Friday, February 22, 2019

Blade Runner 2049 Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve   

Over the three decades since it's release the influence and popularity of Blade Runner built up to the point that the final cut had a limited release in theaters in 2007 before being sold as a DVD and Blu Ray. Despite it being twenty-five years since the first version of Blade Runner was released and the very limited number of theaters and only being in theaters for a couple months... The final cut made about 33.7 million dollars and then the money from DVD sales came rolling in. At this point, even Hollywood executives realized what they were sitting on and so they set out to make a sequel. Ridley Scott ended up as executive producer and Denis Villeneuve, the French Canadian of Sicario and Arrival was his chosen director. Unlike the first Blade Runner film, there don't seem any great legends or feuds floating around on this one. Blade Runner 2049 had a producer who was determined to create a better experience then he had and a director who had worked on a number of American movies. Which is likely all to good, another movie with the kind of production drama that the first Blade Runner had would likely turn tragic. I do want to note that a construction worker was killed dismantling the sets for this movie in Hungry, I couldn't find his name but I feel it important to note his passing. That said, let's turn to the film.

The movie takes place thirty years in-universe from the original Blade Runner. The world has not done well for itself. While the Tyrell corporation has fallen, replicants continue to be made now by the Wallace Corporation led by Niander Wallace. Earth in the meantime has suffered an ecological collapse and a mass blackout that wiped out (nearly) all electronic records. This was accompanied by a number of replicant rebellions that led to a ten year prohibition on creating replicants (as well as a number of older models escaping out into the world to live in secret) until Niander Wallace, who made his fortune by creating ways to feed people despite the ecological collapse, received permission to restart production. Niander Wallace was played to great creepy effect by Jared Leto who stated that he based Wallace's behavior on the behavior of several silicon valley overlords he knew and turned it up to eleven (Yep! He basically dialed the standard corporate sociopath up that high. Honestly I’m not even sure he turned it up to eleven.). Niander Wallace is a man with a god complex, given that he controls the food supply of Earth and the labor force of the colonial words... He's a very powerful and wealthy man with a god complex. He is, however, a deeply frustrated man. His model of replicants, the Nexus 9, have life spans equal to humans, they are faster, smarter, stronger and always obey but he cannot make enough of them to satisfy his ambitions of spreading humanity across the galaxy (I can't say I sympathize honestly, he complains about only adding nine worlds to the total of worlds that humanity lives on, but the fact of the matter is if humanity was set up on ten worlds that would make us more extinction proof than any species in history). 

This is where our main character Police Officer KD6-3.7 (A fun note, P (for police) KD come together to make the initials for Philip K Dick) comes in. On a routine run K “retires” a Nexus 8 who claims to have seen a miracle. That's when K finds a box buried under a dead tree with a set of bones in it. The bones belong to a female replicant who died doing something impossible. The bones belong to Rachel and she died giving birth to her and Deckard's child. The news hits K's superiors in the LAPD like a thunderbolt, if replicants can give birth, it is the biggest and most fragile wall separating them from natural-born humans torn down. It also suggests rather firmly that the ideology that justifies enslaving replicants and treating them as objects is wrong. So, of course, there's only one thing to do here, find the child and kill it, while burying all the evidence and pretend this never happened (The systematic dehumanization of the replicants in this movie literally made me weep). So they set their super reliable hound K on the case, however, the clues and revelations that K finds on his way quickly subvert him as he begins to have suspicions about just who the child is and finds himself unwilling to carry out his orders. Especially as it comes to light that some of his implanted memories actually happened. If his memories are real... Then how much of his life is real and how Much is the lie? 

Ryan Gosling plays K and I find myself split on his acting choices here. He actually does a wonderful job playing K as the submissive and down-beaten slave (sure he's paid but he's still property without any rights so I would consider him a slave). He constantly looks down and to the right (replicants have an identification code on the underside of their right eyeball so to verify you have them look up and to the left) when around humans. He hunches and keeps his body language closed and when speaking to his superiors keeps his tone as neutral and emotionless as possible. This is really well chosen as the movie takes pains to show up that natural-born humans react with hostility and borderline violence to replicants. From fellow police officers screaming slurs to him, to the people in his apartment building vandalizing his door and howling diatribes at him whenever he shows his face. So a replicant like K would quickly learn to adopt such submissive postures and tone to avoid attracting additional abuse. However, when alone or with Joi (I'll get to her in a moment) his tone and expression doesn't change that much, so K is left feeling very flat as a character for a lot of the movie. I can see the argument of that's how such a person would act in real life but this is a movie and I have to sit through it (Then it is a you problem, and not an acting problem. I subscribe to that argument. You wear a mask long enough, and it’s hard to take off. You repeat the lie that you’re worthless and don’t deserve dignity to avoid a beating or execution for long enough and you come to believe it yourself, you become the mask you wear and live a life of despair. What you see is not flat acting, but a lifetime of situational depression and stockholm syndrome. {That’s great but this is a movie that I have to sit through, and it’s still Gosling being flat for over 90 minutes, having him show more emotion when alone with K would have made the audience connecting with him easier. Which is what you’re trying to do in a movie, sometimes reality has to take a back seat to audience engagement in movies about replicant cops hunting children. So yeah, it is an acting problem.}). He does get more expressive towards the back half of the movie but at this point, you've already sat through 90 minutes and the impression is made. 

That said it is interesting to note that K is the only character in this movie with a companion of any kind. While Niander has the replicant Luv to carry out his will, she isn't a companion so much as a minion/tool (Because Niander is a sociopath. He doesn’t have companions. He’s incapable of attachments of that type.). Niander is shown to be always alone unless attended on by Luv (seriously I don't even see a butler or a maid), which goes for every human character in the movie as well. This carries on the theme of alienation and isolation from Blade Runner while making K the sole exception. As for Joi, she is a hologram programmed to be a live-in companion, played by Cuban actress Ana De Armas. Joi is supposed to be an artificial intelligence, at first she comes off as a very advanced chatbot but as the movie progresses, she plans, advances her own ideas and expresses her own desires and envy of others. She even shows an awareness of the possibility of death and puts herself knowingly in danger to try and help K. Which brings up the question of just how real Joi was? (My answer is this: exactly as real as K or anyone else.) I think this sub-plot is the part of the movie most influenced by Philip K Dick, as he would enjoy the idea of grappling with the question of whether or not your relationship is real or if even the other person in the relationship is even real. As the question is never definitely answered in the movie. I admit that I tend to fall on the side of if Joi wasn't a sapient person at the beginning of the movie, she was one by the end. As I pointed out, she didn't just follow her programming but adapted to changing situations, developed her own ideas and plans and had her own desires. That strongly suggests being self-aware and sapient to me. While she did make K the center of her universe, there are plenty of human beings who do that, so I don't see that as a disqualification per se. I honestly would like to hear your opinions on the matter however so feel free to leave a comment. 

On the other side of Joi is Luv, a replicant specially made and named by Wallace to be his right hand. Luv is perhaps the most privileged replicant in history, as she runs the Wallace corporation in Niander's name. However, she is still property and it is perhaps being allowed to sit on the high ledges while having to live under another person's whim that creates the rage inside of her. Luv is played disturbingly well by the Dutch-born actress and model Sylvia Hoeks, who plays Luv as a woman who lives under restraint, who seems almost eager to kill humans whenever she can, to the point of murdering not just one but two police officers in their own damn police station (this is one of those things that leads to the world of Blade Runner feeling crowded but damn empty, how do you murder cops in their own station without anyone fucking noticing!?!). I'm not sure if it's because Luv resents being a slave so much as it is she resents humans getting to pretend they're better than her despite all the real power she has and knowing that her achievements only matter so far as her master and creator says they matter. We see this in the differences between her and K, she doesn't look down or hunch over when dealing with humans. However, every time she's in Niander's presence, she adopts the posture of a small child in front of an unpredictable parent and she expresses rage whenever a different natural-born human asserts themselves over her (with the exception of Niander). She never had to suffer the abuse that K did but she did have to learn that all her privilege and power doesn't change her disadvantaged position in society. Which explains the happiness we see when she gets to assault one of these uppity natural-born humans. 

She is also determinedly hunting the child on the orders of Niander as he believes that with the child's DNA he could finally unlock the final secret and make a replicant that can have children, allowing him to make a self-sustaining workforce that can spread quickly. I have to admit I'm kinda looking cockeyed at his statement. He creates replicants as full-blown adults, while any natural-born replicant would need at least a decade to grow up to be a useful laborer. Additionally, a woman, be she natural-born or lab-made human can only have so many children at once or so often. While it seems to me that a factory could pump out a lot more in a year. Lastly... You can make programs like Joi, so why not just churn out robots with half of Joi's intelligence, give them replicant overseers and send them off to make planets useful for natural born human colonists? This honestly seems like an overly complicated answer to the simple question of how do we get enough labor over there to make the planet usable. But I digress. 

As both K and Luv close in on the truth, they both also get closer to Deckard and frankly I don't the movie really can say whether Deckard is a replicant or not. We know that Mr. Scott says he is but well, it just isn't on screen (Does it really need to spell it out though? Having to spell it out just insults the intelligence of the audience, the film treats it as self-evident by the time he’s found.{No, the film doesn’t and it needs to provide some evidence! Which neither film does! The whole thing works just as easily with Deckard being a natural-born human. In fact, the idea that replicants and natural-born can interbreed makes for even more panic}). Niander offers the idea that Deckard was created solely to meet Rachael fall in love with her and get her pregnant but admits he can't prove it (But he is in a position to know Deckard is a replicant {Expect he isn’t, he flat out admits he doesn’t know and the only to know is to cut Deckard apart which loses the information they’re seeking}). Deckard dismisses the idea out of hand. Honestly, that idea doesn't hold water for me either, it's just to damn complicated and depends on Deckard not getting killed and frankly his courtship of Rachael (I abuse the term courtship here and I apologize) sat as much on her lack of options and desperate need for any emotional anchor in the storm as anything else. If Tyrell could have set all that up, he should have been able to foresee the need for some security in his own damn home to avoid having his skull crushed! So Blade Runner 2049 doesn't change my position on Deckard being human. 

Blade Runner 2049 is a very interesting movie in what it explores and suggest and to avoid spoilers I've avoided some of the more interesting parts. That said, this movie has massive pacing issues, at times moving slow enough that a tortoise in the desert could outrun it (Why aren’t you helping?) and at times so focused on its themes and their exploration that the characters and story suffer for it. It's run time is over 2 and a half hours and even Mr. Scott (a man who loves long cuts let's be honest) said it could have lost 30 minutes. It also tends to introduce plot ideas and not really do anything with them to my frustration. That said, again this is an interesting movie with a lot of ideas being dug into and there's a lot to discuss in it. The movie did alright at the box office scoring 259 million dollars against a budget of 185 million, of course, due to Hollywood math it needed to make 400 million to break even (look I'm primarily interested in books so I'm not going to spend a lot of time exploring that but seriously). So it was announced a commercial flop even as it became a critical darling winning 44 awards including Academy awards and being nominated for over a hundred in total. This led the director, Mr. Villeneuve, to declare it the most expensive art-house movie ever made. That said, the movie was one of the top sellers in 2018 for DVD and Blu Ray sales, bringing in another 21 million to the table. So much like it's parent film the final chapter is likely still be written but we'll have to see. I think that there are echoes of the themes and ideas that Philip K Dick wrote about in this work, the question of who and who isn't human, who is and isn't real is a very Dickonian question to ask in a story and it's interesting to have the characters defiantly shout out they know what's real, when the rest of the world says they don't. I'm giving Blade Runner 2049 a C+, despite the ideas and some interesting acting choices the super slow pace and the flatness of K's character works heavily against it but time will tell on that one. 

Well, that's it for our first Philip K Dick Month and it's been an interesting experiment. We are slated to do this again next February will likely do something like this when Dune is released next year but until then let's get back to books! Join us in March for the end of the Warp World Series, as we review Warp World Final Revelations. Keep Reading. 

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen 
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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