Blade Runner 2049

For inSing

BLADE RUNNER 2049

Director : Denis Villeneuve
Cast : Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, Robin Wright, Jared Leto, Carla Juri
Genre : Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Run Time : 164 mins
Opens : 5 October 2017
Rating : NC16 (Violence & Some Nudity)

The sequel to one of the most influential sci-fi films ever made has finally arrived, plunging audiences back into the neon-drenched, rain-soaked, smoky environs of future Los Angeles.

As the title suggests, it is the year 2049. Artificially engineered humans known as ‘Replicants’ live amongst us, but previous incidents with Replicants that sought to break free of their programming have made Replicants the target of prejudice. K (Ryan Gosling) is a ‘Blade Runner’ for the LAPD – he hunts and kills older models of Replicants, tying up loose ends. K’s boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) sends him on an assignment, during which K inadvertently unearths clues to his past.

K is a solitary figure, finding solace only in his girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas), with whom he shares an unusual relationship. Since K is a Replicant, he assumes that any childhood memories he has are merely implants. His quest to unravel a decades-old secret puts him on a collision course with the enigmatic and megalomaniacal Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who manufactures Replicants and sends his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to do his dirty work. K also comes face to face with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner who has been in hiding for the last 30 years. What K discovers will change the balance of society forever.

While 1982’s Blade Runner initially received a none-too-enthusiastic reaction from audiences and critics, Ridley Scott’s film has since been acknowledged as a cornerstone of science fiction. The film was based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick’s work often deals in themes like what it means to be human, the interplay between man and machine in future society, and the subjectivity of memory. Every effort has been made to carry that DNA into Blade Runner 2049. While it’s clear that director Denis Villeneuve and writers Hampton Fancher (who also co-wrote the original) and Michael Green are aware of the burden they carry in making this sequel, they do not buckle under the weight of it.

Audiences, especially those unfamiliar with the first film or with Villeneuve’s filmmaking style, should be aware that this is not an action movie – even if some of the marketing makes it look that way. This is a deeply contemplative film, thick with philosophy that will alienate more impatient viewers. It is also constructed with great consideration – the cinematography by Roger Deakins, the production design by Dennis Gassner, the music by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch – it’s all assembled with careful thought and superb skill. The atmosphere is kept consistent with that established in the first film, but Villeneuve doesn’t occupy himself with dishing out fan service, as one might expect from a belated sequel to a highly-regarded film.

Like its predecessor, this is a neo-noir, and K feels very much like a hero one would find in a classic noir film. He is a tragic, hollowed-out figure, numb to the anti-Replicant epithets that are constantly slung his way. Gosling comes off as distant and withdrawn, but never stilted or wooden. There’s humanity lurking just beneath the surface, humanity that K doesn’t quite know how to process. Gosling also handles the fight sequences well – while it’s highly unlikely Gosling would win a throw down with Dave Bautista in real life, it seems credible that K might gain the upper hand over Bautista’s character Sapper.

Ford makes his first appearance roughly 105 minutes into the film. What he lacks in screen time, he makes up for in presence. Ford is no stranger to revisiting iconic roles many years after the fact, but unlike Indiana Jones or Han Solo, Rick Deckard is not primarily a figure of fun. Ford sells the weariness that has accumulated in Deckard’s bones. Deckard is the king of his own domain: a lavishly appointed hotel in what once was Las Vegas, now an irradiated wasteland. Like K, Deckard was a Blade Runner in search of his own humanity, working a job that needed him to deny said humanity. K and Deckard represent loneliness in different forms, with Ford and Gosling playing off each other in a way that’s devoid of cheeky winks and nods.

Much as Blade Runner 2049 blazes a new trail, it conforms to genre archetypes in several ways: Wright’s character is a standard tough boss lady, while Hoeks’ scary henchwoman also is a commonly-seen character type. De Armas’ Joi is, by design, wish-fulfilment incarnate – a fantasy girlfriend with little say in the relationship. The dynamic between K and Joi is heartfelt and sorrowful, and even though their relationship is quite unlike most, is weirdly easy to relate to.

Leto’s appearance is quite brief and largely consists of him spouting cryptic philosophy as he hangs out in his Brutalist architecture lair. Beneath the posturing and overall eeriness that cloaks the character, he’s pretty much a standard sci-fi supervillain.

Blade Runner 2049 does not feel like a studio-mandated sequel. The presence of executives fretting over test screening results is barely felt. It is a work of art, but then again, art is subjective. The film’s 163-minute running time is excessive – 30 minutes of that could easily be trimmed away. However, far as cerebral sci-fi goes, this film certainly does its genre forebears proud.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Arrival

For F*** Magazine

ARRIVAL

Director : Denis Villeneuve
Cast : Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma
Genre : Sci-fi/Drama
Run Time : 1h 58min
Opens : 12 January 2017
Rating : PG-13

arrival-posterIt’s Close Encounters of the Learned Kind: aliens are greeted not with a barrage of laser fire, but by academics seeking to understand their motive for travelling to Earth. When 12 extra-terrestrial spacecraft appear hovering above Earth, US Army Colonel GT Weber (Whitaker) ropes in linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) and theoretical physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Renner) to head a team that will attempt communicating with the aliens. The arrival of the 12 ships throws society into disarray, with other countries’ handling of the situation posing the threat of all-out war. Louise and Ian enter the ship, making contact with the aliens, which come to be known as ‘heptapods’. Louise studies the heptapods’ language, a series of complex circular shapes, gradually figuring out how to speak to them. In the meantime, tensions escalate worldwide, with many Americans calling for a show of force against the heptapods after the aliens convey that their purpose on Earth is to “offer weapon”.

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Arrival is based on Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, a Nebula Award-winning novella. Director Denis Villeneuve, currently working on the Blade Runner sequel, had wanted to make a science fiction film for some time. Meanwhile, screenwriter Eric Heisserer had been unsuccessfully pitching an adaptation of Story of Your Life and was about to give up on it. Producers Dan Cohen and Dan Levine eventually united Villeneuve and Heisserer, with the result being a towering achievement in the genre. Villeneuve’s approach of measured stillness gives this first contact story considerable gravitas, while keeping it intimate and personal in that the events are largely seen from one character’s point of view. Aficionados of the genre will recognise certain elements in Arrival, but the way they’re assembled and presented is unlike any sci-fi film before it.

arrival-shipVilleneuve refrains from flashy stylistic flourishes, with the aliens and their ships deliberately under-designed. Much of the atmosphere comes courtesy of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score. Its ominous electronic tones are contrasted with the stirring strings of Max Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight, which opens and closes the film.

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Arrival’s premise is built on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the concept in linguistics that one’s worldview is intrinsically shaped by the structure of one’s language. While Arrival does require its audience to be engaged in the story, it doesn’t drop one off in the deep end to drown in dense techno-babble. Several sci-fi/fantasy TV shows and movies have boasted entirely invented alien languages, but this has generally been done as a world-building move to give the fictional civilisations more texture. In Arrival, the heptapods’ language is the backbone of the story rather than a detail, with the structure of the language demonstrating the heptapods’ transcendent perception of time. By the time we get to the mind-bending conclusion, we were fully invested in the plot. As trippy as the ending is, it does not break any of the earlier-established rules.

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Villenueve’s films can generally be described as “cold”, but Adams’ performance anchors Arrival with warmth and humanity. Adams’ ability to convey a rich range of emotions while remaining understated is an invaluable asset here. We are presented with a back-story for Louise that seems emotionally manipulative, but Adams’ performance gives the character great depth, and we are later provided context for said back-story. Louise is analytical, but not condescending in the way academics in movies often can be. She is shaken by her initial encounter with the aliens, as anyone would be, but she forges ahead to make sense of the information she’s been given.

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Renner’s Ian serves as a foil to Adams’ Louise, with Renner bringing just enough roguish charm to the part. Ian takes a back seat to Louise for most of the film, but in the middle of stressful circumstances, they find solace in each other. In Ian’s introductory scene, he disagrees with Louise that language is the foundation of any culture, contending that science is instead. Louise and Ian’s relationship is symbolic of how the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ sciences intersect. By working together towards a common goal, Louise and Ian overcome the obstacles in their path instead of getting in each other’s way, making the duo one that is easy to root for.

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Whitaker plays the military man whose every action is governed by orders from on high, and who baulks at some of the unorthodox methods employed by Louise and Ian but is ultimately supportive of their efforts. The film lacks nuance in its portrayal of how other countries are reacting to the alien ships stationed in their backyards. Louise and Ian are spearheading the American effort to establish contact with the heptapods and as expected, Russia and China are seen being the most aggressive. Still, “lacking nuance” is relative, since most the film is complex and sensitively realised. It is disheartening to think that the current U.S. President-Elect would likely nuke the heptapods into oblivion as a knee-jerk reaction instead of sending a linguist and a physicist to deduce the aliens’ raison d’être.

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While Will Smith welcoming an extra-terrestrial marauder to Earth with a swift punch to the face might be the pop culture conception of first contact with aliens, sci-fi abounds with more contemplative approaches to this hypothetical situation. As Arrival draws to a close, it becomes clear that this film deserves a place in the sci-fi pantheon alongside the very best examples of the genre.

Summary: As intelligent and thought-provoking as it is moving and profound, Arrival’s approach to the scenario of mankind’s first contact with beings not of this Earth is powerful and sublime.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong