Saturday, October 7, 2017

Not a masterpiece, not a dud. Blade Runner 2049 Review (Yes, there are spoilers)

I remember the first time I saw Blade Runner. It was shortly after its theatrical run, at Butler University, on a Friday night. My dad and I watched it. I was in the fifth grade. My head kind of spun afterwards. The level of atmosphere created had somehow made me drunk. I thought about it quite a bit. Later that school year, when my dad bought our first VHS player, I tried like crazy to rent Blade Runner and watch it again. It was always checked out and the wait list was forever. Contrary to what many contend, Blade Runner was a hit as soon as it was released on video. Over the years, I would look for it every time I went to the video store and it would always be checked out. It wasn't until my sophomore year of high school that I just happened to be renting something else and noticed the damn movie was finally in. I rented it and watched it for a second time. That was the viewing that absolutely blew my mind. I hooked up our (then) two VHS recorders and copied the tape. I wore out my copy of that movie over the next few years, watching it in various environments (and states of mind) and always being mesmerized. To say that it was influential in my development as an artist of several trades is an understatement. The first feature film based on a script I wrote, the god-awful Mr. Id, takes place almost entirely at night. It's a contemporary film noir. It's obviously directly influenced by Blade Runner (don't bother watching it; the profits go to the producer and he still owes many people who worked on the film money and he refuses to pay them; also, as stated, it's god-awful).

So now we have Blade Runner 2049. What I had, up until very recently, predicted would be just another Hollywood cash grab in the wake of Tinsel Town's complete lack of originality has turned out to be an enjoyable film with one plot element I really, really don't like.

The movie moves at a thoughtful pace. That right there should win it some awards for bravery. Whereas the typical modern Hollywood film has bulldozed its way into the second act by about minute five or six, 2049 really takes its time. And that's okay. The filmmakers have created a world we don't mind loitering in while the characters work their way through the plot in a meticulous manner. I was reminded of 1970s science fiction. And that's a good thing. The environment in 2049 is a little different than the original film. The original film feels very boxed in. Despite the magnificence of the buildings looking down on the masses of people, Ridley Scott managed to make it very claustrophobic. The new movie does the opposite. There are places to go in this film. Different landscapes entirely. It's like a video game with all the levels unlocked. That gives the movie a broader, more epic scope. I just happened to go to the theater for a showing on the "Big D" screen, which meant a massive screen and a sound system that literally shook the seats. It was impossible not to be in awe of the effort put into the film. Once the mystery gets going, I was rooting for the movie to come up with something spectacular in the third act.

Here's where the spoiler comes in: Hampton Fancher, who wrote one of the original drafts of the original film (and also Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven), returned as screenwriter on 2049. You can tell, too. The film's most poignant moments have little to do with the actual plot. There are wonderful lines of dialogue such as, "Sometimes to love someone, you gotta be a stranger." But Fancher, or someone else, does something a little odd toward the end of the film. The Big Reveal, when we learn the protagonist is not the lost child of Deckard and Rachel, the movie borrows directly from The Dark Knight Rises. Now, this may just be my own problem, but I was very disappointed that this is where they took the film. The build up to the reveal was so magnificent, I wanted that reveal to be something I (or anyone else) would never have though of.

So there it is. My sole complaint about the movie. Overall, it's a very immersive 2 hours and 43 minutes and you could do a hell of a lot worse. Is it the masterpiece some are claiming? No, it's not. Is it the boring cash grab cynics are calling it? Not by a long shot. It's a good, entertaining, sometimes thought-provoking popcorn movie with images you will probably think about long after it's over.

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