- by Jeff Beck
Blade Runner 2049: A Thinly-Stretched Technical Marvel (Blu-ray)
35 years ago, Sir Ridley Scott gave us one of the most defining science-fiction films in all of cinematic history with “Blade Runner,” which subsequently went on to influence the genre with its grand, yet bleak, vision of a technologically advanced future. Whether the film is truly “great” is a somewhat debatable point, but there’s no denying that it laid the groundwork for similar-set works to come. When it became embraced as a classic of the genre, there were many who wondered if a sequel would ever materialize, one that would take us back to this strange and enrapturing world of replicants and those who hunt them. Several decades later, fans could scarcely believe that their wish finally came true with Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049,” which takes place 30 years after the events of the original, and once again plunges us into that cold, unforgiving world that was introduced oh so long ago.
In the year 2049, K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant charged with hunting down rogue replicants for the LAPD. During his latest job, he discovers a box of bones that belonged to a replicant that gave birth, something that was previously thought to be impossible. Out of fear that this information could lead to a war, K’s boss (Robin Wright) orders him to destroy the evidence, including the child. K visits the Wallace Corporation headquarters, where he learns that the mother replicant was named Rachael and was apparently romantically entangled with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). Further investigation leads K to believe that he has uncovered the identity of the child, but when his current assignment starts affecting his usual flawless performance, he finds that he has little choice but to go rogue himself and locate Deckard, who has been missing for 30 years.
A sequel to “Blade Runner” sounded like it could be an absolutely amazing idea. After all, there remained several possibilities for this fascinating world and given that 35 years had passed since the original, the writers would have had plenty of time to think of an incredible story that would have made the wait worthwhile. So was it? Well, the result is decidedly mixed. On the one hand, you have a beautifully-made film that features stunning direction, cinematography, and visual effects, while on the other hand, you have a somewhat simple narrative struggling to stay afloat in a film that is far too long for its own good at 164 minutes.
The narrative is intriguing, to say the least. The idea of replicants being able to reproduce and the possible impact/use of such information could have made for a really thrilling and compelling tale, and while screenwriters Hampton Fancher (writer of the original) and Michael Green do deliver on this premise in part, it is ultimately stretched too thin to have the major impact that they no doubt desired it to have. In essence, “Blade Runner 2049” feels like a “Director’s Cut” that contains every scene that was shot for the film, one that never finished going through the editing process to trim it down and bring the story more into focus. Because of this, the film has more than its fair share of portions that feel as though it’s just wandering aimlessly about as K goes on his quest to find out who the replicant child is. What’s particularly interesting is the recent revelation from Villeneuve, who revealed that the first cut of the film ran for four hours. Given how thinly-stretched the narrative is in the 164-minute cut, one can only imagine what that original cut was like.
With that being said, as mentioned earlier, there is a lot to admire about the film. Villeneuve, fresh off an Oscar nomination for “Arrival,” did an incredible job bringing this entire thing together, while Roger Deakins remains at the top of his game with his stunning camerawork (perhaps the Academy will finally give him that ever-elusive Oscar on his 14th nomination?). As it was in the original, the production design is mightily impressive, creating a fully-immersive world that draws you in, and when combined with the outstanding visual effects, it only becomes more so. Indeed, the film is a marvelous technical achievement, and it’s clear that a lot of work went into updating this futuristic world. However, it only makes you wish that the same amount of work had gone into the screenplay as well.
On the whole, this isn’t a bad film. Rather, it’s just a somewhat bland film that looks and sounds fantastic (the score being another one of its top elements). Cinema has certainly come a long way in the 35 years since the original film was released, and it shows in every frame of “Blade Runner 2049.” Perhaps it was simply that Villeneuve and company were more concerned with showing off this world that they built upon, rather than coming up with a narrative that would make the entire endeavor worthwhile. Would more editing have helped? It’s certainly a possibility, but even then, it’s unclear if that would be enough to help the somewhat sluggish story. It was surprising to get a sequel at all after 35 years, but I suppose you could say it’s even more surprising to find that even that wasn’t quite enough time to make a film that was satisfying from both a narrative and aesthetic perspective, but at least when all is said and done, you can’t deny what a hell of a job they did on the latter.
“Blade Runner 2049” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of spectacular quality. Every frame of this gorgeously-made film is perfectly crisp and sharp, preserving all of the hard work that went into the beautiful direction, cinematography, production design, and visual effects. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is flawless, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and the amazing score in outstanding quality. Overall, there’s not a single complaint to be had for how this home release has turned out, which will certainly please the film’s fans.
Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049 (22 Minutes): A fascinating featurette that explores the vast amounts of work that went into the film’s incredible production design.
To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049 (17 Minutes): A featurette that delves into the characters and how the actors were chosen to play them.
Prologues (28 Minutes): A collection of three prequels that take place between the two “Blade Runner” films, prefaced by a short introduction by director Denis Villeneuve.
Blade Runner 101 (11 Minutes): A collection of six brief featurettes that give you some background on the world of the film, discussing areas such as blade runners, replicants, and The Wallace Corporation.
“Blade Runner 2049” boasts impeccable direction from Denis Villeneuve and marvelous camerawork from Roger Deakins, on top of astonishing production design, visual effects, and music. However, when it comes to the film’s thinly-stretched story, it leaves something to be desired as it plays out over the elongated 164-minute runtime, ultimately making this a film that satisfies aesthetically, but never really takes off narratively.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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