First Look: BLADE RUNNER 2049 review

Our Ian Kennedy on why it’s a fitting follow-up, why you should watch it in IMAX 3D, why it’s like the original in some unintended ways too, and why some audience reaction will suffer as a result…

I’ve got a long history with BLADE RUNNER. I saw it as a teenager in the 90s, again at University where I also attended lectures about it and wrote an essay about it, and I was also tasked with writing Example Development Notes for it during my time training up to join WriteMovies (which I’ll publish for you to read here – a good example of how our Development Notes look to take even the best scripts to the next level! Here’s another example about BLADE RUNNER from a more recent trainee). So you can imagine how excited I was to interview BLADE RUNNER 2049’s VFX Consultant Post Production, Habib Zargarpour, in the run-up to the sequel’s release. While we wait on official approval to publish that, I’ve now had the chance to catch the movie itself, and I wasn’t disappointed – though I think some people will be.

Habib recommended I catch the film in IMAX 3D, for reasons he explains in the interview. And boy was he right. That technology has been truly nailed now, and paired to a uniquely visualized movie like this, it really looked and felt like all the actors and scenes were happening right before my eyes. The 3D is subtle and natural, not artificial and showy, and became an important part of the experience. It’s hard to exaggerate what a naturally immersive experience the IMAX 3D made it. The visuals were stunning throughout – a great job from everyone involved, of which there were hundreds across the globe!

The original explores what it is to be human, and raises the unnerving prospect that replicants may actually be more human than us in some ways. BLADE RUNNER 2049 takes that further – almost the whole story is told from replicants’ points of view, and it takes their world to important new places and times, showing us why perhaps it’s their side we should have been on all along – something the original only hints at. The most interesting character in the new film, though, is actually Joi, the AI who acts as wife to Ryan Gosling’s low-key ‘Blade Runner’ cop – bewitchingly fascinating and uncanny throughout, and easy to fall in love with.

I noticed an interesting parallel to the original – just like for BLADE RUNNER, the trailers sold it as more of an action movie, where the movie actually gave us much more of a slow-burn mood movie (more subtle thoughtful than action-packed, like director Denis Villeneuve also gave us in ARRIVAL – read my Insights into that film here) – and that gap in expectations may result in exactly the kind of mixed audience reactions the original got at first! So far the critics’ reactions I’ve seen are good, and I think it’ll definitely find its place, but in the main, this is definitely NOT an action movie, and long passages focus much more on the vacant emotional life of Ryan Gosling’s inexpressive cop than on plot development – in fact the eerie sound design is often used to make up for the lack of plot development. Some audiences – probably ones who hadn’t seen the original – may even find the storytelling slow and unengaging, especially in the first half. In other hands this story would have made a much sharper two-hour movie, not the 2hrs43mins we’ve been given here, but for me it’s great to see genuinely thought-provoking and subtle films getting their chance at last – I wrote a series of Insights articles about that earlier this year comparing ARRIVAL, MOONLIGHT and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.

So, this is a great movie, but maybe not in all the ways you’d expect. But with its haunting themes and stunning visuals, you might enjoy it even more second time around. Can’t wait to tell you the inside story from Habib!

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