Blade Runner 2049: seven observations of mine

1.

It’s good. Really good. Better than the original, in fact. It has the same haunting, unsettling quality. The same feeling of a universe that is lived in. The same ability to provoke uncomfortable questions. And visuals that are if anything even more stunning. Yet it also improves on it. The narrative has a clearer direction, the pacing is tighter and more even, and there are shorter gaps between action scenes. That adds to the excitement without detracting from anything else.

2.

Notwithstanding point 1, I don’t think Blade Runner 2049 will become an icon in the same way as its predecessor. That is partly an inevitable result of the fact that Blade Runner’s influence is now baked into popular culture. Blade Runner 2049 was never going to be able to execute a similar paradigm shift, because the very fact it is a sequel means it operates within an existing paradigm. Therefore, it cannot become the same kind of landmark in film history.

That said I think 2049 lacks something else that made the first one a classic, and it’s something it – at least in theory – could have delivered. The reason why one film becomes an icon and another doesn’t is generally not their totality. We cannot remember a whole film. Instead what stays with us is usually their most compelling moments. So, an icon status often stems from particular scenes. The kind that get seared in your brain if you’ve seen them and feel familiar even if you haven’t. It also helps if they have dialogue you can quote. The first Blade Runner absolutely had that in the final rooftop confrontation between Deckard and Roy Batty. I don’t think 2049 does. That said, this is one of those things where we have to wait for time to tell, before saying for certain. After all, Blade Runner initially appeared to have fallen flat, and only came to be viewed as a classic later. Maybe on reflection, one moment of 2049 will come to sum up the brilliance of the whole film. I’m not sure though.

3.

Denis Villeneuve seems a lot like the new Christopher Nolan. That’s partly because their films look similar and have similar tones. More importantly, however, they both make smart, complicated, thought provoking pieces of art that work for a mass audience.

I also sense that we’ve yet to see Villeneuve’s Dark Knight or Dunkirk. I await that masterpiece with barely contained excitement.

4.

I regret that Jóhann Jóhannsson didn’t get to score it. Hans Zimmer does perfectly good work but it is very much what we’ve come to expect from him and his imitators. Villeneuve and Jóhannsson seem to have a Spielberg/Williams (and indeed Nolan/Zimmer) style synergy and I suspect that them working together again might have produced something more memorable.

5.

This is a rare film that uses the ‘born sexy yesterday’ trope without indulging it. It is not only conscious of the fact that the idea is creepy but consciously uses it.

6.

2049’s being released just months after the very Blade Runnery live action remake of Ghost in the Shell does underline how much of a failure that film was. Mr Sunday Movies accurately described it as ‘the poor man’s Blade Runner, and also the poor man’s Ghost in the Shell.

7.

Blade Runner 2049 and Westworld (TV series) would make great companion pieces. They have similar themes and a shared ambition, but a different approach and feel.

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