Wednesday, 11 October 2017

It's Still Looking Grim

Written by Annette Kellow
Let’s start with a confession: I’ve never seen Blade Runner. Not one of the seven versions of Ridley Scott’s classic, from the original cinema release in 1982, to the Director’s Cut in 1992 or The Final Cut (with an extra minute of footage), ultimately decided upon in 2007. I’ve seen bits, clips, heard the music, read the speeches, but I’ve never watched it all, figuring if they couldn’t work out a definitive version, why should I bother? And mainly, I don’t really like sci-fi that’s all rainy and dark and dystopian – it seems a too-obvious way for the world to be heading and I have more faith in the human soul.

I think somewhere in the future, no matter how bad it gets, we’ll still be laughing and dancing. Not in Denis Villeneuve’s new vision we won’t. He’s the French Canadian director assigned to this sequel, set 30 years after the end of the first film, but in reality coming 35 years after it, if you see what I mean. If you don’t, well, that’s the least confusing it gets.

According to Villeneuve, the best we get in 2049 is a nice sheepskin coat and a girlfriend who’s a hologram. That’s what Ryan Gosling wraps around himself, his only comfort blankets, as he carries out his miserable job as a Blade Runner, a policeman working for the LAPD, whose job is to hunt down rogue ‘replicants’ and decommission them. Now, I couldn’t work out why he was doing it or what threat they posed and to whom. Can you just shoot them with bullets, do they bleed, or do you have to do that thing that takes a scan of their eyeballs? They don’t have a soul, I figured that out, and that’s despite them being programmed with fake memory implants and other qualities that make them near- human.

I note the ability to tell jokes is one that’s lacking. That’s the thoughtful part of this movie, which of course looks great (shot by Roger Deakins) and fizzes with philosophical ideas not usually found in current blockbusters. What makes us real, what makes us love, what makes us human? How can we tell between real and fake? Very timely, in a thumpingly obvious sort of a way, underlined by another pompous Hans Zimmer score.

All of this is raised, if not answered. For all its epic sweep, the film is entirely centred on Gosling’s character, K (or Joe, as he calls himself later on), and I was really looking for an insight as to how we might live, how our cities will look, how and what we might eat. That wider picture was better handled in, say, Spielberg’s Minority Report and in the recent Ghost in the Shell.

It’s there in Blade Runner 2049, in the shape of a giant wall, some flying cars and Stygian apartment buildings, but it never feels part of the film’s purpose, its DNA. And that’s what’s missing. There’s no real soul. Gosling has a baleful, mournful look, but I didn’t feel his pain. I didn’t feel anything, really – not fear or threat. I didn’t understand why replicants being able to breed was such a breakthrough, or such a threat. Are there humans left? Is Robin Wright’s police chief a real person and, if so, how in charge is she? How many Blade Runners are there? Why is Jared Leto’s character such a villain and am I supposed to be scared of him? I wasn’t. Even when Harrison Ford turns up, I didn’t know why he was there or where he’d been all these years. He looks as mystified as me. Maybe he hasn’t seen the original either. Three hours is a long time to not feel. Or smile. And, for all its gloomy effects and scrapheap, rusted metal, steampunk style, I simply don’t see this movie as my future.

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