Best Visual Effects
WARNER BROS. PICTURES (2017)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto
“Your history isn’t over. There’s still a page left.”
For a very long time, it seemed that Blade Runner’s history was, in fact, over. Seven iterations of the original came and the movie grew into a cult sci-fi classic to the majority. Then up stepped Denis Villeneuve with a script, a plan and Roger Deakins. Plus Harrison Ford…and Ryan Gosling…and some other old heads too.
An utter visual spectacle and with a compelling (yet very long) story, Blade Runner 2049 surpasses the original.
Thirty years after the events of the original, next-level replicants live side-by-side with humans in society. Manufacturer (and demi-god) Niander Wallace (Leto) has successfully created upgraded replicants, stripped of their four-year lifespan and with the ability to obey. He is also responsible for the agriculture, food production and, basically, the continued survival of California. Down in the gloom, blade runner, and top-level skin-job, K (Gosling) is tasked with retiring (i.e. KILLING) older model, rogue replicants that hide amongst the humans. A vicious brawl at the farm of rogue replicant Sapper Morton (Bautista) ends with K walking away with the job done, however not before his scans pick up a mysterious package buried deep under a tree – one that brings MASSIVE implications for his future and the future of the replicants as a ‘race’.
The discovery ensures K now has a new mission – follow up the remarkable find from the box before anyone else finds out. Unfortunately for them, Wallace has sent his bad-ass replicant enforcer Luv (Hoeks) to collect the contents and lead K to the final destination, where they will be waiting. With the help of a carved horse toy, implanted memories, old head Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and his stunning holo-girlfriend Joi (de Armas), all paths for help and answers lead back to the reclusive original blade runner, Rick Deckard (Ford).
Blade Runner 2049 manages to pull off the rare feat of being a good sequel that’s better than its predecessor. That isn’t based on decade or image, this is simply a better movie – it’s deeper, more thorough, more emotional and upgrades upon the original. We have a detective who actually gets to do some…detecting. Lots of it. Replicants are given depth and development. The original cast and handled with respect and not simply shoe-horned in (well, all but one) and the blurred lines of humanity are just as prevalent here. The links and connections to Blade Runner are ingenious and very well controlled and the world is just the same – only with a few upgrades as the years have passed (Atari and Pan-Am still loom large, as do the Coca-Cola adverts). The action this time around is hard-hitting, bruising and delivers much better choreography.
As for the cast – they’re splendid. Gosling is great as the mysterious, tough K, brimming with a laser-focus and a gentle humanity (uh oh, here we go…!). Jared Leto gets to play another oddjob, but this time brings an air of ambiguity and power with him. Sylvia Hoeks is bad ass machine of a woman in a pencil skirt – cold, calculating and desperate to prove she is the top replicants, and Ana de Armas is innocently delightful as K’s companion. However, top props go to Harrison Ford who unleashes a career-best performance as a brilliant, mad, desperate and vulnerable Deckard, looking every bit a man who has been in hiding for thirty years.
Something that will get mentioned everywhere is the fact that the cinematography is ridiculous. Roger Deakins has laboured over every inch of every scene to ensure Blade Runner 2049 is an unrivalled visual spectacle. The gorgeous water reflections on the golden walls of Wallace’s abode, the sprawling landscapes of fog and rain, the huge agriculture sites and, of course, the monolithic cityscapes bursting simultaneously with colour and despair (keep your Ghost in the Shell in its small box). The lighting is outrageous and becomes a key part of key scenes. Honestly, the movie looks sensational and Deakins deserve every bit of praise he will receive. The iconic Vangelis score returns and receives an upgrade from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.
Whilst the movie is thorough and will be praised for going deeper than the original, it stills suffers from the same problem of pacing issues. It’s a stunning movie to look at, but certain scenes and elements do run for too long and become ponderous in their delivery. Also, whilst the over-riding themes of Blade Runner are still prevalent, I did find myself thinking that I’d seen it all before to a point, they are never really advanced from the questions posed by the original. Wallace’s arc is left very much open as it ended abruptly and frustratingly after a scene that could’ve been so much more, having already delivered the movie’s emotional KO.
One question that is teased is the subject of Deckard’s humanity, and it is teased very well.
As mentioned, Blade Runner 2049 is an upgrade in most departments and is an utter joy to watch. As each scene unravels, there’s so much to take in but it never becomes overkill, it’s very graciously done and very much appreciated. The flip of motivations from Blade Runner is smart (it’s not the child (Batty) looking for the father (Tyrell) anymore…) and overall, the movie delivers in a big way. Pacing issues and philosophy blocks aside, Blade Runner 2049 is a marvellous achievement, and one that, I’m sure, will be spoken about for years to come also.
October 5th 2017