Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards

br2049storybAnother Blade Runner 2049 artbook. The irony doesn’t escape me- if any film ever deserved an ‘art-of’ book it was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner; even its fiercest critics would admire its visual strengths and production design (whilst also damning it for it, usually). Back in 1982 a strange publishing deal had some weirdly-fashioned tie-in books for sale, paperbacks of the screenplay with accompanying storyboards, and a sketchbook, but each was fairly lacklustre compared to the ‘art-of’ books that the Star Wars films were getting. By the time Blade Runner recovered from its dismal release and was reappraised as a classic with a sizeable audience, the rights issues with the Blade Runner Partnership and the creatives involved (Syd Mead etc) had grown so complicated that attempts to publish a genuine ‘Art of Blade Runner’ always hit a licensing brick wall, or so I’ve been led to believe.

But here we are, just over four years after that unlikeliest of sequels, BR2049 was released and we have a third BR2049 art book. Following on from ‘The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049’ and last year’s ‘Blade Runner 2049 Interlinked – The Art’ we get ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards’ which is a pretty much self-explanatory title. All three books are handsomely sized and presented hardbacks; BR2049 has certainly gotten plenty of love from the publishing side. Indeed, my one major issue with this storyboards book is that it really is missing  the films screenplay, if not part of the storyboard presentation then certainly as an appendices at the rear of the book, so my natural suspicion is that a ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Screenplay’ book is almost inevitable. Titan Books, I’m leaving room on my shelf.

On the one hand, I am reassured that there is still interest in BR2049 sufficient enough to warrant these books, various comic tie-ins and an anime series, so that while a third film in the franchise is unlikely in the extreme there is still yet some life in it. As someone who well remembers that post-1982 wilderness when I used to name Blade Runner as my favourite film and always get puzzled blanks in response, it still feels like I’m now in some alternate reality worthy of Philip K Dick (The Man in the Blade Runner Castle, anyone?). The very existence of BR2049 alone has me sometimes reacting with a ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming.’

So forgive me for just going with the fact that we now have three artbooks for BR2049 and that we dare not discount more books in the future (we already have a few collections of essays etc). Maybe before physical media shuffles off this world we might get a BR2049 SE on disc with documentaries and commentaries: hey Charles de Lauzirika are you busy these days I have a project for you (well, one can dream, but as I’m possibly living in a Blade Runner Castle-alternate reality lets go with it).

BR2049: Interlinked- The Art

P1100243Much-delayed, BR2049: Interlinked- The Art finally got published this week. Written/curated by Tanya Lapointe, this book is a companion piece to her 2017 book The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049, which was published back in 2017 shortly after the film originally came out. That book was a reasonable examination of the making of the film – the cast/crew and the sets, etc- but considering its title surprisingly had little actual artwork, instead focusing on behind the scenes imagery of the sets and actors and props, its title seemed rather a misnomer, something which this book addresses.

P1100244Its telling that the majority of the artwork within Interlinked -most of it artwork created in computer art packages as opposed to pen, brush and paper- is very tonal, very concerned with atmosphere and mood. Its clearly one of the things that most interested Villeneuve, or something that he prioritised. You can see it in the film itself, the studied attention to lighting and cinematography. An artbook for the 1982 film would have been more about the design details, the intricacies of objects, form and function, than what seems to have been the chief concern of the artists on BR2049. That being said, in this dawning age of limited behind-the-scenes documentaries on home video releases (we were so spoiled by Dangerous Days the 2007 documentary on the making of Blade Runner by Charles de Lauzirika and his Alien 3 documentary Wreckage and Rage) anything we can get now about the making of these films is fascinating and valuable. Obviously a detailed, definitive making-of book about BR2049 is some distance away, if ever, but if these artbooks are all we get, fair enough, its certainly better than the little afforded by the films marketing and home video teams.

P1100241They actually have a third book due out next year containing all the BR2049 storyboards, I imagine the three books together will be everything that the 1982 film never got even after all these years. Not that I’m sore about that. Well okay, a little- I waited years for an Art of Blade Runner and we never really got one; apparently all the rights issues derailed several attempts to actually get such a book of the ground. How odd though that the 1982 pretty much got no proper books (Future Noir may be the ‘bible’ of the making-of the film but it is deplorably lacking in imagery/presentation, and the few paperbacks we got in 1982, the sketchbook etc were basic) and yet the sequel seems to be getting so much attention- you’d think it had been a huge success and the franchise going from strength to strength).

P1100245In any event, its nice to see that BR2049 is still subject top some interest and attention. Maybe there is life in it yet. I suppose the chances of the film getting an in-depth and expansive future home video release with docs and commentaries etc -much as I would love to see it and double/triple-dip yet again- are so remote as to be quite inconsequential. Its simply the world and home entertainment landscape we’re living in. Interlinked is a very handsome book; and I’d certainly recommend it to fans of either of the Blade Runner films – its particularly interesting to see the evident mark of the 1982 film and the artists gradually moving away from it- I would have perhaps appreciated more text and anecdotes but its clearly more of a visual exercise, and that in-depth examination of the making of the film may yet be in my hands someday. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out considering the lasting interest/legacy of the 2017 film.

All Things Shining

all thingsI’ve been reading a book about Terrence Malick- well, to be more precise, its a book about Malick’s films, as he is so media-shy and prefers to maintain some privacy, and it consists of interviews culled over the decades from his associates, freinds and people who have worked with him on his films, and therefore offering glimpses of how Malick works. The book is All Things Shining: An Oral History of the films of Terrence Malick, by Paul Maher Jr. – I bought the kindle edition as it was only £2.30 compared to something like £16 for the paperback (there is another book  that treats Malick’s work in a similar way, Terrence Malick: Rehearsing the Unexpected, which I also have my eye on).

Its a very interesting and revealing read. One passage caught my attention in particular, during the chapter about The Tree of Life. The film’s cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki had this to say about the film, commenting on audiences walking out during performances (something I myself experienced when I saw the film at the cinema): “This reminds me of all the movies that I loved (in the ’70s) where we left the theatre and discussed and disagreed. We carried the experience out into the open. Things were not over explained and you went out with your freinds after and tried to make sense of something…” 

It made me think about how much films have changed from the 1970s to now- I’m not necessarily defending Malick’s obtuseness here as he has rather run astray with his way of making movies since then, so that even for a fan they can be infuriating (The Tree of Life is more a tone poem than a narrative but is clearly Malick’s strongest film post- Thin Red Line.) His films do, however, demand some attention and active work from his audience, whereas the standard way of making films now is to make them simple, make them loud. Back in the 1970s, films often had conflicted characters, genuine twists and some unfulfilling endings. We see less of that now. Indeed, when discussing contemporary films at work or with freinds, there may be some debate on whether a film is good or not but we seldom have arguments about what a film meant or what the director was trying to say. One of the things I love about BR2049 is all the layers of  subtext and threads of meaning in the film. I have previously mentioned here on this blog the anecdote of a frustrated forum post written by an American viewer who, at the end of the film where Deckard asks K why he did what he did, and who Deckard was to him, was left aghast and horrified when K just shrugs and after a silence changes the subject. We don’t need the film to spell that out- well, we shouldn’t, but modern audiences prefer to be told, not left to flounder at interpreting complex ambiguities of a film. It ruined the film for this forum writer, which struck me as typical and oddly funny.

Actor John Dee smith had this to say about The Thin Red Line as it approached its premiere and Malick was ordered to cut the film further to ensure it came in under three hours: “(Terry) doesn’t think this mainstream formula clustering bullshit audience he’s dealing with would benefit from it. He wasn’t just telling a story, he was fleshing out the human psyche. I don’t think America is ready for his work, and he probably doesn’t think so either.”

For some odd reason it had me thinking about the comparisons between Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Back when Interstellar came out, there were all sorts of ridiculous allusions made to the film being equal to or the successor to 2001, and it got me into quite a few arguments at the time. 2001 has something to say and a brave way to say it, and while Interstellar is a film worthy of some admiration, it doesn’t really have much to say and confuses much of what it does say. Contemporary audiences however seem to think that the film is very clever and challenging but they haven’t seen 2001 at all so really have no way of qualifying that judgement in my mind. However, I hesitate to recommend they actually watch 2001 because I really don’t think they’d manage it- would they even get through the Dawn of Man sequence? Kubrick’s film was odd back in 1968 and while it eventually found its audience I think it’s doubly odd compared to modern films, its pacing and ambiguity the absolute anathema of today’s audiences. Well, the majority, anyway, I guess you have to be wary of absolutes.

I think we have lost something though, the way most films are now. Clearly they are chiefly entertainment and intended to be popular and therefore financially successful, and being simple and undemanding seems to go hand in hand with keeping the majority of viewers happy. Perhaps the biggest culprit is the high budgets and the need to be hugely popular (rather than mildly popular) to recoup such huge investments – just witness the problems BR2049 had. I think if we could get more financial restraint more risk or openly ambiguous/complex films might have more chance of success. Conversely, I think it’s such a shame that you simply cannot make an intelligent big-budget film like BR2049 and still get an audience, and for this you have to blame either the audience itself, or society in general, or Hollywood’s slow decline into crass stupidity in its blockbuster school of film-making that makes popcorn movies really popcorn for the mind.

Or do we just blame George Lucas and Star Wars? I don’t think that’s fair (and there’s also an argument that Star Wars actually saved Hollywood and ended a steady decline in cinema audiences etc) but there is some validity to the view that Lucas began a trend of making entertainment via escapism and less of a tie to reality and issues beyond the auditorium. The problem is that escapism can slide into crassness, dumbness and stupidity, particularly if you make the package so loud and spectacular that audiences get carried away by the experience and not having to think- and films these days are so very loud and spectacular.

I rather suspect that future of serious and challenging cinema lies away from the multiplex and perhaps in the domain of Netflix and Amazon Prime, if they get enough time, and don’t get pulled into competing with all the fireworks of cinema offerings. A Terrence Malick film for Netflix might be something to see, I think.

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…

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.

A 4K Ghost

Well, I’ve bought a new television. I’m now the (frankly amazed) owner of a 55″ OLED television and a new Panasonic UHD player- suddenly those few 4K UHD discs on the shelf have a purpose.

So soon enough I’ll start writing some 4K updates for a few films. Suffice to say I’m rather taken aback by the difference in quality. This OLED wasn’t cheap, even if it was a 2017 model- certainly the most money I’ve ever spent on a television, and I haven’t even gotten around to a soundbar or amp yet, that’ll come later I expect. But I’m pleased to report the step-up in image quality is substantial. After all, until you’ve experienced it you never really know what to expect, and its inevitably not going to seem a jump like SD to HD was, but you can certainly tell an improvement.

Changing from a 40″ LCD to this beast of an OLED, I have to say the size difference is as much an impact as the step-up in resolution and HDR. The first film I watched on UHD disc was Blade Runner 2049, which has a muted HDR palette by its very nature, visually its tone is pretty dour (beautiful melancholy I call it), so hardly a ‘hold onto your seats’ kind of movie, but the difference in screen size alone was something of a revelation. There was a sudden ‘heft’ to objects and miniatures that improved them by some margin. Roger Deakins’ photography, of course is just sublime- its a beautiful film that just blooms on a bigger screen. I’ll go into more detail in a seperate post, I expect, as I’m sure to revisit BR2049 as part of my ‘favourite films’ series of posts soon enough. I hadn’t quite got the image settings right when I saw BR2049 either, having fine-tuned them since, so a re-watch is inevitable.

A film that did ably demonstrate the possibilities of HDR is Thor: Ragnarok, the 4K UHD disc was pretty amazing. Little things like electric neon lights that suddenly burned brightly like something alive, or the lightning effects when Thor uses his God of Thunder powers late on towards the finale. Suddenly the screen popped like 3D without the glasses and overall the whole thing was rich in depth and spectacular colour.

I haven’t seen Blade Runner yet, although I did sneak a peak at the first twenty minutes or so the other night. Haters of grain should stay away as this thing is a feast of the stuff and quite rightly so, its part of the pleasures of the film for me ever since the days of my second-generation VHS copy that I wore out in the early ‘eighties.  Again., I don’t know if its the size of the screen or the new detail or the added depth from the HDR (city-lights/neon signage/rain reflections etc) but Blade Runner hasn’t looked this good to these eyes since, oh, I don’t know when. Frankly the price of the television and player seemed justified by this one movie, and I can’t wait to watch the film all-through but I’m waiting the proper moment when I can give it due time and attention (and to be honest, this current heatwave isn’t helping- Blade Runner needs to be seen on a dark night with it ideally raining outside).

One thing I did note, mind, that the bigger screen suddenly makes clear, is little stuff like when Rachel first meets Deckard and she has a close up that drifts out of focus. I’m sure its evident on smaller screens etc but here its blatantly clear. I suspect Sean Young overstepped her mark a little, as she steps into focus initially but drifts out of focus as she slightly moves too far toward the camera.  The surprising stuff though is in scenes like Bryant showing Deckard the Replicant data- those shots suddenly look exquisitely beautiful, the graduations in tone and shade on Bryant and Deckard’s faces bathed in the soft blue back-light/CRT front-light are deeply detailed and nuanced, and the smoky atmosphere around them moodily effective.  Can’t wait to find the right evening to watch this movie, but like fine wine, movies like Blade Runner deserve the right moment.

So anyway, that’s my news and I hope to follow with more detailed reports about the pleasures of 4K in the future. Fingers crossed my panel keeps performing perfectly and I can find time to watch it (you’d be surprised how little I have had this television on over the past few days, but I suspect it’ll come into its own this Autumn).

ce3kuhdI’m just wondering how long I can refrain from buying a copy of the 4K UHD Close Encounters disc…

(’40th Anniversary edition’… I’m getting old- when you see packaging with blurbs like that about films you recall seeing at the cinema on their first release, its time to stop looking in that mirror).

 

 

 

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

Vangelis & Blade Runner

Its probably old news to most of you, but I rewatched this all-too short video again yesterday and thought it worthwhile linking here just incase anyone missed it. This is exactly the sort of featurette that should have been down for the 4K release of Blade Runner, or at least put on the BR2049 discs to replace some of the EPK nonsense we were lumbered with instead.

Actually, no doubt a ‘proper’ BR2049 disc release will be forthcoming someday. I think it proved quite successful on home video (more so than at the cinema, I hope) and should it gain the following it deserves, a better release with a genuine documentary would be quite deserved. If physical formats endure log enough to see it, anyway.

In the meantime, a reminder of just what Vangelis achieved with the soundtrack for the original film.

And whilst on the subject of Blade Runner music, while it might not be of worth to purists, this was kind of interesting too-