal norms 35-plus years ahead impressed me. That’s not because of its accuracy. His experimental visual design intrigued me. The future felt bleak yet advanced, dense yet lifeless. This same philosophy permeates its sequel. Blade Runner 2049 accomplishes the rare feat of topping its beloved predecessor. Unlike many big-budget sequels, 2049 focuses on meticulous artistic flair rather than showy theatrics. Only a few sequels best their originals. Terminator 2, The Dark Knight, For a Few Dollars More, and The Two Towers are a few. Re-imagining a classic is hard work. Fan expectations loom always. Though in this sequel, references are clear and competent. I found myself in awe during most of the film. The cinematography is dazzling here. Roger Deakins: Congratulations, you nailed it (again).
Seamless transitions and captivating stills make 2049 one of the most memorable films in years. Although this sequel’s set of actors did not blow me away, they fit into their roles snugly. Cutting-edge visual effects are the backbone of this film. The attention to detail here compares to a Fury Road-esque level. Color is used effectively to create an immersive aesthetic. Deakins’ legendary camerawork takes this franchise to new heights. His use of lighting and shadowing is electric. His wide shots capture the wonder of this post-modern world. Most of all, the patience Deakins displays fuels the film’s pace. At 163 minutes, 2049 may stretch a bit too long for some viewers. However, Hampton Fancher’s plot is riveting from start to finish. Somber moments of conflict, realization, and solitude do appear. But they feel important rather than stifling. Director Denis Villenueve’s cinematic stride is steady and spontaneous.
Nothing here feels forced. Even the references to the original are timed nicely. Gosling (aka “K” or “Joe”) finds a clue in an old piano after “retiring” the homeowner. Edward James Olmos returns as Deckard’s one-time partner. He helps The Gos track Ford down while crafting his signature origami. Rachael makes an appearance as well. Let me tell you: Her rendering is truly jaw-dropping. Young herself is not actually in the film. Instead, a stand-in actress is seen with Young’s face digitally inserted. The last time I saw a trick like this was in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Two key actors to the Star Wars franchise passed away before Rogue One‘s release. Because of this, they decided to computer-generate their faces into the film. Many critics, including myself, found the results to be distasteful. Simply put: They looked extra fake. That’s not the case with 2049, though.
Rachael’s return is masterful. She looked like she had been copied from 1982 and pasted into the present. When she spoke, her spacial effects never lagged or separated. Her graphics were fluent and true-to-form in such a way I have never previously witnessed. In conclusion, this film is a must-see. If you haven’t seen or didn’t like the original Blade Runner, I would still recommend 2049. This sequel embodies the coolest aspects of its predecessor and expands on them. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score and sound design surround the audience like brisk, autumn air. This isn’t just another movie. Blade Runner 2049 is an essential viewing experience. With more detailed awareness to realistic combat and emotive line delivery, this could have been an instant classic in my eyes. Exceeding expectations in this hype-based world of ours is the essence of 2049′s rare, slow-burning beauty.