October 10, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

All I want when I go to the movies is to see something I've never seen before.
I've reviewed plenty of films where I've noted one scene, or one idea, or one action sequence that innovates. These are always a pleasure to see.
In Blade Runner 2049, every scene has a moment like this. From beginning to end, the art of moviemaking has been advanced. Every other movie set in the future, every movie that aims for beauty or meaning, has a new elevation to reach.
My Stub Hubby grade: A+
OK, maybe I'm laying on the praise too thick. Maybe I'm making 2049 sound too Important and Momentous. I want you to go see this movie, so let's bring it back down to earth:

Blade Runner 2049 is also a fine detective story: on a routine assignment hunting rogue replicants, Blade Runner 'K' (Ryan Gosling) uncovers a mystery. His investigation is caught in a triangle between his lieutenant (tough as nails Robin Wright), powerful businessman Wallace (Jared Leto, Zen slavemonger) and his own secret personal connection to the case. Gosling plays the classic L.A. detective well- I love the Philip Marlowe/Sam Spade detective type- dogged and determined, weary, sometimes caught off guard, always bruised but never bowed.

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How does 2049 compare to the original 2019?

This is a bold statement, because it happens so rarely in movies, but this sequel expands and improves on the themes of the original. 2019 is a "bounty hunter tracks down his targets" story, soaking in existential yearning and amazing atmosphere. 2049 is asking the same timeless questions about our meaning in the world, in the context of an existential detective story that goes deeper and resonates more strongly.

The sequel's style (imagery, color palette, sound, score, corporate logos) fit perfectly with the original. The cinematography by the Genius Roger Deakins is breathtaking. The original movie featured a unique synthesizer score by Vangelis; 2049 features a strong score that echoes Vangelis while remaining contemporary. The landscapes seem completely real; the special effects that must have been required to create the future tech are completely seamless.
The performances overall, a blend of deadpan noir with a helping of ultraviolence, also align with the original.

I especially appreciated the light touch with which 2049 pays tribute to the original. Yes, it's a sequel set in the same city 30 years later, but there were also a bunch of moments that reflect moments from the first film: K's girlfriend puts her arms around his neck just like Pris did to J.F.; K plays a single note on a piano like Deckard did; several replicants break through walls; incidental sound effects recur.
It's no secret that Harrison Ford's Deckard returns in this movie, but the events of the original film are referenced only distantly, obliquely. When I see 2049 again I'll have to try and imagine "What if you'd never seen 2019? Would this movie make sense?" I think the answer is yes. As detective mystery stories go, it doesn't explain the clues too much- there are a couple of moments where the director may have been worried about losing the audience, so there is some hand-holding, but not too much.

I love movies by European directors when they cast a ton of foreign actors in all the supporting roles- it's great to see new faces in all the small parts. Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks is terrific as Wallace's henchman, and Ana de Armas is a Cuban actress with an amazing role as K's girlfriend.

I am a superfan of 2019. I was skeptical of a sequel. I was encouraged when I saw director Denis Villeneuve's previous film Arrival. I wasn't certain I'd go see 2049 in the theater until the rave reviews came pouring in- I didn't read the reviews, but thanks to some headlines (and Rotten Tomatoes), I decided to drop the cash on 2049, and I am glad I did.

THEATER NOTES: A friend suggested the IMAX screen at Jordan's in Reading, which was great too. It's kind of lame that this special theater is General Admission- we lined up 45 minutes in advance to get good seats, I don't remember the last time I waited in line for a movie! The theater bills itself as some kind of super 4K resolution screen with the best sound, and the sound was great. I love a loud theater! The picture was also very impressive, but it's embarrassing that the LED lighting on the stairs was so bright the bottom corners of the movie were glowing blue the whole time. The stairs definitely need the lighting- the descent is irregular to make exiting each row of seats safe, but I almost fell down them even with the lighting. There must be a way to illuminate the steps and not the screen?
The audience was mostly fine- a senior couple were narrating the action to each other for the first few minutes until the wife left and did not return, thank God! There were some other talkers, but they were relatively quiet and did not bother me.