The Thin Red Line OST by Hans Zimmer (Expanded La La Land Records edition)

ThinRedLine-Large__42863.1549393387I listen to this all the time. Not a week goes by that I don’t listen to the first two discs, which comprise the entire score by Hans Zimmer as originally recorded in Autumn/Winter 1998, following two years of collaboration between himself and director Terrence Malick. Entire films can be written, shot and released in the time it takes Malick to edit a film, constantly reworking scenes and often editing, completing and then re-editing them with alternate music- TRL was no different, and when it finally got released, Malick would of course have further tinkered with the score, returning to classical choices he perhaps always favoured (something that no doubt irritated his composers before and after) and thus relegating much of Zimmer’s score to the cutting room floor (or Avid dustbin, however that all works in this digital age).

That The Thin Red Line was one of Zimmer’s finest efforts is nothing new- it was always a major part of the success of this haunting and magical film. However it is clear from this remastered edition, in which the original intended score is presented across the first two discs that this score is truly remarkable and more special than even its fans possibly expected (as the late Nick Redman comments in the liner notes, a two and a half hour program that is almost two-thirds unreleased). Some of it is familiar from the film but omitted from the original soundtrack album release, and some of it is totally new, cut from the film and never heard before. As a whole piece of music, it is in my mind clearly Zimmer’s masterpiece, his finest work. Richly lyrical, emotive, deeply soulful, mystical even. I have found myself listening to it as a musical work all its own, completely independent of the film it was written for.

I keep coming back to it. Its almost an ambient thing, something of a mood. Themes are woven throughout, returned to, dismissed, then later reprised. In this respect it is fairly routine of Zimmer’s work, in which he often populates a score with one or two admittedly fine themes and then constantly reworks them, remixes them throughout the whole, but goodness me, those themes he came up with for The Thin Red Line are quite extraordinary.  I am constantly reminded of Matt Irvine’s record reviews column in Starburst magazine, particularly his review of Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture score, in which he commented that the music was so strong as a narrative whole that it seemed akin to a modern symphony, a classical work in its own right. Irvine was absolutely spot-on and I do think the same could be said of this score too.

The score functions in a similar way to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, in which it is mostly about mood and atmospherics, its music that you feel rather than even hear, sometimes. There are themes and leitmotifs just as in any score but they are almost secondary to the whole. One of the most iconic pieces of film music of modern scoring is the Journey to the Line track (as it was titled on the original OST album) which features here in an extended form with a different title- indeed this music is so popular and has been reused in so many trailers and temp tracks that it has become the bane of modern composers. Its interesting that in this complete score it turns up so often in so many different (sometimes subtly so) forms; woven throughout it forms the backbone of the score. Tellingly, it features in Nature Montage, the very opening of the score and a piece of music (some five minutes long) largely replaced in the actual movie. Its a lovely mood-setting piece, evocative of Witt’s dreamy, questioning narration (“What is this war at the heart of nature?”), the warlike, almost drone-like Journey to the Line theme falls to a lovely, soulful piece (Witts theme, really) that sets up the tensions of the film and the score as a whole. Its a genius piece to introduce the score and film and much of it all-new to our ears.

As we suffer the decline and near the end of physical disc formats and likely with it,  such perfectly curated score expansions such as this, it feels all the more special that we somehow got this expanded and remastered edition of this score.  It isn’t cheap, mind, and has come under some criticism. The new material is spread over the first two discs of a four-disc set, the third disc being a remastered edition of the original soundtrack album, and a fourth disc of Melanesian choir music- religious chants partially featured as source music in sections of the film. The inclusion of the original soundtrack is certainly well-warranted. It features music not used in the film, some music used in the film but not sourced from the original score, and edited suites unique to itself. While it is in truth the original album we fans loved for years, it actually feels like a standard third disc of alternates etc that an ordinary expansion such as this might contain. Whenever I listen to it now, that’s what it feels like. A collection of alternates and replacements to the score heard on the first two discs. The inclusion of the fourth disc is partially redundant -little of it was used in the film- but it was a major part of the films identity, and I believe Zimmer insisted on its inclusion, so who’s to argue? If nothing else, it makes the whole thing feel complete.

As far as soundtracks go, this is surely the release of the year, and having owned it a few months now, I often see it on my CD shelf and have a ‘pinch me’ moment of surreal disbelief. Its rather like La la Land’s own 3-disc set of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Intrada’s 3-disc Conan the Barbarian– these are wonderful scores, some of my very favourites, and we have them in luxurious complete (or as near dammit) editions after waiting for years. Indeed, I would truly thought such releases were impossible, years ago. Just as films appeared in the cinema and then disappeared for years until eventually surfacing on television, so soundtrack albums were simple vinyl albums that came out during a films initial release and then quickly became OOP, relegated to second-hand speciality stores years later. We are very fortunate indeed now.

 

 

 

Party like it’s 1989: Field of Dreams (4K UHD)

pris2Another 30th anniversary, and another 4K UHD release of an old favourite- this time Field of Dreams, a film blessed by one of James Horner’s best and most intimate of scores, and a story/screenplay that makes it the best Ray Bradbury movie that isn’t actually based on a Ray Bradbury story. Like Rod Serling’s early Twilight Zone episode, Walking Distance, this feels so much like a Bradbury tale it’s almost from some kind of fantasy uncanny valley.  As someone who spent much of the 1980s devouring much or Ray Bradbury’s short fiction and later novels, quietly laughing and shedding a tear at just the right moments with each turn of the page, Field of Dreams was, to quote the characters, not just incredible, it was perfect.

In just the same way as Alien is possibly the best Lovecraft film ever made, in how honest and sincere it is in conveying the alien horror of his best tales, so Field of Dreams is the best Bradbury film ever made- the fact that neither author had anything at all to do with the original source materials of either movie matters not one jot.

So anyway, I had to pinch myself a little this past weekend- I was a very lucky ghost watching The Prisoner of Second Avenue in a new HD master on Blu-ray and the following day a new transfer of Field of Dreams, splendidly brought to 4K UHD disc. While the disc will never win any awards or standout from the 4K UHD crowd, it’s the best the film has ever looked- a quick spin of the original Blu-ray disc reveals how limited that old edition really was, hampered by a lackluster print/master which in comparison really highlights the improvements in this new 4K disc. The image is more stable, the detail and filmic grain more defined and the colour depth really improved- HDR is mostly subtle and all the best for it, only really vivid in scenes with neon street lighting or in the baseball field at night.

The film, of course, is something of a marmite picture; often described as a male-weepie or adult fable, it’s a charming and finely-judged film that is really quite subtle – I think it will be interesting to rewatch Always, also from 1989, and similarly old-fashioned and gentle in spirit, to see how Spielberg’s less subtle hand fares (a bargain-bin blu-ray sits waiting on the shelf as I type this). I was naturally predisposed to fall for this film simply because it evokes so much of the magic Bradbury’s old Americana fantasies, but this shouldn’t detract from the qualities of the cinematography,  the performances (Kevin Costner is at the top of his game and James Earl Jones a greater joy everytime I rewatch this), the sublime score, the deft direction.  It has the feel of lightning caught in a bottle- a film has naively nostalgic and innocent as this shouldn’t have worked in the 1980s and beyond, but like Capra’s Its A Wonderful Life, it’s rather gained a timeless life all of its own.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Blu-ray)

pris1Thanks to Warner Archive over in the States we have a newly restored release of The Prisoner of Second Avenue, and on Blu-ray no less. Naturally as I’m a huge fan of the film I ordered a copy and it arrived yesterday, so I watched it that evening. I can report that the film looks absolutely gorgeous, a beautifully detailed HD image with fine grain, incredible detail, no DNR, lovely colour- its damn near perfect, and the best I have ever seen this film look. As the physical formats continue to decline, it makes releases such as this all the more special and treasured, and I thank my lucky stars this is region-free, as I’m pretty certain fairly lowly-renowned films such as this is extremely unlikely to get released over here in the UK (which is a great shame, frankly, and I’d love some UK distributor to prove me wrong and release this and some other Jack Lemmon films in HD over here).

So I watched the film last night and I was quite overcome with how wonderful the experience was – this is one of my very favourite films and to finally have it in this splendid Blu-ray release is just wonderful. To say this release was worth the added expense of having to import it from over the pond is an understatement. The 2019 master is pretty amazing and gives the film a whole new life and vitality, you could be forgiven for thinking its a fresh new film shot last year, except for the fact that it being shot on film gives it a tactile grain and image superior to many modern films shot digitally. The film also features some really impressive widescreen composition, certainly that old pan and scan version I first saw must have been pretty horrific.

Its no doubt some indication of my adoration of this little film that I have mentioned it so many times here on my blog. Its one of those films that I had an instant and intense emotional attachment to- I was in a very low place in my life when I first saw this film by chance on an afternoon tv airing, and it certainly struck a chord in me. Indeed, over the years as I have returned to it that connection, and my love of the film, has remained undiminished- perhaps even heightened as I have grown older and been able to appreciate it even more. Sure, there are better films out there- but few films, in all honesty, mean quite so much to me.

pris3A study of a middle-aged man who becomes unemployed and has a nervous breakdown is perhaps a strange one to describe as a comedy, but it is – its funny and it is sad and there is a feeling of truth and honesty about it, of ordinary people just trying to survive in a cold and indifferent modern city. Jack Lemmon of course is probably my favourite actor and he’s excellent here as the wounded Mel, displaying fragility and pride and, as usual, uncanny comic timing delivering his lines or reacting to others. Anne Bancroft playing his wife Edna, has really good chemistry with him and is no slouch herself with the comedy, and she engenders great sympathy during her characters moments of stress and concern. We really feel the warmth between this middle-aged married couple (I’d hate to imagine how young and physically utopian a modern film versions casting would be).  Thanks to some fine location shooting, the film also serves as something of a time-capsule, capturing a mid-1970s America and New York that does not exist anymore. Its familiar but also there is a distance, a sense of innocence lost: an interesting New York double-bill would be this followed by Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, released only a year after and seemingly light years away from this films Second Avenue- it’s a double-bill I really shall have to try sometime.

pris4The film even features the first on-screen performance of an incredibly young-looking Sylvester Stallone. The fact that this year Stallone celebrates his 72nd birthday is a sober reminder of how old this film is and the years that have passed since, and of those we have lost. Jack Lemmon died in 2001, Anne Bancroft in 2005, Gene Saks in 2015, Ed Peck (you may not know the name but he’s a familiar face from a lot of 1960s and 1970s television) in 1992. Infact, of all the cast, I think only F. Murray Abraham (who appears in unlikely cameo as a taxi driver) and M.Emmet Walsh (the apartment buildings inept and  lazy doorman, later a hero of mine from Blade Runner of course), are still alive, other than that young turk Stallone. Behind the screen, playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon passed away in 2018 and the films director, Melvin Frank, passed away in 1988. Composer Marvin Hamlisch passed away in 2012; how I would love to own a copy of the films marvelous score on CD, something extremely unlikely to ever happen as I don’t believe any of the score was ever released, but you never know, stranger things have happened.

I only write about all the talent we have lost as an indication of the films pedigree and worth, and it’s unlikely place in film history as a little film that could – and a film I absolutely adore. Film fans can attach to films more easily and more faithfully than they can people. This film is proof of that.

 

Malick’s 2001: A Sense of Perspective

tree3Don’t know how much time I have right now, lets see how far I get before I get called away-

The similarities between Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:  Space Odyssey might be fairly well-known, but I thought I’d mention them here, as the more I think about it, the more I find it surprising and illuminating in how they oddly complement each other.

2001 is one of the most epic films ever made, in its sense of the passage of time and where it places mankind in the cosmos. It begins with the Dawn of Man sequence, in which man-apes gain intelligence enough to use bones as tools -typically for humanity, these tools are weapons- and sets us on the path to orbiting nuclear weapons in one of the most famous jump-cuts in film history. This intelligence is ‘gifted’ by the Monolith, which is either an alien tool of communication or an alien itself. Increasingly marginalised first by the huge desert vistas of prehistoric Africa and then by the vast voids between Earth/Space Station/Moon and finally Jupiter, mankind’s unimportance seems self-assured until Bowman enters the Stargate and begins another step in evolution.

The Tree of Life reinforces this perspective of humanity in the cosmos, by actually outdoing Kubrick- Malick shows us the very beginning of the universe, the formation of the first stars, our galaxy, our sun and the Earth, and then the beginnings of life. We witness dinosaurs prior to them being wiped out by a cosmic whim of fate/gravity and a falling asteroid, and later we are thrown forwards to the death of all life on Earth as it becomes consumed by the death-throes of our sun. In this great cosmic scale of things, it’s like we never existed, our actual existence something of cosmic chance, any sign we ever existed lost as our planet is blasted to a cinder in the dark.

But Malick is also telling us something else here- that however insignificant we seem in this cosmic arena, we do matter, each and everyone of us. He shows us a family in 1950s America, childhood and adulthood, and the town in which they live. We see their relationships and how they care for each other, their laughter and their tears, their triumphs and frustrations and the joy of nature and being alive and the pain of grief and loss.

Kubrick’s film is rather colder- intellectual progress distances mankind from the natural world (we see people existing in sterile, created environments of space capsules and stations),  and also distances from each other (personal relationships decidedly cool and awkward, dialogue clipped and inane, formalities such as birthdays just perfunctory nods to old habits). The characters are, frustratingly, hardly alive, and pale in comparison to HAL, the AI that somehow seems more human than those it serves.

The world of 2001 at least appears to be quite Godless, as if humanity in creating its technological worlds has done away with God entirely and in so doing lost its soul, although it can also be ‘seen’ that 2001 is ironically quite a religious film, certainly if one takes the view that the Alien intelligence that guides humanity is God and the Monoliths are its Angels, and Bowman’s death a moment of resurrection as he becomes the Starchild. The Tree of Life meanwhile is more traditional and overtly religious in its repeated callings by various narrators to God, its use of religious imagery and rites and religious music. God is not a part of the machine/Monolith, here God is a part of nature and the film even depicts Heaven, a shoreline where our characters all meet again, even seeing themselves as different people of different ages- adult Jack meeting his child self and even his own mother, back when she was possibly younger than he appears  to be in the undefined ‘now.’ This later moment, when adult Jack witnesses his parents in the wake of his younger brothers death decades before, suggests that he is not reliving his own life as much as the life of someone else, but his perspective is one of almost Godlike omnipresence, of stepping through Time.

But the thing that both films clearly share is this sense of the Big Questions; what are we in this impossibly unfathomable universe, in which are utterly lost and insignificant in this immense incalculable span of time? What is our purpose, and are we alone? What is the meaning of life? is there something ‘More’?

In essence, 2001 burns cold and logical while The Tree of Life burns warm and emotional.  Both films share bold use of Classical music and methodology of Pure Cinema, a cinema of images and sound  rather than narrative. Both films have little dialogue, and little of this dialogue actually drives either film- rather it is the interplay of images and music that progress the films from beginning to end. Neither film holds the viewers hand and explains anything- both films demand audience’s attention and the effort to construct meaning from the events portrayed. It struck me whilst rewatching The Tree of Life the other night just how alike the two films are, and how masterful Malick’s film is- even to the point that it possibly surpasses Kubrick’s film.

I wonder what Kubrick would have thought of The Tree of Life, and indeed, what Malick (media-shy and private as he is) thinks of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Tree of Life may seem an unlikely example of what Malick would consider a science fiction epic but its connections and similarities to 2001 seem inescapable. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it. Oh well, it’s certainly something, if nothing else, when contemporary cinema can raise such musings.

Alas, the clock has turned and my time is up. Must go!

Blade Runner Anniversary

Blade-Runner-2049-0302Here’s a curio- today is the one-year anniversary of me seeing BR2049 on its opening night at my local cinema. I booked the tickets when on holiday in Scotland the week before and it led to a pretty exciting/scary week running up to the Thursday evening of October 5th. While watching Blade Runner back in 1982 remains the most intense cinematic experience of my life, watching BR2049 will likely always be the most bizarre. It was almost an out-of-body experience, watching it in a sort of detached way, as if none of it was real. Looking back on it, its clear I was really nervous after so many years of Blade Runner being an important part of my life and watching an impossible sequel that turned out to be impossibly brilliant. The experience was doubly weird as I went with my mate Andy who had seen the original with me back in September 1982- it was a little like a Twilight Zone episode or something.

I watched it twice more at the cinema (three trips to see the same movie? Frankly unheard of in this day and age) and must have seen it a dozen times since on Blu-ray and now UHD. Its still a fantastic, powerful movie and yes, likely my second-favourite all-time movie now- what a strange world we are living in. I keep re-watching it every month or so expecting the shine to wear off but it actually just seems to get better, and more impossible, every time I see it. The more I watch it, the more remarkable it seems that someone actually made a film so intelligent, slow, beautiful, so worthy of the original. Its funny, while I buy and watch so many movies these days, I seldom actually re-watch films quite as much as I used to years ago, but something about BR2049 keeps on pulling me back. And this one-year anniversary is just another excuse to watch it again…

Blade Runner 4K UHD

br4kAutumn. Its the perfect time of year to watch Blade Runner. Summer? Horrible. All that sun and heat, its just the wrong time to sink into the rain-soaked neon of LA2019.

Which is my way of excusing the long delay from buying my 4K set-up (and my Blade Runner 4K edition) and actually sitting down to watch it. Anyway, I’m right of course- if only the studio execs who mistakenly thought Blade Runner was a summer blockbuster back in 1982 had thought to actually watch the film and realise it was not a summer movie, the film might have gotten a bigger audience with a release put back to the Fall of 1982. Might have given Ridley a bit more time to get the edit right too, and saved us decades of tinkering (even though the tech of 2007 ensured we got a better film in the long run).

So anyway. I watched the disc last night with the lights down and the cool damp Autumn night gathering outside the window. How was it? Well, rest assured, Blade Runner has never looked better.

The subtlety is the thing that struck me. Sure, the film is sharper, details more pronounced, and most of the visual effects actually more convincing than ever.  I wouldn’t have thought that last bit was even possible, but it is, which only increases my admiration for the effects guys behind the film and their achievement. The shot of the blimp hovering over the Bradbury roof as Deckard looks up, the lights piercing through the metal frames of the skylights, is really suddenly quite extraordinary and an utterly perfect effects shot. This is partly enabled by the HDR, which adds depth to the visual field, making lights and the neon signage really  ‘pop’ (the opening with Deckard sitting reading his paper with the screens behind him really does startle).

br4kcBut the real improvement, as I’ve noted, is the subtlety. Thanks partly to that HDR but more due to the WCG, the film has an added beauty from the play of light, the added colour range and gradient of tone. Every shot of Blade Runner looked like a painting on DVD and Blu-ray, but now we just see more of that painting. And, naturally, yes, we do see more details, in clothing fabrics and props and decor. The craft this film demonstrates is just breathtaking, even for a seasoned fan like myself. At one point I just had to stop looking and just enjoy the movie for what it is, and leave some of that detail-noting and visual exploration for subsequent viewing.

Some of the visuals won’t please everybody. There is a lot of grain, which is mostly down to the nature of the photography, but also the film-stock used too. Some shots are indeed problematic. Deckard’s reverie of the unicorn in the woods is pretty ugly, some of the grain buzzing like static, and his examination on the Esper machine has a few moments with issues. But any fan of the film from the VHS days will be used to stuff like that and on the whole it is what the film is. Any noise from grain is countered by the terrific gains in detail and depth from the wide colour field.

br4krachSo away from the 4K bells and whistles, a note about the film itself. This is, afterall, the first time i have watched the whole film since the release of BR2049 and I have to say its an interesting experience. Knowing what lay ahead for Rachel and Deckard can’t help but inform the experience of the film, and really does make Rachel a more tragic character. Knowing that Tyrell has tinkered with her to perfect the final Frankenstein-like goal of authentic biological reproduction makes him all the more of a monster (who ironically never learns of his final success).  And of course, Batty’s death and his very human act of saving Deckard mirrors the actions of Officer K in the sequel. Deckard is saved in both films and both experiences seem to transform him.

How exciting, then, that after all these many years, Blade Runner both looks better than ever and benefits by being informed by its miraculously faithful sequel. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought any of this would be possible, but here it is, and so close to the ‘real’ 2019 too.

I can only add that I really cannot wait to rewatch this film again- nothing new there really, as I’ve always loved it, but still, its pretty exciting.

And yes, it is definitely an Autumn film. No way is this a film  for the summer.

Film Notes: Blade Runner 2049 Pt.2

br2049bldgBlade-Runner-2049-0093So K walks home in the snow, approaches his apartment building- we see holographic advertisements for Sony and Off World up in the sky (I must admit, I still rather miss the blimp) and the camera pulls down as K crosses the street to his building. Within the building he is forced to climb the stairs which are crowded with people in shots reminiscent of Soylent Green (a great callback to a 1970s classic, if deliberate, and who is to say it isn’t? In some ways, 1970s dystopian films such as Soylent Green are as much predecessors of  BR2049 as the original Blade Runner movie is).

Presumably, these are homeless people sheltering from the cold outside, hinting that overcrowding in this city is still a problem, or at least that, as the outside world has gone to ruin, a toxic wilderness or city outskirts with no power or sanitation, there is less space for those left who are unable to leave for Off World.

Blade-Runner-2049-0095There is also the suggestion of everything breaking down- the elevator isn’t working (the screenplay states he climbs eighty stories!).  A woman launches a tirade against K that is subtitled – is she using Cityspeak, another nod to the first film? It seems nobody likes Replicants- earlier when we saw K entering the police headquarters a cop threatened him (“fuck off, skinjob”) which, like this encounter here, doesn’t seem to overly bother K. He’s no doubt used to it, inured to it by constant harassment. He reaches his apartment and steps through the crowd to his door, unlocks it and steps inside. When he closes it behind him we can see the legend ‘Fuck Off Skinner‘ scrawled across the door. Really, even in a world graced by Wallace Corp, Replicants guaranteed to obey, humans still don’t like them- or at least, that part of humanity left on Earth that does not benefit from them.

Blade-Runner-2049-0099We see an exterior shot of K’s apartment, looking in through the window as he moves around inside. Shafts of light move across what seem to be supporting girders around the window, some lovely sound effects play over the soundtrack and falling snow is caught in the shifting light. Its one of my favourite shots in the movie- its quite unnecessary I suppose, its just a few seconds but it offers a real sense of place and atmosphere and mood. The fact that they choose to just throw shots like that in a film can only make you love it more, you know?

br2049apartmDetailing is exquisite. In a reverse shot a little later, we can see out of the window across to the building opposite, and in some of the lighted windows across there, figures can be seen, moving. Again, strictly speaking, stuff like this is superfluous, unnecessary, but I think all together they sort of accumulate into a hyper-reality, just as everything seemed to in the first film.

Blade-Runner-2049-0102K glues his cut arm, cleans up: takes a shower which a voice announces is a burst of “99.9% detoxified water.” For some reason the woman’s voice recalls that of the woman who voiced the prologue narration of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. Again, the shot of the shower, the detail about the detoxified water… it all charts the environment, the proscenium, as Ridley was fond of describing it (at least I remember he did, I tried to find the quote, but failed. Must keep looking). But these are all hints, things for attentive viewers to discern and process- if God is in the details, then the genius of this film is in those same details, if you want to work at seeing and processing them.

(Imagine, for a moment, an alternate ‘Idiots version of BR2049‘: complete with a voice-over narration like the original theatrical version of Blade Runner. I suppose it would be able to explain everything we are seeing, from those disused solar fields or the weather or the baseline test or the crowded stairs. I think I might write one someday, it would probably be incredibly funny, listening to K describe everything in laconic Film Noir/bored Harrison Ford-like voiceover.)

Blade-Runner-2049-0104We see K preparing some food in his kitchen, another wonderful nod back to the production design of the first film. So many incidental details, so much fascinating production design to feast the eyes upon. And yet, none of this really seems to draw attention to itself for its own sake. There is a restraint throughout this film, as spectacular as it is at times, more about the visuals informing the story than simply wowing us as spectators. Clearly at odds with the traditional Hollywood blockbuster as such films exist today.

During this sequence, we have heard a woman’s voice, having a conversation with K. When we finally see her, it is obvious that she isn’t ‘real’: she is Joi, a computer AI/Hologram, or some technology off-shoot from holograms, ‘Hard-light’ or something? I must admit I was initially troubled by her- I always overthink things, like ‘where is her voice being broadcast from?’, ‘how can ‘she’ where everything is around her?’, ‘where is the circuitry for her AI?’ I guess we really need to recall the old quote by Arthur C Clarke that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic‘; and just go with it- its 2049, an alternate 2049 at that, and while they are still using CRT screens they are way ahead in other things.  In any case, she is a digital companion, and clearly very important to K.

br2049joi1Blade-Runner-2049-0143.jpgOne more point to make here regards Joi- she is a remarkable combination of performance by Ana de Armas and the artistry of the visual effects team at Double Negative in Vancouver; a wonderfully subtle visual effect that doesn’t call for our attention but is simply there, throughout, in one form or another. Either when she glitches slightly or whenever a strong light sits behind her and is cast through her, some of it is hardly there, but it always is there. Its one of the very best visual effects that I can recall seeing in years, such a subtle manipulation of image that you could be forgiven, as a viewer, for not even realizing the fakery at work here (part of this, I’m sure, is the performance by Ana de Armas which is, like so many of the performances in the film, simply on another level). Its seems a relatively simple visual effect but I suspect it is far more complex than it appears.

br2049joi4K has used his bonus from hunting down Sapper Morton to buy Joi an Emanator. This is a device which will enable her to leave his apartment, having being ‘locked-down’ to a projector arm in his apartment ceiling (“I’m getting cabin fever” Joi joked to him a few minutes earlier).  Holographic text appears around Joi- a reminder that she is a program, a product, an extension of the Google assistants etc on our mobile devices of today. Another observation- no mobile phones or internet in this Blade Runner universe (I really want to live there).

Blade-Runner-2049-0177K takes Joi up to the roof. This is so beautifully shot, this sequence, with truly remarkable sound design that is woven so delicately though it. Its possibly my favourite sequence in the entire movie. The sound of the falling rain, rattling on metal, splashing in puddles, the sound of a distant spinner flying, the hum of machinery, a distant rumble of thunder, the soundtrack synths playing though it, the searchlights piercing through the night and the misty, damp air, the characters figures reduced to silhouettes.  The production design, the surrounding cityscape, the nearby advertisement featuring an Asian woman’s face. Its so timeless, like stepping back into that 2019 so imitated over the years and yet feeling so authentic here. So Blade Runner, so Pure Cinema! Every time I see this sequence I never want it to end.

br2049roof“I’m so happy when I’m with you!” Joi gushes. “You don’t have to say that,” K corrects her, fully aware that she is just following her programming. She is a companion, an AI construct designed to befriend, cheer, comfort its owner. A digital alternative to Replicant pleasure models. K seems quite aware of Joi’s limitations, even if Joi herself isn’t. Which does raise a pertinent question- is this Joi just like any other Joi sold to the public, or is she actually something more? In just the same way as, presumably, most Replicants simply exist, function and obey, and then one like K comes around which starts to (apparently) think for itself and push against its boundaries, is Joi doing the same? In just the same way as ‘life finds a way’, is it true that AI finds a way too, that it finds a way to achieve a sense of unique self, and soul?  How much is freewill, how much is code, for any of the characters in this world? Both Joi and K are AI. Or are they real? How does one even measure ‘real’ in cases such as this? Does ‘I think, therefore I am’ even cut it in this world?

Blade-Runner-2049-0183Blade-Runner-2049-0191Joi almost looks a ghost- here on the roof, and yet not here. Light seeps through her fragile-looking form. Her graphics software seems to adapt to the rain that falls through her body and simulates how it would splash and soak a real body instead. Artifice continues to try to become real. Joi and K attempt an awkward and impossible embrace that will press a later solution from a (frustrated?) Joi. But now Joi suddenly freezes. A message from Joshi overrides Joi’s programming; Joshi wants K back at the station.

Blade-Runner-2049-0198X-ray images of a footlocker, and bones within it. Wonderful sounds of clunky, noisy machinery (the sound design really is quite remarkable in this film).

br2049morgueWe are in the morgue. We are told that the footlocker belonged to Sapper Morton from his military days, and that soil samples indicate that it has been buried some thirty years. The bones belonged to a woman.

Personal observation here- it immediately occurred to me when first watching the film last October, that the bones are whats left of Rachel. Its inevitable really, just do the math- 2049 minus 30 years. I remember feeling a lead weight in my chest, a feeling of genuine loss. There is an interesting meta-reality at work here- I remember ‘seeing’ Rachel, as Sean Young looked in 1980/81, an image frozen in celluloid, videotape and disc for all the decades of revisiting Blade Runner so many times: Sean Young/Rachel frozen in time.  Now she was just bones, the long years since 1982 as real as those between 2019 and 2049.

The film caught up with my suspicions almost immediately- K examines sensory data and microscopic imaging and discovers that the bones are those of a Replicant, and the soundtrack plays the same music as played over the prologue text at the beginning of the film. The score for this film seems to serve a different function to that of the original film’s score by Vangelis, and yet still sounds very ‘Blade Runner‘. I will always wonder, though, as to what composer Johann Johannsson’s score sounded like before it was replaced. I suspect some of Johannsson’s score filtered through- the moody atmospherics of the Wallace sequences sound suspiciously like his music. The music reprising from the films beginning would seem to indicate a recurring theme, of the nature of Replicants and the central mystery of this film.

The revelation that this female Replicant had given birth to a child will have repercussions throughout the remainder of the movie, and is indeed the core of the film.

Blade-Runner-2049-0224Blade-Runner-2049-0226Cut to Joshi’s office. Again we see an exterior shot, looking through a window into her office, in just the same way as we earlier had an exterior shot looking into K’s apartment. This time though we also have a closer exterior view, allowing us to see the pouring rain distort Joshi’s face as she raises the ramifications of what a Replicant giving birth means. Is this distortion of her face representing the disruption/anarchy she fears will ensue as the present order of things collapses?

Blade-Runner-2049-0231So we now cut to the interior proper, and see the outside world through her window as real as it looked outside of K’s apartment. This is no green-screen/CGI shot; through miniatures/forced perspective, atmospheric haze and physical weather effects the film continues its subtle definition of reality, which is a beautiful subtext when one considers what the films subject is.

Blade-Runner-2049-0242Joshi is sending K on a special mission, off the books, one assumes- to track down the Replicant child and destroy all trace.  K, like the dutiful Replicant that he is, obeys, but noticeably hesitates, a concern for Joshi and perhaps an early indication his next baseline test won’t be as simple as the one we saw earlier: “I never retired anything that was born, I guess,” he states. “To be born is to have a soul.”

“Are you telling me no?” Joshi presses, stepping towards him. A little threatening, perhaps a little worried.

“I wasn’t aware that was an option, madam,” K replies.

“Attaboy,” Joshi breathes, relaxing. “Hey,” she calls over to him as K leaves. “You’ve been getting by fine without one.”

“What is that, madam?” K asks.

Blade-Runner-2049-0243“A soul,” she states, already at her desk, working at some paperwork, dismissing him.

Here we have the central thesis of he film laid bare. The film allows us to consider this, by lingering over a shot of K leaving the office and closing the door behind him, and through a window in the door watch him walking away. Its a subtle thing, but so few films would actually take a moment to pause like this- usually it would simply cut to K flying over to the Wallace building and the next section of the film. Instead, then, it allows a moment for the audience to dwell on what has just been said. Already the film has shown us K’s digital AI companion, Joi, and postulated that she may be more ‘real’ than initially intended as a product, or the possibility that Joi and K are having some kind of relationship beyond one as simply owner/product. Now, the film has thrown up the nature of ‘being’, of what is real, the supposition that having a soul is what makes us real. Its throwing all these ideas up in the air, and we will see where they land and develop as the film progresses, but already the film is letting us chew over them.

Blade-Runner-2049-0246Blade-Runner-2049-0247While we ourselves consider the possibilities, its interesting that the film now cuts to an exterior shot of the police station roof, and K’s spinner in the falling rain. K is sitting in the car deep in thought- perhaps, like us, reflecting on what has just been said in Joshi’s office, what it means.  Or is K ruminating himself, as a Replicant, of what it means that a Replicant child has been born? His first doubts, his first glimmerings of moral uncertainty, of individual thought? That black and white world of absolutes and certainties that he lived in at the start of the film already falling away?

We cut now to perhaps the single best effects shot in the entire film- one that takes my breath away every time, in the grandest tradition of the 1982 film. We are looking upwards at Peugeot and Coca Cola advertisements on buildings above us before the camera swings away and down, almost impossibly, to a vertigo-inducing concrete canyon looking on streets far below- a canyon ablaze in light from an Atari advertisement/logo, and K’s spinner racing through it.

Blade-Runner-2049-0248Blade-Runner-2049-0250Blade-Runner-2049-0251Blade-Runner-2049-0252Another reminder that we are in an alternate reality, with Atari yet still a major corporation in this world, and yes, a little more fan service from the first film. Its a beautiful moment, a lovely effects shot and yes, another fine reminder of the original film.

K is on his way to Wallace Corp headquarters, in order to investigate the identity of the Replicant whose bones were stored in Norton’s footlocker. He passes over the two Tyrell pyramids from the first film, now darkened and no doubt falling into ruin- its almost a pity that the Replicant records weren’t still stored there, it would have been an interesting place to revisit, with all the ghosts hanging around within its halls. The Wallace headquarters loom over both pyramids and city- a gigantic structure dark and mysterious, and yet, as we will soon see, incongruously full of light within, as if Wallace has control of sunlight itself. The exterior of the Wallace Headquarters is pure overkill, perhaps an indication of Wallace’s own ego- the size of this building almost appears an affront against the city below. There is a nice touch of the Pan-Am logo in a corner of the screen as we see the Wallace headquarters exterior, another reference to the first film and the alternate universe we are in- raising thoughts of the Pan-Am orbital clippers that we saw in 2001: A Space Odyssey, too.

Blade-Runner-2049-0258As K asks a Wallace filing clerk in the records library for details about the Replicant reference number he holds, and hands a piece of hair from the footlocker as corroborating DNA evidence, an alarm sounds in the earpiece belonging to Luv, somewhere else within the giant building. She has perhaps been waiting long years for this notification to alert her- a warning that someone has found a trace of Rachel. “Another prodigal serial number returns. A 30 year old open case finally closed is a curiosity and relief,” she will soon tell K, but she’s lying when she does- the open case is hardly closed, and its not a relief either. Rather, its more an opportunity for monstrous possibilities.

End of part two.

 

 

 

 

Film notes: Blade Runner 2049 Pt 1.

br2049sonyGlitchy, animated logos for Sony, Columbia pictures and Alcon Entertainment, like they are corrupted data or breaking down, play to a soundtrack that is instantly Blade Runner: drums drenched in reverb with plaintive high-notes recalling the sound of the CS-80 that was so much the musical soul of the original. The studio logos already hint that things are very wrong.

br2049columbWe don’t get any credits. Which is a shame, as I always liked those of Blade Runner, from back in the days when films took their time, and skillful choice allowed the mood of the music and the type-face of the credits to settle the viewer into the mood and tone of what will follow (in Blade Runner, the starkness of white on black, except for the blood-red film title, the dread of the Vangelis music – from the very outset, we know Blade Runner is not going to be a fun movie). But BR2049 is a long film, and the film-makers are not going to waste any time getting to it. We have waited 35 years, after all: a lot of tears lost in the rain.

Text  offers us a glimpse (some details will follow later in the film) of what has happened in those intervening years since 2019: following violent rebellions Replicants were prohibited and the Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt. A subsequent collapse of eco-systems threatened all life on Earth and a worldwide famine was narrowly averted by Niander Wallace, whose company then acquired the remains of Tyrell Corp and resumed Replicant production of a safer model guaranteed to ‘obey’. It does not refer to these new models as Nexus: refers only to pre-Wallace Nexus 8 models with indefinite lifespans who are still on the loose, and still hunted by detectives named Blade Runners.

A subtle nod perhaps to the (non-canon? its hard to tell with so many multiple versions) theatrical cut of Blade Runner, in which during the ‘happy-ending’ version, Deckard referred to Rachel as having no termination date. She was, presumably, a Nexus 7? Were indefinite lifespans an attempt  to maintain obedience and order in an increasingly unstable/rebellious slave force?

To be clear: this 2049 is not our future. It is the future of the 2019 envisaged by Blade Runner, these films now an alternate universe, a tidy way of disparaging any criticism in our soon post-2019 world that we never got flying cars and humanoid slaves. It adds yet further weight to the original, no longer a work of future speculation but rather a picture of another, different universe. Perhaps one in which the Axis won World War Two, a cousin of Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle? Already this new film informs and re-vitalizes the original. Blade Runner no longer a vision of the future but rather one of an alternate past.

br2049eye1br2049eye2In a clear reference to the first film, BR2049 opens with a  gloriously-photographed, magnified eye staring back at the viewer, echoing that of the original’s eye starring out at us with the Hades landscape reflected in it. The eye was of course a major visual motif in the original: the Voight-Kampff machine focused on it to help discern Replicant from human, the eye the window of the soul, betraying simulacra from authentic*.

It is not revealed in the film, but the film-makers have since remarked that the eye that we see here belongs to Dr Ana Stelline. What is the significance of this? Does the fact that her eye, and the very last last line in the film (her observation, “Beautiful, isn’t it?) bookend the film actually mean anything? Does Ana ‘see’ what K sees? is there perhaps more to the code within the memories that she has implanted in so many Replicants? Or is her eye merely asking a question of the viewer, a demand of attention, or of an answer at the film’s end? We shall return to this later perhaps, for now we do not know of Ana or her importance to the plot.

br2049openWe see a landscape of solar farms, fields of solar arrays as far as we can see. This is California, 2049: an artificial landscape of metal and plastic devoid of life: a world of grey, almost calm, far removed from the acid rain and violently belching fire-stacks of 2019’s Hades landscape. The screenplay describes these solar farms as derelict; “All dead and abandoned to the dust and wind.” Watching this sequence knowing that they aren’t functional adds extra meaning- everything is collapsing; this is the end of the world.

Already the film is setting its agenda of expanding on the original- we are out of the city, reaching out to the world outside. A world that has visibly changed and yet also reflects the changes in our own world; this is our world seen through a prism of Blade Runner: a world of climate change and threatened environmental disaster made real.

A spinner car races through the grey sky. On board the pilot sleeps, finally awoken by an alarm- we do not yet know that this is Officer K or that he is a Replcant- but is this awakening akin to being switched on/activated, perhaps even literally so?**

The spinner car reaches a barren wasteland that almost looks like the surface of the moon, landing at a protein farm, a reference to the famine hinted at in the text introduction. This first scene is another nod to the 1982 film, albeit one perhaps only die-hard fans would be aware of; it is based on an un-filmed prologue written for the first film. A lingering shot of a pot simmering on a stove is full of reward for the die-hard fans who remember the storyboards of decades ago. The fan-service does not dominate the film, but clearly this film is a work of respect and care towards the original eagerly appreciated by fans who cannot believe that this unwanted sequel is as good as it is.

This sequence is shot in a largely static, restrained and rather monochrome manner- dark silhouettes framed by windows of pure light, this is perhaps the last time things will be as ‘simple’ as black and white for K. This sequence reminds me of Sergio Leone films, particularly the slow beginning of Once Upon A Time in the West– it feels like a Western somehow; the wooden, creaked floorboards and spartan, almost analogue building looking like a throwback to the 19th Century Old West.

br2049sappThe protein farm is being managed by Sapper Morton, a Nexus 8 combat medic who has been on the run since 2020.*** Morton washes his hands as if a slave to routine, and it is interesting that he then puts on some wireframe spectacles. Is his eyesight failing, the machine succumbing to age, or is it a reference back to Tyrell wearing his trifocal lenses, or perhaps part of an almost subconscious disguise,  as if masking the ‘window to the soul’, the eyes that betray a Replicant’s true nature?

All movement is slow, deliberate, the dialogue an almost delicate dance- Morton resigned, perhaps, to his fate, time finally having run out for him, K pleasant and polite, as if doing his duty with an element of regret. K says he would rather avoid the violent alternative although he no doubt knows it is inevitable. The violence when it is unleashed is short, sharp, brutal, Morton smashing K through a wall before K finally incapacitates him. K doesn’t seem as big as Morton but he is apparently more powerful.

Finally it is revealed that Officer K is indeed a Replicant, Morton condemning him for hunting his “own kind”. K doesn’t consider them the same, as his kind doesn’t run. “Because you’ve never seen a miracle,” Morton tells him, before K shoots him twice in the chest. There is a lovely moment here, as the camera shakes as Morton crashes to the floor. K looks a bloody mess, as beaten up as Deckard did in Blade Runner– I only remark upon this as back when Blade Runner was first released, it seemed so usual to have a hero get so bruised and bloodied as Deckard did, almost a hyper-reality (the blood from his cut lip spreading in his whisky glass…).

We see a shot of K’s hands in the sink, washing clean a bloodied eye. Sapper Morton’s eye. K has cut it out of Morton’s head, its electric tattoo proof of Morton’s Replicant nature, and of K’s bounty.  Memories of Hannibal Chew’s laboratory, and Leon placing those grisly trophies on the technicians shoulders.

br2049farm.pngThere is a lovely shot next, typically understated as so much of this film is, deceptively simple yet utterly convincing, as K leaves the building and returns to his car. The world is dull and grey, and the only sign of organic life is a dead, skeletal tree. K dwarfed by the landscape, a perspective we will see repeated throughout the film

K enters his spinner. It looks old and worn and dirty and authentic, lived in. It feels real, doesn’t feel like an elaborate, sophisticated prop. Again, that sense of reality to all this.  “You’re hurt,” his superior, Lt.Joshi, notices when he calls in. “I’m not paying for that,” she states. Pure cyberpunk. Almost a throwback to the original Robocop (“I’m a mess”/”They’ll fix you, they fix everything”), and a reminder that everything has a cost.

brflowerSomething outside catches K’s eye. He walks out towards the dead tree, and finds an incongruous element of colour, a flower; a single, yellow cowslip, placed near the tree. It being there must mean something. There is a mystery here, and that colour signifies that the black and white world that K knows,  his purpose and place in that world,  is about to slowly be pulled away. He orders his pilotfish drone to scan the area, and it discovers something buried. “Get back here before the storm,” Joshi orders him, stating she will send a dig team to see what has been buried there.

br2049citybr2049cityshot3br2049cityshot4We cut to a series of effects shots, exteriors of a smog-enshrouded city, the outskirts deserted and devoid of life,  and K’s spinner flying through wind and rain. Grey light persists until the electric neon of the city centre dominates, and we catch a glimpse of a massive structure, the Sepulveda Seawall, another visual hint that everything has gotten worse. As the effects shots show K’s spinner reaching a huge mega-structure that is the LAPD headquarters, the audio plays his baseline test. “Subject: Officer K D6-dash-3-dot-7.
Let’s begin.” Echoes of the old VK-test, somehow, but this is stranger, all the more bizarre. It feels very 1970s, in a strange way.  It is unexplained how it works- this film does not feel the need to explain everything. K Passes. “Constant K” the disembodied voice announces.  “You can collect your bonus.”

Its curious that a Replicant in this world, employed by the LAPD, gets paid and has his own apartment with some sense of private life away from his function, his job. Likely this is how he maintains his psyche-profile and passes his baseline test, which is evidently method of detecting post-traumatic stress that might threaten K’s obedience and an early warning of a Replicant going AWOL or faulty. Replicants seem to a part of ordinary society now. Which makes one wonder who is human, who is not, in all the crowd scenes.

At any rate, K has in mind something to buy with that bonus.

Perhaps a scene has been cut here, for I suspect there may have been a scene in which K purchases his ‘anniversary’ gift for Joi from the market they visit later when he seeks to discover the provenance of the wooden horse sculpture. Doc Badger may have been someone K knew well, and looking at all the gadgets surrounding him and his illicit trading hinted at in that later scene, I believe it was he that K brought the device from. Who knows? That damn four-hour cut is a constant tease.

br2049streetCut to that gorgeous street scene, of a huge snow-melting machine clearing the slush from the road as K walks towards his apartment complex. Its beautiful and complex and perfect. Its so very different to Blade Runner and yet so very Blade Runner, a fine balance so clever its breathtaking how often this film carries it off. Again, it feels like we are seeing a real world, in which so much is hinted at or unexplained. Its simply ‘there’.

End of Pt.One

 

* The eye motif runs throughout Blade Runner and has been endlessly discussed over the years. As well as the eye staring back at viewers at the beginning, examples include Tyrell’s eyes hidden by thick trifocal glasses (echoed in BR2049 by Wallace being completely blind rather than just visually impaired),  eyes that were crushed by Batty in the Replicant’s rage. Hannibal Chew of course designed eyes, Rachel’s eyes glowed oddly at times, as if reinforcing her false nature. BR2049 continues this ‘tradition’ with the digital tattoos stenciled/imprinted on the eye under the lower eyelids, literally betraying the owners true artificial nature in an instant.

** If one were to assume Ridley Scott’s statement of Deckard’s Replicant status as correct or canon (I don’t subscribe to this view, but its fun to play mind games sometimes), one could consider the following reading- have Blade Runners always been Replicants, as if it takes  Replicant to catch a replicant? This would suggest that Holden was a Replicant (Bryant’s later comment that he can “breathe ok as long no-one unplugs him” would carry deeper connotations) and that Deckard was ‘activated’ upon Holden being destroyed/damaged, as a replacement. Activated on the streets of LA near the noodle bar, with false memories etc, Gaff would have been on hand to pick him up and take him to Bryant, to set him off on his mission/purpose. The start of the story for Deckard literally as he appears first in the film, everything fabricated: his apartment with the photos of an ex-wife he never had, false memories and souvenirs to cushion his emotions and keep him stable. A very paranoid reading, to be sure. Especially when one considers Wallace’s almost offhand suggestion that Deckard and Rachel were programmed by Tyrell to meet and fall in love. There is no freewill in this particular nightmare scenario that really is darker than dark.

*** Dave Bautista is a revelation here, in a powerful and emotive performance that lingers long into the film. Everyone involved in this film seems to have elevated to their A-game for this project. This film hardly needs a prequel or sequel but whenever I see this scene I am struck by how fascinating a prequel would be (film or book) detailing Morton’s experiences on the battlefield and then escaping and hiding out in these wastelands.

Blade Runner 3

…its funny how reading headlines on the internet can suddenly cause you so much consternation and alarm. Yesterday I was taking a break at work and was browsing the web for a few minutes to try clear my head a little and I stumbled upon a site teasing a new Blade Runner film. It wasn’t, actually, anything new, merely a bit of news circulating back at the start of this year about Ridley moaning about the length of BR2049, where he thought it went wrong and possibilities about a further Blade Runner sequel, where he would take it.

The headline seemed to infer that Ridley Scott was going to take over the reigns of Blade Runner 3 and shoot the film he thought BR2049 should have been. The curious thing was, my heart sank like a stone at reading it. I mean, years ago, the idea of Ridley making a sequel to Blade Runner would have excited me (just as the idea of him making another Alien movie), and I admit, first time I read he had stepped back from Blade Runner 2 I thought it was a mistake letting some other director have a go. But now? Oh man.

I was actually relieved to discover this was old news nixed in the interim by BR2049‘s poor box-office. The idea of Ridley taking on Blade Runner 3, and no doubt all that would entail in bringing Harrison back or establishing without any doubt Ridley’s assertion that Deckard is a Replicant… for a few moments I was filled with actual dread.

And this interested me, once reason had settled. How things change, and how I almost feel that Ridley Scott messing with Blade Runner could be considered toxic. It almost feels dishonorable even thinking it, never mind writing it. Ridley, afterall, is what made the original film such a classic- his eye for detail and visuals back then. Maybe its just fallout from Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, but these days I just prefer him leaving well alone. Which is unfair, really, as by all accounts it was Ridley with Hampton Fancher who came up with the story for BR2049 and he deserves every credit for that.

I just can’t shake my own wonder at that crushing feeling of despair I felt, though, at the sudden thought that Ridley was going to make Blade Runner 3. Just goes to show, be careful what you read on the internet… yesterday for me it was a little like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Very scary.

BR2049 home video success?

Whilst on the subject of BR2049 (aren’t I always, here it seems- just wait until I get a new tv to watch my 4K disc on), here’s a link to an interesting article concerning the film getting a second wind on home video, with sales figures not to be sniffed at. Certainly not bad for a film commonly perceived as being a flop. Which it wasn’t of course- it will struggle for a few years to make much profit but it did much better than the original, with critical success and Oscars besides.

(I’d love to see an interview with the heads of Alcon Entertainment and see their take on how the film performed, what they have learned from it and whether they intend to return to the property in some way in future).

Anyway, here’s the link-

http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/04/blade-runner-2049-home-video-sales.html