Tag Archives: Blade Runner

“BLADE RUNNER 2049” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Nothing has changed.

Blade Runner 2049 shares the same strength and weakness as its predecessor, and that is it’s complexion. Throughout both films, there is an exploration on the human condition and what it means to be considered alive. They both observe authoritarian societies and the effects it has on those lower on the food chain. They both contort ideas such as memory and artificial intelligence and how they affect our views of personal identity. Blade Runner finds its niche in its concepts, and so too does 2049 best represent itself under the original’s banner, even though it eventually does get drowned out beneath all of its complexity.

Taking place 30 years after the events of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 picks up in a dystopian future where not much has changed. Androids known as Replicants continue to try and blend in with the rest of society, bounty hunters known as Blade Runners continue to hunt them, and they both continue to live in the same dimly-lit, smoke-filled streets and rainy gallows. Except in this future, newer replicant models are allowed to coexist in human society, under the condition that they become Blade Runners themselves to hunt down and “retire” the older models.

LAPD officer K (Ryan Gosling) is one of those newer replicants, hunting down his brethren under the badge of a Blade Runner. While out on an assignment one day, he uncovers a trail leading him to former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who made a discovery of his own years ago when he fled Los Angeles with his lover Rachel. As K and Deckard piece events together, they come to a conclusion that will shake the foundation of human and replicant kind for ages to come.

The best thing that can be said about Blade Runner 2049 is that it is an authentic sequel to its predecessor. In Hollywood, most sequels like to cash in on the success of their first entries without offering their own creative input for the provided material (See the Jurassic Park and Alien franchises). 2049 does not fall for this trend. Unlike Jurassic World and Alien: Covenant, which wallow in the clichés of their genres, Blade Runner 2049 fills its frames with its own life and ideas, expanding beyond the questions the original imposed and giving us a wider scope to think about. This makes sense, since screenwriter Hampton Fancher co-wrote the original Blade Runner in addition to its sequel. In 2049, he continues to elaborate on many of its familiar themes, from the existence of artificial intelligence to the barriers between different cultures. However, he also elaborates on many other concepts beyond it, such as internalized racism, love versus joy, and integrated species. This is a film that can easily stand on its own as an original feature, even though its building onto the first’s narrative does make it a stronger film overall.

And as this is a Blade Runner sequel, so too does it make sense that the visual effects would be just as mesmerizing as they were in the original. Even more than the original actually, especially because of how much technology has improved since 1982. The tall, ominous buildings. The sleek, dark vehicles. The bright holographic ads that light up the murky night sky. Everything oozes of detail and assimilation, and even the smaller examples of digital editing do not fail to astound us.

There is one computer construct in the movie portrayed by Ana de Armas, and all of her scenes stand out the most to me. In one of her first appearances, her holographic figure walks out into the rain for the first time, and even though the drops pass through her transparent figure, flickers still pixelate off of her body as if the droplets were falling onto flesh. There’s another scene where her body is mimicking the movements of another human being underlying her, and the way the two bodies moved together were so eerie and interesting that it reminded me of Alicia Vikander’s character Ava in 2015’s Ex Machina. But the image that sticks out the most to me is when an oversized pink variation of her bends down and speaks to her regular-sized lover on a bridge. Was this a metaphor for how small man’s ambition can be to that of an A.I.’s? In any case, cinematographer Roger Deakins captures every scene beautifully, encompassing both the depravity and desolation of a future ruined by mankind’s own misunderstandings.

Two performers that I have to give recognition to are Gosling and Sylvia Hoeks, who play the film’s protagonist and antagonist respectively. Gosling, whose appeal ranges depending on what role he’s given, offers a very thought-provoking performance here as a hero split between the two different worlds of man and machine. I’m not going to give much of his plot details away, but his arc challenges him, his identity, and the convictions he’s held closely to his heart for a long time now. Just to throw a separate example out there to compare the emotions that he’s displaying, imagine if you lived your whole life believing that God was real, only to find out that the Bible was written by only one author and none of the events depicted in it have ever happened. How would that change you? How would that shatter you as a person? Who would you be now after discovering that?

Gosling services that part brilliantly, and Hoeks serves as the antithesis: a woman who knows what she is, what the implications of her culture are and how they would change should one little piece be added to the constantly-shifting puzzle. In the film, I know she symbolizes at least one social idea for sure. I don’t know if she’s supposed to symbolize others beyond that one. All I know is that as a villain she’s cold, calculated, merciless, violent, and terrifying. I would not want to be in the same interrogation room with this woman.

My main concern with Blade Runner 2049 is how overstuffed it is. The film is two hours and 44 minutes long, and it has earned every bit of its screen time with all of the content that is in it. I’m just afraid that it may be too much. It’s been a week since I’ve seen the film now, and I’m still struggling to wrap my head around every character, every arc, every idea, every theme, every point iterated on, every plot twist the film takes you through, and all of the implications that the movie ends on. I know I liked what I saw in Blade Runner 2049. I just don’t know if I understand it. This is a film that definitely requires second viewings, even though the appreciation of it might not improve with each viewing.

Still, viewers such as myself asked for a faithful sequel in Blade Runner 2049. It undoubtedly fulfilled its promises, and it most impressively did it without the help of Phillip K. Dick’s characters. When I finished the original Blade Runner in 1982, I thought endlessly about the relationship between Deckard and the replicants, of the society that mankind created, and the many ways it mirrored our current world. I asked myself the same questions after watching 2049 as I did with the original Blade Runner. How sad is it that we’ve been given all this time to learn, to change, and to grow from where we were, and yet here we are 30 years later, making the same mistakes now as we did back then.

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“BLADE RUNNER” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Tears lost in rain.

Blade Runner isn’t so much a story as it is a philosophy, an intricate and intelligent observation on life, the perceptions of society, and humanity’s carnal need for dominance. After watching the film, I didn’t think so much about the plot of Blade Runner as I did on its themes. This is a film that asks many questions and then asks its viewers to provide the answers. And the questions Blade Runner poses are irrevocably complex; our answers, even more so.

The story is based on a Philip K. Dick book titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It takes place in an alternate future where flying cars are the primary form of transportation, holographic Coca-Cola ads light up the night sky, and robotic-humanoid hybrids blend in with the rest of society. These hybrids are called “Replicants”, and they are seen as a threat to the human race and are relentlessly hunted by specialists called “Blade Runners.” When a blade runner eliminates a replicant, they don’t even get the courtesy of saying they were killed. Instead, they call it “retirement.”

Our hero Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a blade runner, and he is tasked with hunting four replicants that arrived to Earth a few days ago. One of those replicants is Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), and his mission is to expand on his replicant bretheren’s short life span and integrate into human society. Both are extremists by every definition. Both are not above taking a life for the sake of their own agenda. And both think they are justified for their cruelty.

Ultimately, Blade Runner is a film about discrimination. Against who, exactly? Doesn’t matter. Pick your minority of choice and fill it inside the replicants, and you have your conflict. Unlike other films that tackle a similar subject matter, Blade Runner isn’t so much interested in the labels as much as it is interested in the actions. For instance, observe the principles of the Blade Runners themselves. They’re a team of bounty hunters tasked with navigating, hunting, and eventually killing (excuse me, “retiring”) a group of individuals they know next to nothing about. They don’t know who they are, they don’t know why they came here, and they don’t know what exactly they’re trying to accomplish. They only know their names and where they came from, and that they don’t belong in the society that created them.

Now tell me: how is that different from the sheriffs that hunted slaves who fled from their plantations during the 1800’s? Or a swarm of police finding and viciously punishing a group of civil rights protestors in the segregation era? Or Nazis searching for Jews hiding out in Poland in the 1940’s? Without directly commenting on these social issues, Blade Runner demonstrates the primal fear that society develops for individuals they don’t understand and the prejudice they create as a response to it. Granted, Blade Runner doesn’t have anything to say about the solutions to such issues: just the psychology of persecution and how that creates ripple effects throughout society.

Take Roy as another curious example. In the context of this film, he is seen as the film’s antagonist. But in his perspective, he sees Deckard as the antagonist. Is either one wrong? Is either one right? They both play to their own extremes and aren’t against violence and killing, but that’s besides the point. Both the humans and the replicants have their guns pulled on each other. Both are in response to violence that was previously perpetrated. Now the question is this: who fired first, and is the other justified in firing back?

As I said before, complicated questions, many of which don’t have easy answers to. Part of that is because there isn’t any neutrality expressed in the film. The character that is closest to representing one is Rachael (Sean Young), a replicant who believes that she is human. Really, she isn’t that far off from any other regular person. She likes to smoke, she exhibits her own feelings, emotions, fears, and she even possesses childhood memories. The memories in actuality belong to her creator’s niece, but does that make her memories any less real? Does it make her any less real?

The film is beautiful to look at and invokes the same aesthetic and nostalgia as those 1950’s Neo-Noir crime dramas do. Using light and contrast as tools to sharpen the images he brings to the screen, director Ridley Scott invokes a dark, ethereal setting that feels downtrodden and slummy, yet inhibits its own spirit and energy where shadowy figures hide around bleak corners, smoking cigars, and maybe downing a drink from the local pub. Bringing on visual effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner possesses the same edginess and detail to its set design, but it never gets lost in it. It simply lets the setting breathe as it will, and as Deckard navigates through the complexions of a lost city, so do we deconstruct the complicated things going on within it.

Blade Runner is well-acted, morally challenging, and visually absorbing. This much it has going for it. Where it loses focus is in its screenplay, which is so messy and convoluted that it nearly screws up the entire narrative. While I was a fan of the ambitious ideas the film was exploring, I wasn’t a fan of how it was overreaching beyond its grasp. There were many times where the film moved at a briskly quick pace, oftentimes slipping past important details that were essential to later scenes. I didn’t really understand the point of Blade Runner up until its climax, but by that point I was endlessly confused and lost with what these characters were supposed to be doing and why. It wasn’t until after I finished watching the film that I began to piece events together and understand it more efficiently. When it comes to filmmaking, it is the screenwriters job to construct the story and simplify it for its viewers, not the other way around. With Blade Runner, it is much more interested in flashy effects, brilliant concepts, and dystopian scenery than it is in its characters and deeper mythology. In that regard, Blade Runner is just plain lazy.

In hindsight, I find Blade Runner to be strongest as a conversation topic: an exchange of ideas between cinephiles and philosophers on where we are as a society versus where we are going. I don’t, however, consider it quality entertainment or even necessarily fun. I would watch it again to understand it better; not to enjoy it more.

As a film, Blade Runner is confusing and flashy. As a story, it fails to be coherent. But as a series of existential questions that we all need to ask ourselves, Blade Runner is invaluable. I hope you are ready with your answers.

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“THE MARTIAN” Review (✫✫✫)

Again with this, Matt?

Hollywood has spent too much money trying to bring Matt Damon home. I’m sorry, but someone had to say it. Our first venture to bring him home was in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Then, we brought him home from Syriana. His most recent attempt was in last year’s Christopher Nolan epic Interstellar. And now we have The Martian.

Don’t worry, it’s a good movie. The story is thorough, the visual effects are convincing, and Damon does a great job evoking tension and sympathy from his viewers. I swear to God though, if he gets himself trapped on another distant planet or war zone anytime soon, I’m leaving his ass behind and joining a traveling circus with Jimmy Kimmel.

Based on the novel of the same name, The Martian tells the story of the Ares III crew, an astronaut team sent to scout and research the planet Mars. While there, the team gets hit by an intense sand storm and is forced to initiate an emergency evacuation from the planet. While making their escape, however, one of their teammates, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is struck by debris and separated from his team. Believing he was killed, his teammates board the ship and launch away from the planet.

The Ares III team forgot to account for one thing, however. Mark Watney is played by Matt Damon, so of course he’s going to survive. He didn’t last through war zones, conspiracy theories, and elaborate heists just to let one planet do him in.

Now alone on a planet that is incapable of sustaining life, Mark Watney needs to figure out how to survive and eventually escape from the planet Mars.

This film is directed by Ridley Scott. You can see that as either a good or bad thing depending on what part of his filmography you’re looking at. It’s true, he’s known for science-fiction classics including Alien and Blade Runner, as well as the Academy Award-winning Gladiator. But in recent years, he’s also been responsible for a number of duds. For example, has anyone seen, and liked, Robin Hood, The Counselor, and Exodus: Gods and Kings?

Well, don’t worry dear reader: Scott is back in his prime, and he orchestrates his environments beautifully here. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily just because of him. This world was crafted from the mind of author Andy Weir, who before writing The Martian was a software engineer for Sandia National Laboratories, AOL Inc. and Blizzard Entertainment. When he originally published The Martian on his website, he conducted extensive research on Mars’ geography, astrodynamics, and botany to make the book as scientifically accurate as possible.

By the time Ridley Scott and writer Drew Godard read the book, they didn’t have to adapt it so much as reproduce it.

The thing I love most about The Martian is the research that went into it. When it starts, you think this is going to be another survival story in space, not too dissimilar to Gravity or Apollo 13. The surprising thing, though, is that The Martian isn’t so much thrilling as it is fascinating.

Picture being stuck on a planet with no water, no oxygen, and no food. Seems hopeless, right? And indeed it is, but Watney was trained for environments like this. He adapts. He learns to deal with what he is given. So how does he react to having no water, oxygen, or food? He creates his own water by super-heating Mars’ humidity, he tears apart NASA machinery to stockpile on oxygen resources, and he learns to artificially grow his own potato garden by planting them in (don’t vomit) his own feces.

These are just a few of the problems Watney faces in the film. How does he create transportation? How is he going to communicate with NASA? What does he do if a sandstorm blows open a hole in his space station? What if his crops suddenly die out? What if he runs out of oxygen? What then?

This is how the film builds tension: by throwing impossible survival situations at our poor hero and watching as he dissects for a solution. Does his methods get outlandish? Of course they do, but they are reasonably outlandish, and that’s because of the reality Weir grounded Watney in while writing his novel.

Scott’s visual prowess lends well to the film’s scientific applications. In terms of scale, this film operates on a smaller budget than his other recent films (Robin Hood and Exodus: Gods and Kings’ budgets were $200 million and $145 million, respectively. The Martian’s was $108 million). Yet, in comparison, I’m inclined to say this is his most visually authentic film yet. The reason is because of Scott’s use of practical effects. For science-fiction films, it’s so easy to place your character in front of a blue screen and plaster generic Mars footage in the background. That wasn’t good enough for Scott. For the background alone, he went and filmed the production in the Wadi Rum Valley in Jordan, which has the appropriate sandy landscapes and shade of red that is accurate to the geography of Mars. He constructed 20 sets for the many areas Watney traverses. His production crew grew legitimate potato crops so they could capture the process of photosynthesis on film. For any other director, they would have settled for the easy way out, plastering CGI around your actor and having them react to what isn’t there. That wouldn’t do The Martian justice. Scott knew that and created the best visuals possible for a movie that deserved it.

I have one gripe with the film, and that is its climax, which ironically is supposed to be the high point of the film. I can’t say exactly what happens with the end, but I will say it went on for too long. By the time we arrive at the climax, we know what’s going to happen to Watney. What kind of a movie would this be if it ended any other way than what we were expecting? The thing is that Scott treats us as if we’re too oblivious to it, and he draws it out to a ridiculous length in an attempt to further thrill his audience. It doesn’t work. By the time the ending rolled around, I was looking at my watch, wondering how much longer this scene was going to drag out. Climaxes aren’t supposed to do that. They’re supposed to keep you further engaged with the film: not waiting, impatiently wondering when its going to end.

So does Mark Watney survive? You tell me. He is played by Matt Damon.

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