How do you follow that? It’s a well known sentiment in showbiz circles. And really, how do you follow an act like Blade Runner? Ridley Scott’s 1982 SF classic has rightly come to be hailed as a masterpiece, emblazoned large on the psyches of movie fans the world over.
So you had to wonder what value there was in a sequel, when it was announced that Scott was indeed developing a follow up entry. In the wake of Prometheus’ well documented problems, quiet trepidation understandably became outright concern.
Of course, perhaps for the best, the legendary director decided to take a step back and the reins were handed to Denis Villeneuve. Though he had shown promise with the likes of Incendies and Prisoners, intriguing lower budget fare, there was little to suggest he had the chops to take on a project of this size. Sicario, however, confirmed him as one to watch, while the much heralded Arrival shot him into the top echelon of current directors.
Crucially, he has shown himself to be a man not afraid of taking his time with a story. Too often, big budget affairs such as this deliver plenty of fizz and bang, but not much else in terms of depth and care for narrative. It is this admirable trait, more than anything, which steers Blade Runner 2049 down a good path right from its entrancing opening scene. Much is spoken about the nature of Officer K (Ryan Gosling) without any need for clunky exposition.
There are many factors which contribute to setting 2049’s hypnotic tone. A combination of sharp eyes behind the camera, on-point editing, laudably restrained acting from all members of the cast, and exceptional lighting and camerawork. And then there is the soundtrack. No discussion of the original Blade Runner is complete without mentioning Vangelis’ iconic score, which melded seamlessly with the eye-watering visual excellence to form a synth-scape that only the very greatest big screen collaborations accomplish. Entrusted with the unenviable task of imbuing 2049 with a similar aesthetic was Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch (replacing the original composer, Johann Johannsson). Zimmer, as most will know, is no stranger to this scale of work. And, all importantly, he has previous form in SF circles – in particular, with the likes of Inception and Interstellar. 2049’s soundtrack, though, is possibly his finest. Fully channelling Vangelis, the sounds created here evolve while invoking the original. The effect is so astonishing that you almost expect to see a juggernaut of a spaceship looming ominously into view on the horizon at any moment.
It aptly complements what is a nigh-on visually perfect film. No overstatement – 2049 is stunning in its grandeur. At times, it is almost painfully beautiful. One could freeze-frame at just about any point in its considerable runtime and sit entranced by it. Never has the blend of CGI and live action been so seamless. What it accomplishes is creating a world that pays homage to its progenitor while enhancing it in just about every way. There is an added sense of scale and depth here – the scope of the visuals blooming in synch with Blade Runner’s expanding mythology. But it’s not just eye candy – it’s something more, almost indefinable. The effect, along with the brilliant musical beats, is like stepping into a dream. The movie has a mystical haze to it, as if we have been transported through a portal into an extraordinary alternate universe. Few modern movies possess the power to leave you breathless – that sense of wonderment felt when first being treated to watermark moments like Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, E.T., or … indeed … Blade Runner. But that is precisely what 2049 manages.
While we could delve into the story-proper, it would feel oddly disrespectful to do so. This is an experience like no other; a journey that should be undertaken with fresh eyes, no preconceptions, and a mind hungry for a rich meal of the very finest speculative fiction. This will be a film discussed and studied for years to come. But it is a discussion that should be had between those who have benefitted from being treated to its multitude of joys firsthand, unfettered by critical preamble concerning its plot. It is a film that manages to be both precise and enigmatic at once; urgent, yet serene; A true feast for the senses – one that should be enjoyed slowly, savouring every last crumb of its myriad of intoxicating flavours.