Blade Runner 2049
(SPOILER SPECULATION) Hopefully we won’t be treated/subjected to a whole string of trailers between now and October, steadily chipping away at any surprises Blade Runner 2049 has in store. Which is to say, hopefully the various parties releasing it (Warner Bros in the US and Sony most of the rest of everywhere else) won’t be inclined to do a Fox with Alien: Covenant and deluge us with as many spoilers as possible. It’s much more fun to speculate with limited information than have it laid out on a plate. Both pictures have got Sir Ridders in common, which is not to suggest he’s necessarily fully on board with the blanket coverage of the Covenant marketing plan or that he’s being consulted on this one – the pretty ropey recent photoshop-botch-job posters suggest not - but that it’s generally best not to pay too much attention to the old boy, not always the sharpest of tools (as his insistence on Deckard being a replicant affirms; ambiguity is the key there), as they might end up doing audiences a disservice.
Of course, one immediately wonders if they’ve been listening to him with regard to the apparent lack of doubt about who Agent K – Joseph, anyone? A clue to the obscured processes of authority that Ryan Gosling’s character is upholding? – is: a replicant. One would optimistically assume, given the trailer is pretty much leading us by the nose (“I always told you, you’re special. Your story isn’t over yet: there’s still a page left”), that it’s not supposed to be such a surprise. Either that, or it’s a double bluff. It has been reasonably suggested that, for Agent K to burst through a wall, as it very much looks like he does, he’d have to be in possession of something approaching a Roy Batty physique (or a Dave Bautista one, even, who seems to be busting Agent K through some masonry in a fight in another shot, Agent K first; I’d hazard the burning building is the aftermath of that encounter).
The identity or otherwise of Agent K obviously can’t be all there is to the movie’s mysteries, though. Why is K suffering a meltdown at one point? Is it due to a shocking revelation (not, presumably, that breezeblocks come out worse in a one-on-one confrontation, or the discovery of a replicant Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in a box)? Several plausible theories have been forwarded, deriving from cryptic lines delivered in the trailer, notably Jared Leto’s Tyrell-but-younger Wallace, heir-apparent creator of replicants and indulger in a spot of AI midwifery (“Every civilisation was built off the back of a disposable workforce. But I can only make so many”), who seems to be suggesting trouble on the production line. Some have proposed that the solution to this problem is replicants who can now reproduce (do replicants replicate like electric rabbits?) and there are consequently replicant-human hybrids. That Rachel was Agent K’s mum, even (presumably that bit of wood is Rachel’s grave: 6-10-21).
That bit of wood would suggest the strong likelihood that K is looking for Deckard because of Rachel, a unique legacy left by Tyrell. Hence Wallace’s “The key to the future is finally unearthed. Bring it to me”. There’s something about her that Wallace has perhaps been unable to replicate in later replicants (the secret died with Tyrell)? I’m less inclined to credit the idea that Deckard himself is vitally important (excluding for a moment the possibility that he is a miraculously aging replicant and key to the future of everything – I always assumed replicants wouldn’t age, but I guess there’s no reason they can’t, just that if you go to the trouble of creating them with a long life span you’d have thought you’d want them to remain in tip-top shape – although the AWOL-ness of both him and Rachel does rather raise the question of why no one ever put tracking technology in these things).
And the doorway into a virtual forest. Which feels very Dick-ian. Who’s the woman there (do we not see her face because she might be a spoiler)? The daughter of Rachel? But the only unaccounted for cast member (IMDB-wise) is Hiam Abbass and Abbass is too old – unless she’s playing an older Rachel and Scott unaccountably couldn’t face working with loony Sean Young? Is she actually the key to the future, hidden away? Or is she just a boffin, someone K goes to consult?
As significant, perhaps more so, is Robin Wright’s comment to K: “The world is built on a wall that separates… kind. Tell either side there’s no wall; you bought a war” (it does sound like there’s an edit before “kind”, possibly spelling out the details further, just as the title quote is taken from Wallace’s complete line as spoken in the CinemaCon footage). Which offers to several possibilities, the most appealing being the also very Dick-ian idea, turning reality on its head, that everyone is a replicant (at least on Earth; so much for replicants being consigned to the off-world colonies), perhaps because humans can no longer survive in such a toxic landscape.
Another inference might be that there’s no wall because those in charge are replicants, that replicants have infiltrated society to such an extent that hunting them down is mere window dressing. Certainly, the Tyrell we see in the original was mapped out as a replicant, with Roy Batty popping “upstairs” to see his maker in a sarcophagus after he’d killed the fake.
Deckard: You’re a cop. I did your job once. I was good at it.
Agent K: I know.
Deckard: What to do you want?
Agent K: I want to ask you some questions.
Which might suggest K wants to Voight-Kampff Rick, but we’re probably supposed to think that. The trailer’s putting Harrison Ford in the frame big time, but Villeneuve has stated Deckard doesn’t actually appear until the third act (which is why some instantly felt a whiff of Luke in The Force Awakens). I have to admit, I’m not entirely sold on old stoner Harrison returning to a part where he actually put in a proper performance the first time (Rick Deckard isn’t terribly likable, even by the time he runs off with Rachel). Complete with the same bandy running legs we witnessed in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a decade ago (is it that long? How come it hasn’t improved with age?) It isn’t like recent repeats of his other iconic roles (Indy, Han) have done him too well either. Ironically, that approach probably would work for Jack Ryan, because he was teetering on playing himself in those anyway. It’s not that Ford can’t rise to a challenge when he tries (42, even The Age of Adaline) but dressing him in his own t-shirt and jeans probably wasn’t the best way to get him into character. Nice to see he has a dog though. Does Rick Deckard dream of an electric pooch?
I have no reservations about the rest of the cast, though. Gosling can do no wrong, except when he tries dancing. And singing. Leto seems to know that something slightly mannered and theatrical is called for, so good on him, and even Robin Wright appears to be getting down with punctuating her sentences and emphases for effect. No sign of Lennie James, or Edward James Olmos, although I think the latter only did a day. Some of the shots between K and Ana de Armas’ Joi look very boy meets girl, ‘80s Coke advert, but maybe that’s intentional. Most notable are Dave Bautista, looking like he’s stepped off the set of a Sergei Eisenstein epic, and Mackenzie Davis (I always think Crook when I see her name, which isn’t the same thing at all), very pleasure model Pris but with added (fake, I’d hazard) fur hat.
That Russian tinge (spectacles, hats, nominal walls) is only added to by the bizarre “SOVIET HAPPY” of the ballerina holograms (with “JOI”, also seen; maybe 2049 is big on Ren & Stimpy). Which I’m very iffy about. The look of them, that is, rather than seeing this as more anti-Russian propaganda. They’re a bit naff compared to the 2019’s billboards: too slick and immaterial (see also Ghost in the Shell). I mean, I welcome knowing Atari, against the odds, is still going strong (and at least gull wing doors are still in), but the aspect that stood out most of Blade Runner was how entirely immersive Scott’s world was. It was meticulously designed amalgam of retro and futuristic, pushing the Star Wars used future in a different, more immediate direction. In contrast, this reimagining is very uncluttered and spartan. Perhaps Los Angeles has been remarkably cleaned up in 30 years, like watching Taxi Driver then a movie set in modern day New York? Likewise, the clips so far don’t suggest the same kind of tangible, overcrowded suffocation.
It doesn’t help either that we have CGI cityscapes versus the original’s model work (the Atari shot is more TRON: Legacy). Although, what do you expect in a world where producer Sir Ridders has succumbed to CGI xenomorphs (I mean, it’s tantamount to Spielberg never setting foot outside the US for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, except that Villeneuve is much younger than either and should be interested in painstaking detail)? I suppose also, it’s quite possible there just aren’t the artists around now who can replicate that physically, more’s the pity. I’m certainly not suggesting Roger Deakins hasn’t come up with a multitude of beautiful, arresting images (the varied locations, the snow, the sand, are all welcome in exploring the world further), but they aren’t dense and layered the way Jordan Cronenweth’s work was. And they’re digital.
As to what appear to be more generic action beats, well it’s the reality of an expensive movie that wants to be hit. You can debate whether Blade Runner merited a sequel (I’d say there’s definitely the conceptual and thematic material to justify it, although I’ve yet to be convinced bringing back Deckard was the way to go), but there was no way it would have got a greenlight if the pitch had been to make it as unapproachable as the original (“You’ll make your money back in 30 years”).
I have every confidence in Denis Villeneuve’s ability as a director, but he doesn’t have the keenest eye with regard to scripts. So he has that in common with his producer (ironically, Villeneuve’s staunchest advocates will claim his facility with scripts is the chief reason to have faith in this project, but he’s mostly either given trash a sheen – Prisoners, Sicario – or made good on extended Twilight Zone episodes where the lingering sense is that they never quite sustained themselves for an entire movie – Enemy, Arrival).
And I’m pleased that Hampton Fancher, co-architect of the original screenplay (I wish David Webb Peoples was involved too, even more than Fancher in some respects, but I guess you can’t have everything) provided the story and co-wrote the script. And that Michael Green (American Gods; his contributions to Green Lantern, Logan and Alien: Covenant were all collaborative, so you can’t necessarily blame him if you don’t like them) was the other contributor. I’m also pleased to hear the retention of the original’s sonic landscape; Johann Johannson seems almost more respectful of Vangelis than Villeneuve does of Scott.
Am I optimistic for Blade Runner 2049? Am I Soviet happy? Or even Joi? I’m hoping for the best while recognising that it’s unlikely to equal the original on any level. But who knows, maybe it will be justify its existence on entirely different ones? Maybe Ford’s presence will work out in context? One thing’s undeniable; Gosling has fantastic coat.
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.