By Carl Wyant.
The return to the screen of what many regard as the all time, quintessential dystopian futurist film, 35 years after the original, and 30 years down the line in it’s own story, is to put it bluntly, no disappointment.
In truth, it’s a triumph on any number of levels, not the least of which is the look of the film top to tail, from Dennis Gassner’s production design to Roger Deakins’ cinematography to the visual effects mastery of practically every major studio engaged in computer generated imagery, special in-camera effects, and modelmaking in the world . . . a credit stream of artistry that consumes nearly ten minutes of after-screen time, for those of us who religiously stay to watch.
What a relief then, in a world so rife with disappointment daily, to be able to have one’s expectations at the cinema satisfied, and then some . . . at least visually.
Androids dreaming of electronic sheep, Philip K. Dick’s well-beaten metaphor for the rhetorical question of whether machines created by man can have a soul, is presumably safe, for at least one more remake.
Now that we have all that out of the way, we can talk honestly about the art of cinema storytelling, and why there is absolutely no pleasure in taking on the mantle, or the albatross, depending upon one’s point of view, of a dissenting voice against the stream of accolades being heaped upon Denis Villeneuve’s sequel Bladerunner 2049.
Since soul appears to be the commodity mythologized as most valued in futurist lore, the thing that sets us, the flesh and blood humans, apart from what are being imagined as bioengineered flesh and blood machines, let’s ask ourselves honestly what the soul of a film truly is?
Despite a good deal of box-office out there to suggest the contrary, it’s not cinematography, not production design, not digital visual effects, nor even compelling performances . . . not the surface in other words, but the substance, the beating heart, the story.
The heart and soul of Ridley Scott’s earlier film was embodied in Roy Batty, whose contention it was that the poetry of fusing memory into dreams was the essential spark of humanity. He waxes lyrical about all that he’s seen, his ‘tears in the rain’ speech, and makes the compelling case, as he’s dying, for the equality, perhaps even the superiority of an engineered species.
By 2049, not only is organic life nearly extinct, but the idea that poetry, embodied in authentic dreams and memories, is of much value seems to have disappeared as well.
What’s been substituted here for a metaphysical concept, is something rather more physical, the ability to create the ‘miracle’ of life, to procreate . . . a metaphor for the sequel itself, a self-replicating idea, the birth of a franchise.
All cynicism aside, the screen time given to Carla Juri’s Dr. Ana Stelline, as well as the spellbindingly emotional performance she delivers in her brief stay are far too significant to imagine that we’ve seen the last of her when K departs her girl-in-a-bubble memory conjuring lab, tears in her eyes, not in his.
Sadly, if there’s a character whose existence and performance match the brilliance of Rutger Hauer’s Batty, and embody the essence of this current version, it’s Juri’s Ana, not Gosling’s K, and there lies but one of the rubs.
Gosling feels like nothing more than a character conveyance for others to deliver the narrative magic that so desperately wants to sit within the visual brilliance of the film’s skin. As a result, there’s a palpable void at the centre of this extraordinary spectacle.
By act three, what we’re left with are two Hollywood stars, their iconic, charismatic, and yet arguably over-familiar faces filling the screen with gestures reminiscent of a host of other films, and countless other stories.
The tale of how Hauer rewrote screenwriter David Peoples’ lines for Batty, the night before filming is legendary. The moving death soliloquy, delivered by a replicant, ironically showing Ford’s human character what it really means to be a man, is perhaps the most memorable in cinema history.
Hard to imagine this kind of invention coming from Gosling, despite his obvious talents.
What we do get is a silent soliloquy of sorts… Some things are better left unspoken.
If this were a Western, and I think it is, you’d have to come to the conclusion that there’s a lot of hat for so few cattle . . . sheep, electronic or otherwise, are grazing somewhere in an off-world pasture of the mind.