I have seen a lot of movies, but there are times when the Boy is shocked to talk with me about movies, only to find out that I haven’t seen a lot of the classics. A couple months ago he listed a bunch in a row and just gaped when I kept replying, “Nope – haven’t seen it” to just a string of classic science fiction movies. One that he was particularly aghast at my not having seen is the movie Blade Runner. This particular omission in my cinematic education was such an affront to him that he insisted we add it to our list of “things to watch” (which mostly consists of television shows), and recently we ended up spending a couple dollars on Amazon to rent the original cinematic cut (after more fraught comparison of different versions). It was pretty good, and I feel like I’ve done my duty in having seen it, though as you can tell by “do my duty” it wasn’t the most stimulating thing I’ve ever watched. The movie is both painfully slow, confusing and dramatically action packed in equal portions. There’s so much creeping around in old buildings with nothing happening, and then tense fights. I nearly fell asleep. Please don’t tell that to the Boy.
In any case, I think the encouraging me to watch the original was all preparation for him to make it easier to convince me to see the sequel when it came out soon after. In fact, less than a month ago, he sent me the following review from Variety, with the subject line “YES”. My reply was short, and I’ll put it all here in its entirety:
this movie “ranks as one of the great science-fiction films of all time”? dang. That’s big talk. I mean, nearly 3 hours is a COMMITMENT, but I’m in if it’s really that good.
So basically it was planned far in advance that we would see this movie. And when I say planned, I mean that our schedules are so busy with his travel, my various commitments, other events on our calendar, and with having the girls about half of the weeknights means that we literally had to scour our calendar to find an open evening. You have not lived until you’ve seen a grown man pout because he can’t see the newest shiniest science fiction movie right away. The good news is that we managed to find a weeknight that worked for our schedule and was well before the movie got shunted into second-run theaters. It was still a very quiet showing – 9 attendees total, of which only 3 were women – but I think that can mostly be chalked up to seeing it on a Wednesday evening at dinner time.
So, what about the movie? It was pretty good. I think having just seen the original, I was lucky to have the images and soundscape still in my head, and those were reflected very well in the sequel. Both movies had this overpowering loudness to them, which reminded me of the “BWONG” noise from Inception. I do remember that the original had some really stunning visuals of dystopian Los Angeles that were iconic and stunning. This new film sees those visuals and takes them up a step with visions of San Diego which has become a dumping ground, and an abandoned Las Vegas which has been reclaimed by the desert. The imagery from this movie is going to become iconic, and it’s been out for less than a month.
The acting is very good as well – there are some big names which could be distracting (Robin Wright putting in another terrific supporting role this year), but they are mostly from stars or cameos from those who appeared in the original films. Ryan Gosling is often criticized for acting in one monotone voice, but in this role as “K”, it works as he’s playing a replicant who isn’t supposed to be perfectly human. Harrison Ford isn’t in much of the movie, and there’s less acting required from him than reacting (to being in a fight or in peril). There are two performances by actresses I haven’t heard of that were particularly of note. I loved the Ana de Armas’ performance as Joi, the operating system/artificial companion that accompanies K throughout the film. Despite being merely an operating system, she seems to have the greatest desires and hopes of anyone in the movie, and is the most desirous of being or approximating realness. Sylvia Hoeks is one of the villains of the piece, and she is pretty incredible. Her first scenes make her out to be a gate-keeper and accomplice, but turn into something darker and more sinister as we see her role as enforcer, corporate judge, and clean-up.
One of the more fascinating discussions to come out of the film is what it means to have a soul. K is a replicant, so is a human-made machine, albeit one that is designed to replicate human actions without the weakness of body or spirit. He goes through a Pinocchio transformation where he begins to believe that maybe he’s special and maybe he’s more real than he believes. A big part of this is based on the idea of memories – at what point in a replicant’s life are the memories real, and before which point are they creations that have been inserted?
If you’re interested in “thinky” science fiction, this will be the movie for you (it has the same director as last year’s Arrival). If you like the original Blade Runner, you’ll want to see it because it expands and calls back to the original movie without relying too much on remake culture as it currently stands. If you are like me and don’t fall neatly into either of those categories, it’s still possible to watch this movie and enjoy it or at least be inspired and have new thoughts about the nature of being human provoked.
Details: Blade Runner 2049, written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, directed by Denis Villeneuve. In theaters now.