Blade Runner 2049
Written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
In the wake of the first film’s events, the Tyrell line of replicants have been discarded, and a new company run by Niander Wallace has rolled out a “better” model of replicant, one that is more compliant to their human superiors. A Blade Runner named K is one of these and regularly dispatches the older models who have managed to hide on the fringes of society. That is until one case reveals one of the most significant discoveries in humanity’s history, an event that could change the very fabric of society if it got out. K is told to make sure this secret never gets out and goes on a journey to search out the story behind the mystery. This leads him beyond Los Angeles and across the scarred futuristic landscape, ultimately to a truth about himself.
Blade Runner 2049 is a better film than the original. It maintains the strong sense of worldbuilding from Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi picture but has a better developed main character and plot. The original film has always billed itself as a dystopian film noir, but the mystery is pretty much laid out before the audience. With 2049, our central character K actually does detective work, and there is a mystery that we solve alongside him. And, like the original, while we solve the mystery there is still ambiguity about specific plot points.
There’s no way in words to convey the power of this film, it honestly has to be experienced. However, we are here so I will attempt to put together something that gets across an iota of what it felt like to see this picture. The first thing that feels like the original Blade Runner is the music. Composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch manage to capture the exact essence of Vangelis without ever sounding like pure copycats. There are familiar cues but woven into new themes, all utilizing the vast droning electronic landscape. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is stunning. He has been a regular collaborator of the Coen Brothers as well as Villeneuve, but he has never delivered something so gorgeous and intricate. Deakins masters the use of shadow and light that frankly looks better than the original, and that is saying a lot. There is one moment of sheer beauty where the embers of a fire become the lights of a sprawling cityscape that has to be seen.
The original had those visuals and music, but 2049 expands the scope of this world far beyond Los Angeles. The city of the original film, cramped and bustling with life, is now much more empty. The opening text reveals that major environmental crises have cut down the population and driven many others off world. This is a future not of our own time, but a future built out of an alternate universe. The production design makes sure we see billboards for Atari and the PanAm building, as well as a holographic advertisement for a performance of the Soviet ballet. This is a 2049 where history took a different path, cleverly done to keep the events of the original film intact. No need for a reboot because this is a continuation of an alternate timeline.
The development of technology between films feels so streamlined and frankly matches up with what likely will come on our own path towards the future. Holographics are apparently the new thing but aren’t so ubiquitous that the police are using them. We still see the primitive consoles and monitors from the original. Even K’s holographic companion, Joi, appears courtesy of a projector mounted on a track in his ceiling. The cars and buildings feel lived in and used. A visit to a metropolitan sized landfill reveals how much waste is generated by humanity at this point, with warring tribes of poor people fighting over scraps and orphans slaving away to strip and scavenge.
Villeneuve keeps the story economic when it could so quickly become overblown and off the rails. Like the original, the dialogue is sparse, and when it’s there, it has a purpose. There always seems to be an eager race among film buffs to title filmmakers “The Next Kubrick, ” and I feel pretty confident in saying that Villeneuve is the real deal. After so many great films he has really solidified himself in opinion as a director who thinks big but cuts away the fat that other filmmakers so easily indulge in. Nothing here seems indulgent even for its almost three hour run time. Each scene and moment is an essential piece in either furthering the plot or building out this world and settling the audience into its atmosphere.