The Mandatory Blade Runner 2049 Review
The new Bladerunner has its good qualities, but unfortunately, it did not live up to my (admittedly high) expectations. (Fear not, I am not including any spoilers here for the simple reason that I will ramble on and on about the original.)
(Looks like the standard practice for reviews of movies is to start with the bad, so I am just following that practice.)
- The Story: The original movie had a much more interesting, and not just that, but really profound and ultimately touching story. This one has a rather weak story. It has an interesting twist, but that’s about it. Not particularly touching or profound.
- The Ambiance: The thing that really gets me every time I watch the original (and I have watched it too many times) is the ambiance. Right from the first scene in the movie, you get transported into this dystopian world of sights, sounds, and even (imagined) smells. You even feel the humidity in the air, the warm rain on your skin, the heat from the fires. And the music (by Vangelis) is sublime. I had never before and never since heard that type of sound. It is just perfect for that ambiance. I admit that this is a really high bar, but they did not even come close to meeting it. There is no consistent ambiance in the movie – it is more like a haphazardly stitched together sequence of some scenes with interesting ambiance, interspersed between other merely “normal” environments. It breaks the immersion in my opinion. The music is ok but does not rise to the same level. And it is not as omnipresent and perfectly situated as the original. As far as I am concerned, this ambiance is the main thing they should have worked on. If they had gotten that right, maybe the rest of the movie might have worked.
- The Characters: The original had really great characters. Not just Deckard and Rachael, but also the replicants themselves (each with distinct and believable and even endearing personalities). Each of them leaves a totally different type of mark on you. And each of them gets “retired” in ways that bring tears to your eyes. In their last moments they show you how precious life is and how every bit of struggle is worth doing for it. And not just these main characters, but even the smaller ones are really endearing and intriguing characters. Like JF Sebastian and Gaff. Both of them make you really see a different point of view, interesting ways to deal with this dystopia and their own personal situations and eccentricities. Even really small roles like Bryant and Tyrell are very believable and well done.
- The Violence: Yes, both movies are violent. But the second one has too much gratuitous and graphic violence. The villains, Wallace and his assistant, are unnecessarily too psychopathic and too violent. That makes them not really believable. They are almost like the over-the-top cruel villains in old fairytales, made that way because, in those far more violent times of the past, that was the level of cruelty you needed to get peoples’ attention. (Although maybe the fact that today’s moviemakers are resorting to this level of violence might be saying something about our present times.) This type of violence is childish and actually highly unresponsible in my opinion. Hollywood has definitely gone too far in their use of gratuitous and really cruel, heinous, graphic violence. I will even go to the extent of actually agreeing with the gun people in this regard (though I am opposed to pretty much everything else they say.) The violence in movies (and video games) does make an impact on culture and even though you may not be able to connect it directly to the real violence in society, there is a diffused yet powerful causal relationship there. Hollywood definitely needs to tackle this beast or they will lose a lot of people.
Ok, now the Good:
- The Scenes: Yes, some of the scenes are very well done. Some of them are extensions of the scenes from the original movie, but even the new ones are very good. I wouldn’t mind getting posters of some of these scenes. I guess this is where the new graphics technologies go well beyond what was possible at the time of the original movie and they have taken good advantage of that.
- Joi (i.e. Virtual Characters): The new element in the movie is that of the character of Joi, a virtual “assistant / girlfriend”. This character is definitely a step forward as compared to other virtual characters in other sci-fi movies. I think she will serve as a role model to a lot of VR designers in the future. One can almost think of a “Joi test” similar to the “Turing test” for AI. This would actually make sense in another way: the original movie introduced us to the Voight-Kampff test, which could also be thought of as a flavor of the Turing test. I won’t go into the details of what that test would involve. Figuring out what that would be is left as an exercise to your fertile imaginations. One thing I would say though: Passing this test will be a lot harder. But most VR designers would probably prefer to take on this challenge.
Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that this movie contains some references to Indian things – the Bladerunner’s boss is one Lt. Joshi and you see some signs in the background written in Hindi.
So there you have it. I will still watch the movie at least once more in theaters and probably some more times in the next few years. I suspect it will be more out of respect to the original though.