The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi masterpiece of almost the same name. (Well, the director's “Final Cut” is a masterpiece. Most agree the theatrical cut's narration and happy ending, which were forced upon him by the studio, are flawed.) Producing a sequel thirty-five years later is unusual. Even more unusual – and thoroughly wonderful – is that this movie expands on the themes of the original, rather than just trying to cash in on title recognition. All sequels should be this good.

At the request of the filmmakers, the studio has issued an extensive list of elements they don't want spoiled in reviews, which I intend to honor. The less you know, the better. Here are the non-spoilery basics. Ryan Gosling plays “K,” a blade runner tasked with tracking down and “retiring” a very important replicant. He is not the only one on the hunt. A blind businessman, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), is also conducting a search through one of his employees, the ruthless Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). Other crucial characters include K's girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) and boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright). Harrison Ford returns as former blade runner Rick Deckard. To say anything specific about his place in the story would be unfair.

Blade Runner dealt with the idea of reality. Replicants were synthetic beings made to be “more human than human.” Because they had implanted memories, some of them didn't even know they weren't people. The story examined the implications of such a proposition, suggesting that if artificial intelligence becomes too advanced, it could have trouble accepting that it isn't “real.”

Blade Runner 2049 takes the idea and runs with it. The screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green finds a perfect way to explore how that might evolve thirty years after the events of the original. At two hours and forty-five minutes, there's sufficient time to dig in deep. K discovers a whole new element to the replicants, with ramifications for all mankind – and himself. Deckard is woven into that revelation in a manner that's a natural progression of how we left him at the end of Scott's film. Clearly, substantial effort went into devising a story that enhances what came before, rather than repeating it.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) expertly maintains the noir-ish tone Scott so beautifully established more than three decades ago. This is a deliberately-paced movie that carefully builds an entire world, then lets you bathe in it. K moves around in high-tech futuristic landscapes that nevertheless often feel worn out and used up. Although the plot allows many individual moments to linger, Blade Runner 2049 never comes off as slow. Suspense is generated from watching K put the pieces together, uncovering each new clue and extracting its meaning. Like the original, which was also methodical, a faster, more action-packed approach wouldn't work. You fundamentally need time to let everything sink in.

Another immensely satisfying element to the picture is Roger Deakins' cinematography. He has earned intense, much-deserved appreciation among cinephiles for his eye-popping work on films as diverse as The Big Lebowski, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Skyfall. His visuals here may represent a professional high point on an already stellar resume. Deakins uses shadows in creative ways to heighten the sense of mystery. His strategic use of the color yellow is also notable, creating ambiance and almost subliminal thematic relevance. Every single second of this film is dazzling to look at.

Ryan Gosling nicely slides into the central role, providing K with a cool-but-weary personality. It's not a part requiring a lot of emoting; it's much more introspective. The actor is up to the task, giving a nuanced performance. Ford, meanwhile, vividly shows us where Rick Deckard is years later. In his hands, the maturation of the character is authentic. Hoeks, Wright, and de Armas all ensure their supporting characters feel fully dimensional. Leto, while not required to be as physically menacing as Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty, is an effective villain because he gives Wallace a twisted ideological worldview that comes out in calm, philosophical tones. He's creepy.

Blade Runner 2049 starts off slow, but it's just laying important groundwork that pays off magnificently later. The longer it goes on, the richer it becomes. By the final third, you're just captivated. This movie fires on all cylinders. Really, there's no conceivable way that a Blade Runner sequel could be more satisfying to anyone who loves its predecessor.

( out of four)

Blu-ray Features:

Blade Runner 2049 arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack, Blu-ray 3D combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, and DVD on January 16. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided a complimentary copy of the Blu-ray for the purposes of this review.

The bonus materials included on the disc are plentiful. “Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049” runs about twenty minutes and details how the filmmakers both relied on and expanded upon the visual style established in Ridley Scott's original. Director Denis Villeneuve and his team discuss their approach. One edict Villeneuve issued was that, whenever possible, the technology characters interact with in the film should be analog, not digital. It's one of those things you maybe don't even notice when you watch the movie, yet it has a subliminal psychological effect.

“To Be Human” is a 13-minute examination of the casting. Each of the actors is interviewed about their characters, with Villeneuve and the producers explaining why they were chosen. It's a solid look at how important the casting process was to hitting all the emotional beats in a story where emotion is intentionally muted.

Three prologues, totaling approximately 28 minutes, are up next. These are essentially short films, telling stories that are tangential to the one told in the main feature. The first, directed by Cowboy Bebop's Shinichirō Watanabe, is about the Blackout that is mentioned in Blade Runner 2049. The second and third, directed by Ridley Scott's son Luke, follow, respectively, Niander Wallace as he talks about reviving replicants, and Sapper Morton (Dave Baustista) in the moments leading up to 2049's opening.

Finally, there are six short “Blade Runner 101” segments – roughly two-minute promotional snippets looking at story elements like the Wallace Corporation, the evolution of replicants, and K's girlfriend Joi.

Roger Deakins' stunning cinematography really pops on the Blu-ray, and sound quality is first-rate.

Blade Runner 2049 is rated R for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language. The running time is 2 hours and 44 minutes.

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