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Denis Villeneuve elevates science fiction to art with “Blade Runner 2049”

Science fiction has become an almost predictable genre in the movie houses. Big studio films from the Star Trek franchise and standalone movies like Forbidden Planet or even the more recent Contact all have a familiar feel to them, from the moment the opening scenes are unveiled all the way through to the closing credits. However, once in a while a movie comes along seeks to break out of such confines and strive to be something better. One such film is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Tonight another film can be added to that list, and that is Blade Runner 2049.

This movie is indeed the proverbial onion. The story here has layers, and only after sitting through the first hour of the film is the viewer rewarded as the layers seriously begin to peel away to what we see as being the heart of the story. Blade Runner, named “K” (Ryan Gosling), is on an assignment to “retire” an older model of replicant. It seems like a simple enough mission, but as he tries to close this case he inadvertently stumbles on to something that will lead him on a case so big it could quite literally have earth-shaking repercussions. The course of his investigation has him meeting a variety of unusual people, including a visit with the character Gaff from the first Blade Runner film (Edward James Olmos returning to the part). His journey finally lands him on the doorstep of Rick Deckard himself (Harrison Ford), who also ends up becoming a part of this mission that K has been assigned.

I’ll just come right out and say it. This movie is a masterpiece. There had been some concerns when it was announced that Ridley Scott, who directed the first film, would not be returning to the director’s chair for 2049, and that it would be helmed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival). Part of that reason is simply the vision that Scott had when he made the first film. Blade Runner is more than just a science fiction film as well. The film is a visual jewel, partly through Scott’s direction with the remainder from Doug Trumbull. Because that movie stood out so well in its visual direction there were many concerns this sequel would fall short. No, it did not fall short. In fact it far exceeded the standards as set forth by the first film. The visuals in this sequel, both scenic and intimate are breathtakingly beautiful. There is a starkness, almost a sense of minimalism with most of the shots. Even scenes focusing on one or two characters have such a sense of vastness despite the sometimes small settings that said scenes take place in.

Another aspect to this movie is the incredible story. As the movie progressed my first thought was to regard this movie as an onion with all of its layers. However by 2/3 in to the film all of all of those earlier thoughts were sort of washed away. Instead it started to feel like a painting, and my nose was right up against the painting, and as the film progressed I would take a step backwards and see more as the painting started to come in to focus. Blade Runner 2049 is much the same way with its story.

The acting in this movie is passable. It’s enjoyable to see Ryan Gosling starring in his first science fiction big studio blockbuster type of film. Gosling is perfect in the role of K. The character doesn’t emote all that much, so there isn’t much of a stretch for Gosling. Harrison Ford’s return as Deckard shows us how much his character has changed because of the personal trials he has had to face and we see how much he has aged as a character. Lastly there is Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, the assistant to Jared Leto’s character, Niander Wallace. Throughout the course of the film Joi does pull off some very diabolical tasks, so when her “retirement” was forced upon here I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat with clenched fists, so kudos to Hoeks for giving us such a deliciously naughty character as a counterbalance to the almost too straight up characters of K and Deckard.

Another element of this movie that helps to make it a worthy successor to Blade Runner is the haunting electronic music by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. As magnificent as Vangelis’ score was for Blade Runner, Zimmer and Wallfisch take it a step further, and yet never stray outside of the box as set forth by Vangelis. With solid acting, a very mysterious and strong storyline, gorgeous production values, and outstanding music, it’s no wonder why people who have seen advanced screenings of this film have been praising it so enthusiastically. Yes, Blade Runner 2049 is like looking at a Monet painting. If you’re up close you’ll see some pretty colors, but that’s all you’ll get out of it. It’s not until you back up regularly and then over time does the painting come in to focus. Having the patience to watch this movie from the start will yield its own rewards, and even take you on a ride of unsuspecting twists and turns. With all of its rich production values and deep storytelling, Blade Runner 2049 will go down in history as one of the best science fiction art films of all time.

I give this movie 4 out of 5 little toy horses.
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