The first thing you should know about Blade Runner 2049 is that it has to be seen on the big screen. Sure, a great film should look good on any screen and this one will, but you will want the largest canvas possible to drink in the combo of Roger Deakins’ evocative cinematography and Denis Villeneuve’s expressionist directing. If you think about the shots in Arrival where we see the aliens hover above stark landscapes in their impossibly enormous ships, Blade Runner is along those lines but ratcheted up a few notches. It is a painting in motion, lit with detailed vistas that only Deakins could have shot. Can he win the Oscar for this as he heads into his history-making 14th nomination? It’s certainly possible, though the cinematography category will be jam packed this year with films like Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, The Shape of Water, etc. Still, sentiment could drive Deakins towards a win and there is no more deserving person in the industry. His work in Hail, Caesar! was the best cinematography of 2016 and he wasn’t even nominated for it. We made our Deakins plea earlier in the year, and we’ll do so again.
Capturing all the melancholy malaise of Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece and focusing once more on the longing of replicants to dwell as equals in the realm of humans, Blade Runner 2049 paints a mostly bleak future for humanity, with specifically dire prognosis for planet Earth. This is not a film about hope, as Arrival was, but stands with monumental grandeur as a stunning work of cinema, to be sure. It is, in its own way, still a menacing dystopian noir which is perhaps why Ryan Gosling was cast as the sardonic lead. Love remains elusive to the male protagonist, just out of reach of men who are under no illusion that it’s ever truly attainable. The villains inhabit a world of self-serving greed where total control depends on erasing any trace of humanity in the replicants to keep them as close to automatons as possible, while the replicants still want to be human, which echoes the central beauty and despair of the original.
I found myself in awe and dazzled every step of the way but also a little conflicted about how the new tapestry connects to threads left loose in original — as in, I’m not quite ready to give up the Blade Runner of my own imagination and my assumptions of what happens at the end of the 1982 movie. They run with it and spin it in a new direction, not unlike the Star Wars movie rebirthed by JJ Abrams. This Blade Runner expand the story and should leave room for sequels. I was never much into letting go of my devotion to the original Star Wars trilogy and in some respects I feel that way about Blade Runner too. However, at this level of cinematic mastery you can’t just walk by this movie and not let affect you, however it chooses to alter our perceptions.
This film should be in the running for all of the crafts nominations: Cinematography, Visual Effects, Production Design, Costumes, Sound. It will meet its strongest competition with Wonder Woman and perhaps The Last Jedi.
Blade Runner 2049 has already earned a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and seems to be hitting its target exactly right — aimed squarely at the target demo for male-oriented sci-fi epics, it takes for granted that women attracted to hardcore, handsomely mounted sci-fi will be willing to meet it more than halfway, and it’s right about that too.
Here is Peter Bradshaw’s five star review:
Its mind-boggling, cortex-wobbling, craniofacial-splintering images are there to trigger awe or even a kind of ecstatic despair at the idea of a post-human future, and what it means to imagine the wreck of our current form of homo sapiens. Evolution has not finished yet, any more than it was finished 100,000 years ago. As so often in literature and cinema, we are reminded that science fiction is there to tackle big ideas, and makes realist genres look flimsy and parochial. This film delivers pure hallucinatory craziness that leaves you hyperventilating.
Blade Runner 2049 is co-scripted by the original screenwriter, Hampton Fancher, and riffs on the first film. There are poignant theme-variations on memory and crying in the rain and a cityscape full of signs in different languages (Russian, Japanese, Hindi, Korean), ghostly VR advertising avatars and flashing corporate logos, playfully including the obsolete PanAm.
It alludes to films the first Blade Runner helped inspire, such as Cameron’s The Terminator, Spielberg’s AI Artificial Intelligence, Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Andrew Stanton’s WALL-E and Spike Jonze’s Her. The references reach further back also, to the Kubrickian hotel-bar and spaceship, and to the desolate final moments of Planet of the Apes. You could call that ancestor-worship, were it not that the franchise already deserves its own ancestor status. In fact, the sequel slightly de-emphasises the first film’s intimate, downbeat noir qualities in favour of something more gigantic and monolithic, preserving Ridley Scott’s massively controlled andante tempo. Yet there is something so sinuous and manoeuvrable about the drama, and its CGI rendering is like nothing I’ve ever seen.