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‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a Motion Painting

Blade Runner 2049 PosterConsider me underwhelmed by Blade Runner 2049. I suspected a cash grab by aging Harrison Ford, so I waited to see it on home video. It’s certainly not trash, but it’s tedious. The focus is on Ryan Gosling as a synthetic man-cop. It’s a perfect fit for him as an actor, but his performance is so calm that it sucks the drama out of every obstacle. The visuals are subtle as well. Dialogue is needed to clarify what is being shown to us in most scenes. The director, Denis Villenueve, has trouble getting plot details into the images and instead retreats to expositional monologues. It might as well be a book for all it’s visual might.

The Think of It.

I expected more from Gosling, but I believe he’s delivering what was requested of him – “Don’t react to anything.” It get’s old. I had to wait for Harrison Ford’s arrival to see a performance resembling human emotion. Unfortunately, his share of the story is small by comparison. The rest of the cast is serviceable. Robin Wright manages to elevate her exposition heavy dialogue and Jared Leto is magnetic as usual. He gets the cerebral monologues. His speeches made me think, but they didn’t make me feel. I had to focus on this film. Villenueve stretches the dramatic beats to lend weight, but it creates a monotonous tone and pace.

While the plot is tied to the original film in a reasonable fashion, it’s a more intellectual sequel. It’s less about whether replicants are really alive and more about whether replicants are really slaves. In the original, Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty wanted “…more life, fucker.” In the sequel, the replicant wants to have real memories. Hauer’s performance had more passion than this whole movie. The original film felt grounded. That was the strength of Blade Runner. It was the future we knew was coming. This one imagines a further extrapolation of that world, but perhaps travels too far. It reminded me of THX-1138 or 2001: A Space Odyssey for it’s unforgiving desire to focus on emotionally cryptic characters.

Pretty as a Picture?

It’s nominated for Oscars in production design and cinematography. The work is skilled, but I found the aesthetic to be at odds with itself. It mixes minimalist Ikea interiors with the original’s dark neo-noir cityscapes. The smoke and light reflections that wow are inspired by the 1982 film. The new design elements are stark, barren and digital. It’s a strange mesh of used machinery and crisp, tidy photoshop graphics. The film favors slow moving wide shots with everything reduced in scale. The actors are photographed as though they’re part of the set. The movie felt designed rather than photographed. It’s cold.

It’s also nominated for sound mixing & sound editing. I think it’ll win those. The sound design is excellent. It’s rare to hear truly original effects. Think of Star Wars’ lightsabers and the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive. These are unique auditory queues that make the world believable. Blade Runner 2049 has that going for it. Even the gunshots sound cool and different. It helps make the film immersive despite the subdued mood and performances.

It’s For Super-Dorks.

Blade Runner 2049 is strictly for curious cinephiles and science-fiction fans. Villenueve made the same kind of understated intellectual film with Arrival (review). This guy likes to slowly put it all together. I’m OK with that if the final result is stunning. I can’t say I felt that way here. The movie is like a high quality cinemagraph with really good sound design. I’ve embedded one below for reference. Click play and watch it for two hours and forty minutes and you’ll understand the experience.

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© 2019 by Maximilian Gray
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