For as much of a cult following “Blade Runner” has, I can’t help but feel that it’s relatively underappreciated today. “Blade Runner” is arguably one of the most influential science fiction movies of all time. It revolutionized the genre of neo-noir and kickstarted conversations about artificial intelligence that we are still having today — and yet, for many, it flies under the radar — maybe because of its preference of philosophy over action, or maybe because it never expanded much past the 1982 film. Director Denis Villeneuve has attempted to remedy this lack of recognition with “Blade Runner 2049,” a sequel to Ridley Scott’s original film.
The original “Blade Runner” featured detective Rick Deckard, who is tasked with taking down a group of replicants, or bioengineered humans, who have rebelled against their human masters. In “Blade Runner 2049,” Ryan Gosling plays K, one of these replicants, whose job is to “retire” older replicant versions. An investigation into one of these older replicants becomes personal for K and brings him into contact with Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, who is reprising his role from the original.
Even though Ford creates the connection between this movie and the original “Blade Runner,” this is first and foremost Gosling’s movie. He makes for a compelling protagonist, actively struggling with his own identity. Harrison Ford is also great in his return of the grizzled detective from the original movie, but he’s not given nearly as much to do as you’d expect.
In terms of production, this is easily one of the best of the year. Absolutely everything on the screen is top-notch, from the direction of Villeneuve, to the cinematography by Roger Deakins, to the production design by Dennis Gassner. I want to highlight Gassner especially here because — I’m calling it now, months in advance — he’ll win the Academy Award for Best Production Design. This is one of those movies where it is clear that an incredible amount of effort went into every single shot. The musical score of the movie is similarly incredible, as the exceptional Hans Zimmer took inspiration from the original movie to create synthesized music with a solemn effect. The movie also uses special effects to establish a futuristic setting. Praise should particularly go to how the holograms are created and employed: they are some of the best holographic effects I’ve ever seen.
The film’s most noticeable shortcomings are in its story and pacing. The movie is nearly three hours long, but it feels even longer. Everything in the movie is very slow, including the shots and the dialogue — even the action scenes feel slow and methodical. On one hand, the long shots allows the viewer to take in everything on the screen, but at the same time, it can make the scenes very boring to watch, as you wait for the action. The story is also something that feels weaker than the effects that make up the film. Similar to the original, “Blade Runner 2049” seems adverse to exposition, preferring instead to let the events of the movie unfold and have the audience find meaning for themselves. This can make for interesting conversation and debate, but it can also create a lot of confusion about what’s going on.
This movie is similar to “Mad Max: Fury Road” in that it’s one of the few movies you could point to as a pinnacle of modern filmmaking. Its direction, cinematography, design, score and special effects are all among the best of the year. But, like “Fury Road,” some viewers may be justifiably turned off by how unconventional the story is, and, at times, it feels like the filmmakers cared more about style than substance. Even if that’s the case, the film is not one to be missed if you have even the slightest appreciation for the art of filmmaking.
Read more from Pipe Dream Arts & Culture