It has been 35 years since the release of the original Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford. However the fanbase for the film still thrives on, growing more and more as time passes by. The prayers of those demanding a sequel, a continuation that expands on the universe of Blade Runner, have been answered. With Ridley Scott coming back on board as Executive Producer and Denis Villeneuve, the director of critically acclaimed films such as Arrival and Sicario, taking the helm, Blade Runner 2049 was released a couple of weeks ago. After watching the film, it is apparent that Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece and one of the best sequels to a popular franchise to date, rivaling Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, the sequel to Star Wars: A New Hope.
The film focuses on Officer K played by Ryan Gosling, who is simultaneously a Replicant, an android built to suit human requirements, and a Blade Runner, an officer who hunts down replicants. It all begins with Officer K taking out a particular Replicant who was involved with important Replicant business. Slowly pulling on the string found during this arrest, Officer K starts to discover more and more regarding the Replicants that go all the way back to the previous Blade Runner, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford. This discovery puts Officer K on an entirely different path, a path that he wasn’t fated to to follow. While following Officer K as he continues his detective work, the audience also gets a view on how he lives, what he does in his spare time, and what Earth looks like in the year 2049. The film focuses on the state of California, which in 2049 is crowded, loud, dark, and filled with holograms advertising familiar products. Earth is marked by violence, since the only authority is the LA Police Department, which is not able to control everything.
Blade Runner 2049 offers a stunning example of modern filmmaking. The movie uses particular color schemes present settings and code their atmospheres, and the film’s serious tone is not disturbed by bathos, meaning it evades a common a problem in the booming superhero movie genre. The storyline questions what it means to be human as well as and presents the issues within human nature that causes its destruction, and the film’s artful composition frames every scene like a well-taken picture. All this is accompanied by a minimalistic, well-composed soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The entire movie is a delight to watch and take in. Denis Villeneuve managed to replicate atmosphere present of the original Blade Runner and further improved on it by slightly increasing the pacing. The film also respects the original film’s open-ended conclusions, inviting viewers to question possible outcomes rather than giving clear or definite answers.
As stated before, one notable aspect of the film is its use of color. It captures the outskirts of California in harsh whites, while portraying city streets in bleak, dark shots, and contrasting this against the orange tones of Las Vegas and the disturbing yellows and oranges of the old Tyrell Corporation building. Color is gives a personality to each of these locales, telling a story even before Officer K steps into each place. The world of the movie is alive and breathing, but it also has a past, as it makes historical references the original Blade Runner.
While I found Blade Runner 2049 compelling and beautifully crafted, I hold two key criticisms of the movie: first, its used of time and pacing—even though the director tried to improve on this from the original—and second, the inclusion of specific scenes that were not essential to the movie. The pacing of the film slows down to an extent which at times prompts the viewer to become disconnected from the action, as it slows down enough that it feels as if the plot has ceased advancing, making the viewer confused about what is happening on screen. This issue was present with the original Blade Runner, so it could be said that Denis Villeneuve paced the film to pay homage to the original, but I don’t consider this aspect of the film worthy of homage. This contributes to the film’s extensive runtime, as at 2 hours and 44 minutes, Blade Runner 2049 becomes a hassle to watch at some points. There are some scenes which extend and add more detail to the world of the film, especially the scenes between Officer K and Joi, Officer K’s digital love interest. Even though I personally enjoyed these scenes as they added more to the film’s appeal, their addition does not further the plot and may feel useless to some viewers, extending the runtime to an unwanted length.
Overall, Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece, and Denis Villeneuve should be applauded for his work. His attention to detail, the focus on cinematography and storytelling through visuals, the actors’ performances, the homage to the original Blade Runner, and the questions being posed regarding humanity and the world we live in that are relevant today and will be relevant in the future, all make Blade Runner 2049 a must watch.
However, despite all of the positive reviews surrounding the movie, it looks like it is not going to be able to rake in a profit to support another film and satisfy the studio. With a production budget of $185 million, and a projected box office earning (both domestic and international) of $198 million, Blade Runner 2049 is underperforming to everybody’s surprise. This might be due to the lack in marketing and the studio’s emphatic trust in the popularity of the product, which actually has a pretty niche audience. However, there is certainly more to the film’s underperformance than that. Less-than-expected popularity may be due to to the changing habits and demands of the viewer. In an era during which information comes and goes at an unprecedented rate, when people have less and less time, and when action movies and superhero movies have fast pacing and are ridden with CGI, people do not seem to be interested in movies that are slow-paced, lengthy, and try to engage the audience rather than pacify them.
One concern that movie critics and people within the movie industry have regarding this shift in habits is that there will only be a very narrow set of movies, all with pretty similar aspects: they will be big-budget, action oriented, fast-paced, mindless blockbusters. This change in the movies being released will ignore the niches, and result in a fatigue, causing the Hollywood ecosystem harm, and contributing to the Hollywood Bubble.
If you want to be entranced by the world created in Blade Runner 2049, I definitely recommend that you go see it. Even if it is not your regular preference, I’d recommend that you go see it anyways. This exploration will benefit both the viewer and will support the creation of a healthy variety of movies in Hollywood.