BFI Blade Runner 2049 review: ‘The future’s still questionable’

Tim Hayes’ review of Blade Runner 2049 for the British Film Institute pinpointed some of the film’s more unsettling questions, such those pertaining to memory and identity, childhood regret and nostalgia, misanthropy and slave culture.

The first half of the review follows.

Sincere statements can bubble up through the gas clouds of marketing that surround huge event movies, and when Tom Rothman of Sony Pictures tells the Wall Street Journal that “If you’re not in a position to make the 15th Star Wars movie, you have to search for things that people really feel they have got to go out to a movie theatre and see,” he could be taking the opportunity to link his new co-production with the biggest game in town, or just bemoaning his lot. Andrew Kosove of Alcon Entertainment read from the same sheet to tell the Hollywood Reporter: “If you don’t have repetitive cash flow, which is a fancy way of saying being in the sequel business, you are going to be in trouble eventually.”

Many people should feel they do want to go out and see Rothman and Kosove’s latest baby, Blade Runner 2049, given the affection (though not universal) and influence (absolutely everywhere) connected with Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner (1982), despite the fact that the producers have made the film sound as artistically spontaneous as a microchip, and the clear implication that audiences might actually be the ones in trouble.

After a critical kicking in contemporary venues – including the forerunner of this one – Scott’s film has assumed the heavy mantle of quotable cultural treasure, even as the director’s tinkering with the available product eroded some of its idiosyncrasy. The original lugubrious voiceover from Harrison Ford as replicant-hunter (or maybe replicant hunter) Deckard was sacrificed in later cuts as a poor fit with the intended sci-fi intensity. But the call back to film noir private detectives mixing booze and broads under the dry sun of Los Angeles was deliciously self-conscious, as Deckard scurried between constant downpours in an LA with seemingly no sun at all. And in any case, Scott has always left Dick Morrissey’s bluesy midnight saxophone in place in Vangelis’s seething soundtrack, a ghost of the original machine.

There is no voiceover in Blade Runner 2049 and certainly no sax, constrained as it is by current pop-culture strictures that treat whimsy as an indictable war crime. But in a landscape awash with both science-fiction and revived material, the film is far above any kind of average for either. Its visual ambitions include recreations of the original film’s rainy LA streets, still punctuated by blazing advertisements for Pan Am and overshadowed by obsidian corporate buildings resembling the tombs of the pharaohs, as well as new visions of a ruined Las Vegas swamped by orange sand, and a Pacific ocean swollen by climate change and held back by a vast sea wall.

The full article is available online here and was published in the December 2017 edition of Sight & Sound magazine.

Join us next Monday 4th December at the School of Optometry for our own discussion of the new Blade Runner film, its predecessor, and the Philip K. Dick novel from which both films draw their inspiration.

Tickets are available through Eventbrite.

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