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Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017 12:04 am

Blade Runner 2049 a worthy continuation

Ana de Armas as Joi and Ryan Gosling as Officer K in Blade Runner 2049.
PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS. PICTURES

 

Going where many filmmakers would fear to tread, director Denis Villeneuve has ventured into dangerous territory by making a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner with Blade Runner 2049, a lavish continuation of the cult sci-fi classic that manages to be an improvement on the original. I know this opinion will be seen as heresy by that film’s legion of fans, but even after a recent viewing, I found the movie to be far too slow and emotionally distant. While Villeneuve’s movie does overstay its welcome, it proves to be a more poignant exercise as it delves more effectively into the question of what it means to be human, while containing more than a few surprises that spring organically from this continuing narrative.

Set some 30 years after the events of the first film, blade runners still exist, though most of the rogue replicants have been rounded up while new models have been made with failsafe mechanisms that prevent them from rebelling. Under the command of Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), blade runner K (Ryan Gosling), a synthetic himself, is assigned to track down older models that have gone their own way and live in seclusion. While taking down one such synthetic (Dave Bautista), K stumbles across a grave that contains the skeleton of a woman who is determined to have died during childbirth.

This the jumping-off point to a story that, like all film noirs, is consumed with narrative and physical shadows that reluctantly give up their secrets, each proving to have sprung organically from the story, none of them being the least bit trite or manipulative. K’s journey for answers – as it is soon discovered that there’s much more to do with those human remains than initially thought – takes him out of the perpetually gloomy Los Angeles to the boundaries of civilization and beyond, until he ends up in a deserted Las Vegas that is inhabited solely by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who may have the answers he seeks.

Visually, Villenueve, production designer Dennis Gassner and cinematographer Roger Deakins have created a worthy successor to Scott’s groundbreaking original. The vision here is equally dank and wet; the buildings soar to the heavens, crushing the spirit of those who walk among them, while the advertising holograms have become more risqué. But it’s when the action shifts away from the city that this trio gets to put their distinctive stamp on this world, creating a landscape of ruins littered with massive structures reduced to rubble, indicative of the wasted potential and broken dreams of this world. It’s an immersive experience that never feels less than genuine.

The question of what makes us human was touched upon in the original, but screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green wisely bring it to the forefront here. While K is aware that he’s a replicant, he still longs to experience life as a human being, yearning most of all to feel genuine love. On the rare occasion he comes home to his shabby apartment, he’s met by Joi (Ana de Armas), a beautiful young woman who prepares dinner for him while engaging in “How was your day?” banter. Unfortunately, Joi is a holographic replicant, and despite the couple’s efforts to create a romantic, domestic relationship, they will always fall short. Their yearning for this and the lengths they go to in order to realize them prove surprisingly poignant and effectively remind us of our own humanity.

While many of the recent reboots have felt like opportunistic exercises made to prey on viewers’ sense of nostalgia, Blade Runner 2049 is a rich, thought-provoking continuation that benefits from the passage of time. Much more than just a visual exercise, this hypnotic film transcends its genre roots to become a commentary on the importance of personal connections – real or imagined – in an impersonal world.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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