Alan Charlton

'Blade Runner' better with FX than plot

Voices Nov. 15, 2017

Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling team up in Blade Runnner 2049. Director Dennis Villeneuve uses today’s cinematic technology like a child running amok in a toy shop, writes Alan Charlton. (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

To make a sequel of a classic movie is always risky business; to make a sequel of a movie as iconic as BLADE RUNNER is especially fraught, yet that is exactly what screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green have done with BLADE RUNNER 2049Whether fans of the first film will approve of the second will largely depend on what they are looking for.

If they are looking for impressive computer-generated images, they will certainly not be disappointed for every care has been lavished on the film to ensure that it continues to bring to vivid life the dystopian world of its predecessor.

Visually the film certainly manages to continue to portray a world that is at once ugly and yet technologically impressive as it shows the impact of the depredations of humans on the environment. Everything from atomic fallout to more ordinary pollution has produced a world that can really only be inhabited by replicants – robots to the uninitiated. However, those replicants still remain a threat to humans, which brings us to the matter of plot.

The original film raised several issues as the eponymous Blade Runner, Rick Deckard played by Harrison Ford, was commandeered to track down six replicants who were intent on avoiding their fate of predetermined termination.

It also raised the complication of Deckard falling in love with a replicant and, whether it is morally justified to terminate a sentient robot.

This too becomes a central issue in the sequel as a younger Blade Runner, known only as K, sets out on a similar quest. To the sequel’s credit, it raises this issue humanity may well face in the future: how do you approach the possibility of the creation of replicants who are capable of reproduction?

Indeed, as scientists gradually move toward the creation of artificially intelligent beings, this and other issues must inevitably be faced. Ever since Mary Shelley wrote FRANKENSTEIN, the problems that arise when humans try to play God have been the subject of much speculation.

The problem with BLADE RUNNER 2049 is that, having raised such tantalizing ethical concerns, it buries them under the aforementioned computer-generated effects. The film becomes far too technologically creative for its own good. Scene after scene is nothing more than scenery, accompanied by thunderous noises which seem to have little to do with what is happening on screen.

We have all got used to musical accompaniment to films and happily accept the unexplained and invisible presence of a full orchestra as background as a way of reinforcing the emotional impact of a scene; however, it is a device that is meant to be supportive, not something which exists for its own sake.

Yet this is exactly what happens with the soundscape created for BLADE RUNNER 2049Scene after scene is prolonged past the point of redundancy, while strange and deafening sounds inflict the audience’s ears. The result is a film that, despite some excellent acting, especially with Ford reprising his original role, very quickly outwears its welcome so that by the end of the 150-minute running time, one feels the whole thing could have been accomplished far more effectively in one hour less.

Doubtless fans of the film will find its visual impact more than enough to satisfy them. However, those who are more intrigued by the ethical and moral issues that the film raises might well wish that, instead of tying them up in a complicated (and occasionally mystifying) plot, embroidered by vast wastes of scenery, it had addressed them more fully and challenged the audience more intellectually and morally.

The result would have been far more worth the time demanded to endure the longueurs of this sequel. Director Dennis Villeneuve has reacted to the possibilities presented by today’s cinematic technology like a child running amok in a toy shop; for a while it is entertaining, but soon becomes annoying. The vision of BLADE RUNNER 2049 may be a satisfactory extension of the original film, but it fails totally to do justice to the issues it raises.