Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve, has been released on 4K/Blu-Ray/DVD and digital, and has received Oscar nominations for its cinematography, visual effects, sound editing, sound mixing, and production design. While critically acclaimed, audiences did not seem to be there for it. Fans of the film are louder with their opinions and recommendations now that it is more widely available.
Bladerunner 2049 is the sequel to the noir sci-fi film, Bladerunner, that bombed in the ‘80s with seven different versions. Not a terribly inviting introduction to most people. The strength of Blade Runner 2049 as a sequel is that it stands on its own and completely flourishes its own world. References and hints to the original film do not drag it down, but provides an enhanced experience if you have seen the original. This is a film that doubles its sci-fi narrative, tackling big questions with a story about a detective solving a mystery. Good detective movies are few and far between in the current era of film.
For the sake of simplicity, and because the film does the best job of elaborating on its own rules, the intricacies of the film will not be discussed here. The blade runner Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling, makes a discovery while completing a mission to take in or take out a replicant. The discovery is the driving force of the plot, and otherwise could be considered a “spoiler.”
So why the attention? Why are some people saying that Blade Runner 2049 is more than a bunch of pretty shots and characters staring at each other? Arguably, this film is the most honest attempt at answering the question “What is a soul?”
Surely the art and music behind this film deserve their own attention, but they are powerful because they tell the story so the responses from actors are one hundred percent reflective of the emotions of the characters. The subtleties of the acting tell the audience where the characters are, what they are thinking in that moment.
We put ourselves into the shoes of Officer K, an entity that is composed of parts to look human, but is by definition an android. Yet, we sympathize with him and follow journey closely as he is confronting his own existential crisis.
Each scene prioritizes Officer K’s struggle while completely serving the story. Ryan Gosling emotes to reflect K’s internalization of each piece of information that emphasizes the conflict within the character. This conflict gives the story its weight and the reason why each shot is more than just a nice picture. The connection between the characters and the environments in the film are the reason the audience can recognize that the surroundings reflect some part of the character. This is why the film is filled with longer shots, to confirm exactly what the characters are feeling.
Many directors make the mistake of holding long shots or including wandering shots for a few seconds longer than they should to try and convey added meaning where there is not. Denis Villeneuve, however, has proven he is a master of the long shot with this film because each second allows the audience to sit and sympathize with the events on screen. The film is better for its length, contrary to what many believe when they say it could have been shorter and had the same story. The plot would be the same, but the story would not have the distinct weight it does without it. Adding weight to the seemingly mundane, feeling time pass by, forcing the audience to confront existence itself, all make this film elegant, yet subtle and unique.
Removing shots or shaving seconds here and there off the film neuters the humanity, or what we recognize as humanity, with the characters. We live in a gorgeous yet terrifying world filled with things we cannot explain or understand, but even we accept them and move on with our lives. Take driving a car, for example. Most people drive to work or to get groceries or go to a restaurant now and again, never appreciating cars were a marvel just a century ago. Not too give too big a hint, but the film takes this kind of approach in its introduction. Taking that approach with this film to begin might help one understand this film does not aim to go over your head, but rather give one a reason to think a bit more about life and choices made.
Please do not let the fact that this film is considered “hard sci-fi” distract from the powerful story that guides the audience to learn something about humanity and themselves.
Blade Runner 2049 is a tribute to the soul and humanity that should not be ignored. It is breathtaking, heartbreaking, and the existential frustration of life. This film gives the more the viewer gives themselves to it, a full circle of what it means to learn about emotions, a rare reward given for watching a film. Each shot’s beauty is not limited to beauty for its own sake.
They are beautifully done to make them memorable and think about the implications of the story. Never is the music or sound is self important, for its presence or absence has meaning that is easy to see but takes time to understand. That understanding is rewarding because it helps discover the implications of events in the story while helping the viewer discover an idea or concept they may not have experienced before.
To put it simply, this is the well-crafted sci-fi noir film that keeps on giving.
[Photo Courtesy of Kotaku]