As I watched the opening frames of Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049 unfold, I couldn’t help but contemplate where we had come from. Not out of nostalgia. Not out of an unmitigated need to revisit the impetus for this sequel. No. Mr. Villeneuve has managed to capture not only the essence of what has come before it. He has graciously expanded its boundaries; opened its doors to a world and adventures hereto untold.
If it feels like I’m waxing nostalgic for Ridley Scott’s masterwork, I’m not.
Hampton Fancher’s Blade Runner 2049 story (screenplay by Mr. Fancher and Michael Green) felt as detailed as Philip K. Dick’s ‘Total Recall’ novel which I enjoyed as a kid. I remember with great clarity the visual imagery my mind created as I read his words. Mr. Fancher brought the same visual clarity to, what on the surface, is a calm world where the utter chaos that ruled Mr. Scott’s classic has been contained, in a very clinical sense. This is not to say that the world of Los Angeles, 2049 is without chaos.
Gone is the chaos of the street vendors, yet the gutter speak remains. Gone are the throngs of people crawling over each other, the pace of life is more controlled. Gone is the unmitigated grime on the surface streets, the streets are cleaner, the environs are habitable. Here, the living spaces are more confined, and technology adapts.
Set in the year 2049, advancements in biorobotics has evolved into future models, seamlessly blending into the world about them. LAPD Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling is part of the modern Blade Runner taskforce, retiring now older-model ‘skinjobs’. On his current mission, he discovers evidence that tests the calm of the world around him and in doing so, attracts the interest of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).
Mr. Villeneuve very carefully orchestrated the film like an opera, creating a three-act play that belies its 163 – minute run time. Roger Deakins masterfully uses his cameras to delineate the coarse nature of the outskirts of Los Angeles from the beautiful innards of the sprawling city. The delineation is carried through Hans Zimmer’s and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score, evoking the Vangelis score we’ve come to love. They add their own flair, giving 2049 its own rhythm creating a layer of context for our characters, but also a heartbeat for the Los Angeles of the future, something I found very effective.
The technical genius conveys the world as if Wallace had created a bubble for his citizens to live in, even those who were of lesser means than others. It is this world that reminds me of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, where you can see the Tower of Babel, and yet even in the future, despite the fact that all is pure, reaching the Tower is unobtainable.
Within that unobtainability, character motives are very much front and center. Mr. Fancher and Mr. Green have created a Chinatown – esque type narrative while building on what has come before. Where Mr. Scott’s Blade Runner is the Head in Mr. Lang’s landmark film, Mr. Villeneuve’s 2049 is the Heart.
Where Mr. Scott’s Blade Runner was grounded in an intimate grittiness, Mr. Villeneuve uses the length of 2049 to build on what has come before and expands the breadth and width of the world around us. Make no mistake though. The film requires you to be an active participant as its events unfold.
The payoff is that you will be thinking about the near – future of Denis Villeneueve’s Blade Runner 2049 long after you’ve left the theater. And the debates that have raged for the last 35 years will continue.
Now playing in theaters, Blade Runner 2049 is rated R by the MPAA.