Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2017 3:29 am 
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A bigger, heavier gem, with existential questions

Sci-fi movie fans must run out and see the new Blade Runner, for Ridley Scott has passed on the mantle to the able and ambitious French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who was more than ready for the task. Harrison Ford has turned over the stoical lead role to Ryan Gosling - sticking around as his original character, Replicant-cop Deckard, for a few key scenes. Blade Runner 2049 - four digits on from Wong Kar Wai's cloyingly gorgeous 2045 - is above all stylish for a mainstream movie, which this is. There are many beautiful visual effects. A lovely amber glow bathes many of is scenes. The grime and decay, on the other hand, are equally rich. The brutalist architecture would not dishonor Louis Kahn. Elegance is reinforced by blockbuster umph - a necessary quotient of violent fistfights, big booms, loud music by the ubiquitous Hans Zimmer. Villeneuve has done a worthy job. Has he created a rival to the original? Of course not. You can't outdo a cult film no matter how hard you try. It's 35 years later, though, and many won't know the difference.

Blade Runner 2049 has a classic theme, its hero's search for his origins. And literary resonance: echoing Kafka, Gosling's bureaucratic wanderer is named K. He will wind up with a homelier moniker, he will find his Rosebud, he will flirt with the hope that he's human. The movie underscores the notion that humanness is a quality worth having, but there's a stirring movement afoot for replicants to unite to gain their rights; last time, remember, they were being systematically "retired," that is, snuffed. More specifically, the question is raised whether Deckard is or isn't a Replicant, and if K might actually have been born, or have real childhood memories instead of having been just created as an adult with "implanted" ones. Deep existential questions, these. There's a sly, creepy villain, the beautifully strange Jared Leto, with paste-on blank eyes and lumps of things floating in the air around him, as Niander Wallace, a master of A.I. creations who explains to us that all civilizations advance by subjugation, formerly known as slavery.

Villeneuve's new Blade Runner cannot be considered anything other than a pleasure to watch through its whole two hours and forty-three minutes. Quality is rigorously maintained. It's impressive, beautiful, and stylish. But like every big budget film, it's overlong and too big in every way. Everyone should see the original, a cult classic, and if they do, they'll see what's missing here. Ridley Scott's 1982 movie was a hasty production, which may help explain the wit and dash of its scenes. The original has sets and stuff designed by the amazing HR Giger, which people have been talking about ever since. There are some memorable scenes, some great bits of dialogue.

Above all it has what was at that time an original notion of the future as dingy. It made sense: the ecology of the future isn't going to be pretty. Scott's movie provides an atmospheric urban landscape, gleaming with neon, bristling with futuristic drone-like vehicles, but as ugly as the old, un-cleansed Times Square and then some, steeped in perpetual smoggy rain, the rain of climate-disaster. The exoticism of that dark, midnight urban mess of a future remains unforgettably original.

Villeneuve has many scenes that echo this effect with dingy, smoggy rain clogging the arteries of urban spaces. But the trouble is in 2049's desire to be global and epic, it fails to achieve the intimacy that in the old Blade Runner is around every dangerous corner. Villeneuve's movie has only a vague sense of space. It's harder to know where things are. The lady who makes memories, Dr Ana Stelline (Clara Juri), lives in a bubble to protect her "compromised immune system." The evil Wallace is somewhere out in space. We miss the original's pulsating and vivid Times Square-Shinjuku as a default mode, a familiar place to return to.

Amid the visual splendor of the new film, one scene stands out for its pulsating, crepuscular creepiness. It comes when K tracks down, somewhere, an orphanage, where a horde of tiny boys are hovered over some inexplicable dark task on the ground, child labor as child labor. It's nightmarishly real. The movie rarely comes up with anything quite that original, or matches the snap and panache of the original film.

Harrison Ford, now 75 to Ryan Gosling's 36, is powerful in his brief performance here. He shames the younger actor with his heft and conviction - another problem. Gosling has been great in some dramatical, emotional films, but he hasn't got the swagger and élan of Ford. He is ambitious and able, weathered and pensive, but lacks the heft of a cool noir hero.

What does resonate is the new movie's exploration of memory. It's fascinating that K can track down an image in his mind of the past to find out if there's a real past behind it, if it was implanted or real - pursuing a sci-fi "à la recherche" that might lead him to identity or worthwhileness. But while AV Club's A.A. Dowd, I see, calls this film "gorgeously languid," the languid part gets out of control sometimes. Despite the sudden battles, conversations are often dragged out too long when they might better have been, as the original's are, epigrammatic and snappy. Where is the fun?

Blade Runner 2049, 163 mins., opened in many countries Oct. 5 and 6, 2017. It has met with critical acclaim (Metacritic rating 82%).


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