Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece

The box office hasn't been promising for Blade Runner 2049, the long anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott's  1980 science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner. That's entirely unfortunate, because director Denis Villeneuve's take on the story , originally inspired by Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is a sequel in the best and truest sense. Villeneuve works closely with screen writers  Hampton Fancher, Michael Green and draws upon the right story elements from the first film realization of this dark forecast, the right characters are reprised, the right social issues highlighted again through a bleak, rain and shadow cloaked landscape, both urban and otherwise. It's a simple notion that nearly all artistically and thematically coherent sequels --Godfather 2, Aliens--share: enough material for plot possibility,the justification to continue the story told so far, and the instinct to have the next chapter stand on its own , a work onto itself, not a mere reiteration of melodramatic effects or punchlines from what had worked previously.

Ridley Scott never again directed a film as beautiful or as provocative as  film Blade Runner, his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep". Much has been said of the film's look, an evocation of Los Angeles in a a future time, with smart and stylish renditions of classic film noir style. If nothing else,this film does make fine use of the extremes of light and dark, with a muted , earth toned schema for the matters in between that suggest the competing sediments of rust, dust, soot and chemical pollution, a suitable palette for a thriller set in the future. More than the look, however, is the set of issues the movies manages to cogently engage, from the spiritual ---the rogue androids quest to meet their creator and so extend their lives--to the sociological and philosophical. Immigration, urban cluster fucking, the mashing of cultures, the unprincipled introduction of odious technologies into the consumer marketplace, untried, untested, consequences be damned. He's directed other noteworthy films--The DuelistBlack Hawk DownGladiator ,Matchstick Men, and the much more recent efforts Prometheus and The Martian . come to mind--but none of them have the combination of ideas, tone , or visual allure that made Blade Runner a singular work; the odd thing is that it is that rare instance of when an elegantly designed vehicle contains  any number of ideas that are substantial enough for a half-dozen discussion groups and a surfeit of monographs. This follows Philip K.Dick;s fascination with how populations are willing to relinquish their humanity--the kind of inventive, curious , adventurous humanity that isn't afraid of hard work, using it's brain, or risking death in the cause of finding out more of the world. In his novels technology is seen as the means through which the human being becomes less human by having the burden of having to use his Free Will less and less. As the machines take on more of what was exclusively the domain of flesh and blood,the tragedy that befalls those who've chosen convenience and leisure over a grittier essence don't seem tragic at all; it is hard to empathise with the products of pure leisure who haven't a care except for the entertainment of their senses.


In plot, theme, and , especially in the fabulously rendered and supremely controlled visual design which fuses a film-noir sense of bleak anxiety with an unequaled elegance--Blade Runner 2049 is my best film of the year. Yet audiences are not showing up to fill the theater seats. Why?It reasonably be said that 35 years too long for a sequel come out. Much as I think this new film is a splendidly and lyrically executed effort and convincing continuation of the previous film's story line, it's not ;unlikely that those not intimately involved with the film like we BR aficionados don't have much invested in whether self aware androids have the right of self determination or whether Decker was a replicant himself or how a society becomes, less and less subtly, a master-slave society the more of a society's resources are depleted. These aspects were very apparent and powerfully conveyed in Scott's script and visual narrative, but since the film tanked in 1982 at the box office , it's particulars of  a paranoid, dystopic world seemed to be familiar onl;y to the dedicated cineastes, there was not the kind of Star Wars (or Game of Thrones) anticipation of what is doing to happen next. 

What's especially tragic is that the no-show audiences, the current generation of internet content streamers who've little invested in getting deeper into the magnificent , dark murk that is the world inhabiting the darkest recesses of P.K.Dick's steamiest fever dream , are missing out on a film that is full chapter in an ongoing story, the most recent incidents in a fantasy of societal collapse. It's a masterpiece on its own terms, the vision of a particularly sharp and visually astute director, a canny screen play, and an amazing visualization of a film-noir style, with high contrast light and shadow creating moody, angular atmospherics amid  the decrepit architecture of once great cities surrendering their concrete, steel and glass back to the earth .

Not a reboot, not a tricked out and tone deaf "reimagining", 2049 picks up from where the previous film's story line stopped  thirty  years previously. Or rather, the previous tale is revealed as a compelling element after we're already immersed in a new story concerning a second generation "blade runner", agents of the Los Angeles Police Department specializing in the destruction of older , artificially intelligent androids who, because of their sentience have rebelled too often against their wholly human orders, have been targeted for unforgiving elimination. Or, in the film's brutal  euphemism, "retired".  It suffices to say that Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 is to the original film what The Godfather 2 was to the first Godfather film.  It's a masterpiece of tone, image, mood, atmosphere.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed --got to see it again to admire more details

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