After the screening of Blade Runner 2049, we received a personal note from the director, Denis Villeneuve, asking us to preserve the experience for the audience seeing the film for the first time, by not revealing any of the plot details. Although it is difficult to talk about this movie without discussing any of its many mysteries, I will, of course, honour Villeneuve’s request.
An effing genius!
Spending north of $ 150 million on a movie that isn’t a Michael Bay ejaculation or about vigilantes in tights is a huge risk for any studio to take. Even more so, when said film is a complex slow burn that is a sequel to an even more complex cult classic. But the studios have put their faith in Denis Villeneuve because he has earned their trust.
Villeneuve may helm movies from various genres, but like any great auteur, there are similarities to the way he tells each of his stories. Villeneuve’s films are always more than meets the eye. Last year (released in Malaysia early this year), he made a smaller film, Arrival AKA THE BEST SH*T EVER; A profound not-alien invasion movie about the wonders of language and communication. Before that, he made Sicario, a movie that isn’t so much about the war on drugs but rather a story about being honest in a dishonest world. In 2013, he made Enemy – one of the most intricate moves I’ve ever seen – and Prisoners – an unflinching tale that will shatter your heart like a fragile chandelier. And, before that, he made Incendies a movie that nobody watched, but everybody should.
Villeneuve is very character focused. That is apparent from the screenplays he chooses to direct, as well as the manner in which he directs them (which I will dive into more, later). But perhaps the most standout aspect of Villeneuve’s directorial sensibilities is the manner in which he can toy with you and keep you at the edge of your seats, regardless of what the movie is about. He kinda reminds me of David Fincher, who once made a movie about a computer programmer feel like a Goddamn thriller.
With Blade Runner 2049, the master of creeping tension has done it once again. Did you know, that the reason Denis Villeneuve decided to take on this project is that he didn’t want someone else to do it and f*ck it up? Villeneuve says he’s a massive fan of Ridley Scott’s original. I believe him. Every single frame in 2049 is crafted to PERFECTION. Villeneuve’s overflowing passion oozes out of the screen.
We follow Agent K (Ryan Gosling) a Blade Runner sent on a mission to terminate Replicants. From the very first shot, the cinema was so pin-drop silent, I could’ve sworn it’s a librarian’s wet dream. I was hooked, and so was everybody else. It’s either that or the rest of the cinema fell asleep. I hope this it’s the former, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be the latter. Because this is a slow, drawn out movie. Villeneuve isn’t interested in jumping from one scene to another. Just like in his other movies, there are many instances in this film where the camera just lingers on a character’s face, allowing us to soak in the subtle reactions. Villeneuve wants us to experience the character’s journey; to feel what Agent K feels and more importantly, to understand why he feels. Every scene had my heart racing as I wondered what’s going to happen next.
More than meets the eye.
Many might will find 2049 boring. I am sure of that. This is a close-to-three-hour-long movie that has (on the surface, at least) a very simple premise. Not me. I find it fascinating that Agent K’s girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), is a holographic AI. There is something sincere and pure about the both of them standing on the rooftop, engulfed by their feelings for each other, trying to physically connect.
I find it fascinating, that even in a futuristic setting of the Blade Runner universe, prostitution still exists. Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. Isn’t it interesting that regardless of how advanced we get with technology and entertainment (i.e. flying cars and talking robots) our carnal desires will never change? Heck, the more real the AI or the Replicants get, they too have sexual desires. Which is essentially what Blade Runner is about. As Jamie Lannister says, “maybe it really is all cocks in the end.”
The core of this mystery thriller consists of two very important questions. One: What makes us human? If an AI can think like we do and feel like we do, doesn’t that make it human too? Does being human mean we have an organic heart that pumps blood? Or does it have to do with the decisions we make and the actions we take? Two: Is it okay to enslave our creation? If it only involves humans, it’s much simpler. If you give birth to a child, it doesn’t mean you can force it to do your bidding — though, Asian parents will disagree with that statement. But what if you created a machine? And what if that machine starts becoming more like us?
Just like Scott’s original, 2049 wants us to THINK about these things. It is a necessary discourse, given the technology-obsessed world that we’re living in today. Which brings me to my only problem with this film. When Ridley Scott released his original in 1982, these ideas were unheard of. Blade Runner is one of the most influential films of all time. Without it, there would be no The Matrix. Without it, there would be no Ghost in the Shell. Without it, there would be no Ex Machina. Even the TV series Black Mirror is in many ways, influenced by Blade Runner. All these futuristic films (and TV series) have asked the very same question: What makes us human? And because 2049 is a direct sequel to the original, as far as the storyline goes, it does not break new ground. I did not leave the cinema thinking about something I haven’t thought about before.
However, fresh ideas or not, the screenwriters Hampton Fancher Michael Green have penned a wonderful script, with fleshed out characters, which was then translated to screen even more wonderfully by Villeneuve. The story may not be hot sh*t, but the STORYTELLING is.
If Deakins does not win, we RIOT!
Denis Villeneuve has proven time and time again, that he’s a master at painting gripping imagery. Here, he once again partners up with his frequent collaborator, Roger Deakins, who worked together with Villeneuve on Sicario and Prisoners. Roger Deakins is the greatest cinematographer of all time, bar none. He has 13 Oscar nominations under his belt but has won it a baffling ZERO times. Which is bloody ridiculous. To put things into perspective, this is worse than Leonardo DiCaprio not winning the Oscar until 2016. Roger Deakins will definitely get an Oscar nomination for 2049. And it would be a crime against humanity if he doesn’t actually win it. This is easily the best LOOKING film I have seen in a long time, if not ever.
I will slap anyone who brings up The Notebook.
The performances in this film are unsurprisingly brilliant. Ryan Gosling continues to prove himself as an underrated talent. I’ve said this a thousand times before. A lot of people know Gosling as “that gorgeous guy from The Notebook.” Shut up, he is a bloody brilliant character actor. 2049 is his biggest film to date and he did not disappoint. His performance is subtle but captivating. There is only one instance where he actually bursts out in sadness and anger, and it was well earned. I don’t know if he will get an Oscar nomination, considering he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Blue Valentine, his best performance to date. The supporting cast are great as well, but I wish both Harrison Ford and Robin Wright were in the movie longer.
I yearn to write more about this film. There is so much about the plot that should be dissected and discussed. Perhaps I will write a spoiler piece, soon. But for now, I’ll leave you with this. If you’re unsure of what to watch this week, go and experience Blade Runner 2049. If you love movies, this is a must watch. If you’re one of those people who think, “I don’t get why people like movies so much,” watching this movie will open your eyes to what brilliant pieces of art film can be. If you think there are hardly any good directors in the industry, GO AND WATCH THE DAMN FILM. Denis Villeneuve is a master.
PS: Be sure to watch this film on the biggest screen you can find with the best sound system, too. If you’re living in Selangor, I suggest you catch it on MBO Big Screen at Starling Mall. It is absolute MADNESS.
PPS: The score, by Hans “can do no wrong” Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch in this film is effing orgasmic!