Westworld Season Two, Episode Eight

west8Its been awhile coming, but finally an episode from season two just ‘clicks’ and we get Westworld at its very best. Possibly its best ever episode over the two seasons so far, and I sincerely hope the show-runners appreciate this and act on it as the series progresses with season three next year.

The irony of big ‘Event’ shows that HBO, Netflix etc produce is that by their very nature they feel the urge to ‘go big’, as if competing with what Hollywood budgets achieve is some badge of honor. But that is not necessarily what they do best. Game of Thrones has gotten exponentially less interesting over the last few seasons as the show has raised the stakes with ever bigger battles and CGI effects sequences. I may be in  the minority in this, but for me a giant Dragon setting people and buildings aflame is much less interesting and dramatic than one character staring into anothers eyes as they betray them and slash their throat/demand their head on a pike. GOT has lost something as it races into a huge biblical climax designed to ‘wow’ the crowds less interested by the political power plays and character arcs the show was successful at earlier.

Tellingly, this episode of Westworld essentially doesn’t even feature any of the main cast, instead telling the story of a background character and getting to the very root of what the series is truly about. Memory, self, what it means to be human and what reality is. “Where’s the door?”, says Logan “There’s got to be a fucking way out of here? This is the wrong world”.

That, my freinds, is Westworld in a nutshell. And in just the same way that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and its sequel suggested that the Replicants were more than human, and better than us, so this episode of Westworld reinforces its theme that the robots/Hosts are better than their creators who act in deplorable and depraved ways, abusing their creations. God is found wanting and the future belongs to the robots/Hosts (if ever the hosts manage to reproduce as per Blade Runner 2049 the shit well and truly is destined to hit the fan).

In particular, this episode focuses on Akecheta of the Ghost Nation, that strange tribe of American Indian warriors who have appeared and disappeared like ghosts through several of the shows previous episodes. Akecheta shares, like Delores and Maeve, an awakening regards his reality, that things are not right, that he has lived ‘past lives’ and that his true life is one of peaceful and loving existence with his wife, Kohana, a life robbed from him by the mechanisms of the theme park.  His quest for truth, and Kohana, leads him to the very heart of that theme park and the bowels of the Delos HQ, where he discovers the warehouse of lifeless hosts that have been discarded (as presumably too broken for repair?), his beloved Kohana among them.

There is a lyricism to this episode that is heartwarming and irresistible.  Beautifully shot and acted, it ties some remaining threads from the previous episode (what happened to Maeve and MIB William) with surprising subtlety – I particularly appreciated how it gave Maeve a new arc, still leaving her child as an eventual goal but perhaps widening out her story now that she is back in the hands of the lab rats. She still has the ultimate goal of reaching her daughter, but with Akecheta now looking after the child, Maeve will be able to focus on the bigger story, the real fight. At least thats what I think its doing; with Westworld its hard to say for sure, and thats part of the fun.

So here we are, and its just a little bit frustrating that only now, eight episodes in with only two remaining, that this season has finally realised the possibilities of the first season and fulfilled that promise. I do hope that this bodes well for season three, but we’ll just have to see what curve balls the last two episodes throw us as we return to the main character arcs and see where the ‘door’ is and what it is. At least, thats where I think we’re going.

 

Great episode though, and (yay!) we even get Anthony Hopkins back as God. In some ways, this episode had it all.

Do Androids Dream of 4K?

It may not have been particularly good for maintaining this blog, but the crazy hours I’ve been doing at work since my (soon at an end, hopefully) relocation down the M6 has resulted in a lot of overtime. Which has had me looking at perhaps changing my television sooner than originally intended. It was with some shock that I discovered that my current LCD Sony Bravia is now eight years old- its still got the best picture quality I’ve known in a television and yes, its still refuses to go on the blink (other than occasionally needing a unplug/plug-in to reboot it when it gets confused, but hey, I know how that feels, so that’s nothing to be embarrassed about). I mean, it works, it even looks great, so whats to change?

Okay, here I’ll admit it. I went into Currys the other day, and looked at the televisions. They were playing some of Blade Runner 2049 on a few of them, the fiendish bastards must have known I was coming. Good God almighty, that film looks like something else on a 65″ 4K OLED. I may have been drooling at some point. It looks great on my television in HD, but on that OLED set, it looked like some other movie.

Now of course. I will never own a 65″ television. I’d have to win a lottery and move into a bigger house for that to ever be an option. But the picture quality. Good grief. Maybe these people jumping on the 4K bandwagon are onto something. Some of those televisions sure are something; why ever go to the cinema with something like that sitting  at home? Hell, I can imagine watching the 1982 Blade Runner and its sequel in 4K endlessly, how beautiful 2049 looked, I mean, who’d need any other film to watch? Well, my wife would have a few words on that subject, to be fair…

It is curious though- back when I had my Sony Bravia, 40″ looked like a big screen (anybody remember when 28″ LCD seemed a big deal?), and so did the 49″ set my brother bought a few months ago (the size of television that my common-sense part of my brain knows is the right size for my lounge). But those 55″ sets look awfully tempting. 65″ is a pipe-dream for another life and another home but 55″ might just squeeze in… and its funny how little of a jump it seems from 49″ to 55″ when you’re walking around the Currys Fantasy Land where televisions are lined up like Christmas trees in November.

So anyway, anybody got any tips? It is pretty confusing- LED, QLED, OLED, so many sizes… all the latest models/gimmicks, all last years models going for a song. There’s a few televisions I’ve got my eye on, but as far as pulling the trigger on one, well, its still a lot of money, and while my heart races with visions of 4K Los Angeles my brain still has enough sense to remind me that there’s an old Bravia in my lounge working pretty fine. Or maybe that’s my wife talking- women are always much more grounded in reality than we men, I find, particularly when it comes to gadgets etc.

So yeah, any experiences good/bad and advice, feel free. Meanwhile, I’ll keep on daydreaming of 4K Electric Sheep…

 

Listening to- Englabörn & Variations by Johann Johannsson

englab.Listening to this is just, frankly,  unbearably sad. Its the first album by the late Johann Johannsson, and now also the last, as it has just been remastered and released by German label Deutsche Grammophon, to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the albums original release, accompanied by a second disc of variations, curated by the composer himself shortly before his death. The music was always melancholy and fragile, as most of Johann’s work was, but listening to it now the album seems to carry a whole new poignancy and depth. It feels like it has become his own requiem, and the second disc just seems to intensify this feeling.

So we seem to have the beginning and end, here, of a tragically short-lived career. It should, of course, be a celebration of his genius and perhaps one day it will be, but at the moment it feels too close to his death for that to be so. The final track of the second disc, a reworking of Odi Et Amo, arranged by Johann for voice (performed by Theatre Of Voices) is just a little too heartbreaking for comfort. It feels as raw as funeral music. What a terrible loss to us his passing is, and how strange to think that his music has now a life all its own, to be listened to for years beyond his death. As a whole this two-disc package is a remarkable piece of work (the first disc really benefits from a thoughtful remastering)-  Englabörn & Variations is genuinely worth anyone checking out to discover what was so special in his music.

I wonder if we will ever hear his abandoned score for Blade Runner 2049? I have no idea how far it had progressed, but as it was replaced fairly late in the post-production of the film I have to think it was almost complete. Perhaps, as director Denis Villeneuve contended, it didn’t really suit the film as it came together (and Johann, to his credit, didn’t seem to make anything like a public contention), but I will always be so very curious to perhaps one day hear it.

Maybe Villeneuve or the films producers will be able to one day set in motion circumstances to release the score once some distance has been gained from the films release date. I cannot imagine, after enough time has passed, that such a release could possibly harm the film or the score it eventually was given by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch.

Surely it would be such a shame, if it exists in some near-finished state, to languish in a vault somewhere. If nothing else, it would be fascinating to hear how Johann ‘saw ‘the film in his own eyes compared to what we have become so familiar with. Listening to Englabörn & Variations I am filled with such fantasies of what Johann would have created to be the films soundscape and beating heart.

Favourite Films- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I’ve been wondering where to start with my ‘Favourite Films’ series of posts and the answer was staring me in the face, as this month is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s monumental movie, so here we go-

2001paperbThere isn’t really much new that I can say about this extraordinary film, a film that exists as a piece of culture almost beyond cinema itself, a film whose impact resounds even today, some fifty years later. Where to begin? Well, I’m one of the Star Wars generation, too young to have seen the film when it first came out in 1968 (oh what it must have been like for those first audiences) but old enough to have been around when the film was still part of the then-recent cultural zeitgeist of the 1970s. I’d read the book by Arthur C Clarke, seen some images from the film. I read the Marvel comics 2001: A Space Odyssey by Jack Kirby, one of the strangest, weirdest comic book series anyone might ever see, certainly at the time. It all added to the strange mystique surrounding the film. It was something enigmatic, something I’d heard and read about but never seen. Of course, little did I realise it would remain just as enigmatic even after I had seen it, only maybe even more so.

So yes, eventually the stars aligned and I saw it, on its first UK network screening, which was, I think, sometime around Christmas 1979 or 1980, I’m not certain which it was. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to think. Which was as true of audiences back in 1968 or indeed in  2018- the first time you see 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Its only on the second viewing, or the third or  fifth that you really ‘get’ it. Or maybe you don’t really ‘get’ it  even after the fiftieth time. Maybe you’re not supposed to ‘get’ it. Arthur C Clarke said “if you understood 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise more questions than we answered.” There, in a nutshell, is the magic and fascination of the film and why it still remains the very antithesis of traditional cinema, and particularly current cinema which feels the need to force feed audiences everything. Most every film these days feels the need to explain, rationalise, feed endings or tease new beginnings/sequels.

I read a comment back when BR2049 came out last year, about the ending where K and Deckard reach  Dr. Ana Stelline’s office, and they stand in the snow and Deckard asks K why he has done what he did, what Deckard is to K. Following a pause, K just smiles and tells Deckard to go see his daughter, and they part. What was interesting is that this really pissed off the guy writing the comment. “Why doesn’t K say something?!” railed the guy. “Its stupid! I want K to tell us why!” To me, this is the genius of the film. Attentive viewers will know why K did what he did, and what Deckard meant to him, what Deckard represented. We don’t need it spelled out for us. Well, some of us don’t.

Which is the deepest heart of 2001. Its never got the slightest intention of explaining anything or everything. In a way, it rather does, but it leaves it up to the viewer to extrapolate meaning or sense from the film. So anyway, when school resumed after that Christmas holiday, members of my form came over to me (as the class resident sci-fi geek and film nut) and asked me what the hell 2001 was on about. I remember shrugging my shoulders and giving some general summary of the plot and what I thought but didn’t feel entirely sure myself. 2001 wasn’t Star Wars. 2001 was something else.

So began a fascination that followed for all the near-forty years since.

2001vhsI re-watched some of 2001 in art school, particularly the effects shots. Even back then, the film seemed particularly slow (God only knows what it seems like to new viewers coming to it now). I remember how control of the image, fast-forwarding and rewinding the VHS tape still refused to reveal the films secrets to me. I remember that the film was one of the first catalogue films sold on VHS in the very earliest days of affordable sell-through, and it was of course an inevitable Christmas present to me. Of course it was pan-and-scan version that mutilated the framing and the image quality was typically poor of VHS, colours blooming and dropouts etc. Well, it was long before DVD and even Blu-ray, and no doubt a 4K UHD is due eventually.

2001abelAll the books. I have read so many books about 2001. There’s still books coming out about it, fifty years later, and surely in another fifty years time there will be more.

The first and probably best was ‘The Making of Kubrick’s 2001‘ edited by Jerome Agel. Its a paperback published in 1970 which is utterly brilliant in its approach. Its basically a compilation of quotes and reviews and articles surrounding the film from its genesis and the months immediately following its release, complete with a 96-page insert of b&w stills and behind-the-scenes images explaining some of the technical aspects of the production. It includes Arthur C Clarke’s original story The Sentinel which formed the basic foundation of the plot, sections from the MAd magazine parody, the instructions from a model kit of the Orion Pan Am clipper. Letters to Kubrick from confused/angry/ecstatic viewers. Its a brilliant book, and I only wish someone had done something similar for Blade Runner.

The funny thing about 2001 is that it was never about prediction. Even the rosiest predictions from the mid-sixties with the manned moon landings planned and NASA’s huge budget at the time couldn’t really have led to the films visions becoming reality by the year 2001. But as the years and decades passed everyone was making the comparison of fiction vs reality.  Probably pissed Kubrick off no end, and how unkind and yet almost fitting, that Kubrick himself didn’t live to see the real 2001? So in a weird way, passing the real year 2001 was something rather liberating for the film, far as I’m concerned. Yes, the film is partly a fascinating glimpse of what the future looked like from the optimistic and thrilling vantage point of the 1960s, when everything was possible. And yes, it also looks rather quaint and retro-’60s, now, from our 21st Century perspective. But it’s really only reinforced the mythological intent of the film all the more clearly. As such it feels all the more powerful and allows fresh insights. Its cinema as art. Its Pure Cinema. Its a timeless masterpiece.

Or its breathtakingly self-indulgent, boring, slow, frustrating, stupid.: the film still maintains the ability to thoroughly piss people off. I’m not going to suggest that those people are wrong and that I’m right about it being a masterpiece. Oh, go on then.

Marking 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of my favourite films is almost redundant and almost as boring and predictable as had I started this series of posts with Blade Runner. But the fiftieth anniversary of this film clearly is apt excuse to start with this particular film. How many films that are made today will still be so hotly talked about/praised/hated in fifty years time as this one? How many films have really measured up in the years since? When Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar came out a few years back, so many people were comparing it favourably to Kubrick’s 2001 that it drove me nuts. People thought Interstellar was groundbreaking and intelligent and thought-provoking, but it’s nowhere near the same league as 2001, no matter its ambitions. No sci-fi film director has really come close to what Kubrick achieved in 1968. No-one has pushed the envelope, challenged how people ‘see’ sci-fi or that genre as a whole, or what it might be capable of.  It is one of my saddest observations that for all the technological breakthroughs we have seen from CGI etc, that no-one has carried it through to some new Odyssey for our own age.

Stanley Kubrick said “How could we possibly appreciate the Mona Lisa if Leonardo had written a the bottom of the canvas: ‘The lady is smiling because she is hiding a secret from her lover.’ This would shackle the viewer to reality, and I don’t want this to happen to 2001” There’s not many films that could possibly ever be compared with the Mona Lisa, as a piece of art of such magnitude, but 2001 surely can. A film for the ages then, and yes, one of my very favourite films.

 

 

Ghosts in the corners, and well done, Ridley!

roomThe building where I have worked for the past 25, going on 26, years is being demolished, to be replaced by something newer/cheaper/more impermanent, which has necessitated in being temporarily relocated to a building towards the city centre and trips up and down busy motorway at an ungodly hour. Unfortunately this has impacted on the frequency of my posting here, and I suspect will continue to do so, which is why I’m writing this post. Hopefully things will return to normal in a few months.

I feel a bit like Noodles in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America; I’m spending my days going to bed early. Five am is a lousy time to be getting up, and cold dark February mornings trying to beat the peak motorway traffic (and usually failing, as like the eponymous city, the motorway never sleeps, and that traffic just keeps on rolling) is a depressing way to start any day. Back end of the week, thirteen to fourteen-hour days have a way of wearing you out. Oh well, as the song goes, a change is gonna come, but I’m sure these long days were rather easier years ago. None of us are getting any younger, and neither are our movies- did someone mention that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year?

Changes. They have a way of sneaking up on you. Where do 25 years go? That last Friday evening, when I walked the empty corridors and rooms of that old building, alone in the shell of what was once a bustling, vibrant building full of people (in truth, it’s been a long slow decline towards this inevitable end, but when I started there back in 1992, it was something else entirely. It was like every corner, every room, was full of ghosts. I could almost hear them in the suddenly echoey, empty rooms; old voices and laugher, lurking like ghosts in the corners.

The majority of the building had been emptied in preparation of the demolition teams and asbestos removal experts (the building dates from the 1950s/1960s and the building practices of unwiser times), so most of it was already a dim shadow of its former self of decades ago. In the early nineties, the canteen/mess room on a Friday evening such as this would be bustling, like a working men’s social club minus the booze- smoke hanging the air, men playing cards, shooting their mouths off, watching the television bolted high in a corner… voices long gone, now. And soon the building with them.

riddersI mentioned that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year. Last night at this years BAFTA, Ridley Scott -sorry, Sir Ridley Scott- was given a BAFTA Fellowship award, marking his 40 years in the film business. Well surely it’s longer than that, when did The Duellists come out, 1977 wasn’t it?  Well, whats a year or two? Nice to see Ridley up there taking an BAFTA award for once -the first time, in fact, according to him, and he was certainly visibly moved by the occasion.  A video segment with clips from many of his films demonstrated two things – one: that they may not all have been brilliant, but it’s one hell of a body of work for any director to have behind him, and two: bloody hell I’m getting old, I’ve seen most of them at cinemas over the years, many of them at cinemas that no longer even exist. Here we go again, demolished buildings.

At least in LA 2019 they had the good sense to retrofit them rather than demolish them.

It was nice, too, to see Blade Runner 2049 pick up two awards at least. Roger Deakins award for cinematography was no great surprise (although the huge injustice if he had failed to win might have broken the internet for a few hours “suddenly a great wail was heard, as if a million film geeks had cried out and were suddenly silenced…”) but the visual effects award was a pleasant surprise. Its fully deserved, but I rather feared the more ‘showy’ spectacles of  films like The Last Jedi might have trumped it. I do feel rather aggrieved that it didn’t win for Best Sound though. I think the sound design in BR2049 is just sublime, its gorgeous, like an aural painting, a sound canvas if you will that’s equal to the rightly-lauded Deakins cinematography.

Well, two awards isn’t bad. Blade Runner won three, mind, back in 1983…(it didn’t win for sound back then, either, which is a similar grand injustice- they gave that one to the team behind the Pink Floyd movie The Wall, go figure…).

Moreover, it didn’t win for Best Visual Effects either- they gave that one to Poltergeist.

I know. Poltergeist. I mean, sure, its a good film and the effects were nice for the time… still are, I guess, but come on, Blade Runner‘s effects are in a whole different league.

Awards never get it right, every film geek knows that, just wait for Oscars to upset everyone. The Oscars REALLY know how to not get it right. They gave the Best Visual Effects that year to E.T. for goodness sake. Bloody E.T. I’ll never make my peace with that film.

 

More 2049 thoughts

I’ve now seen BR2049 five times and that doesn’t feel enough, I really want to see it again. Its been a long time since I’ve been so hooked by a film that I get drawn to repeat viewings like this. There’s this strange quality to it. Its a beautiful film, visually quite extraordinary at moments, but there’s more to it than just visuals. So many films now look pretty or have impressive effects etc- here there is a mood, and a dreamlike pacing that coupled with its running time leaves me with a sense of falling into it. I can’t really think of any other way of explaining it.

And yes there are all the mysteries and possibilities and suggestions to unpack and ponder over. That is one of the major pluses of this film- we are dropped into it with little preamble, little is really explained other than by offhand remarks. References to famine, global environmental catastrophe. The particulars of Offworld remain as vague as they were in the original film. Dialogue is kept deliberately minimal- I do think this is one of the brilliants aspects of the film. It doesn’t beat you over the head with verbal explanations of the plot.

Yesterday I watched a few scenes again, and out of film order too, just to see them out of story-context, appreciate the visuals and art direction etc outside of the usual film experience. I know, it sounds like something akin to heresy, but it’s an interesting way to pick a film apart and enjoy its constituent parts. Not many films reward such an approach of course, but I used to do that with Blade Runner in the old days. That was in the VHS era, which was harder work with its fast-forward, rewind, not-at-all instant access. Discs rather spoil us.

So anyway, a few thoughts.

2049aIt isn’t implicitly stated in the film itself, but I understand that the eye that opens the film belongs to Dr Ana Stellline. She opens her eye and ‘sees’ immediately prior to K waking up in his spinner and opening his own eyes. This forms a curious bookend with the close of the film, where K dies outside in the snow, looking up at the snow falling down on him, which is then mirrored with Ana in her room standing in a column of falling snow, hand outstretched as K does and she comments “Its beautiful, isn’t it?” I’m sure there must be some significance to all of this, I just don’t know what it might be just yet. Does it mean that Ana is somehow aware of K’s fate outside?

It does seem a bit too much of a coincidence. She opens her eyes at the beginning and K wakes, K dies outside in the snow, and she stands in holographic snow inside her building. But what could it mean? Does Ana somehow orchestrate everything? Does she have some kind of link with K beyond her memory implant of the orphanage and the wooden horse? Has she ‘set’ him on his journey through the film? Are her memory implants more than just artificial memories, are they laden with hidden code like a Trojan horse, buried programming controlling/freeing the thousands of Replicants that have her implants? Is she remotely instigating the Replicant rebellion, which, afterall, doesn’t appear to be limited to old rogue Nexus 8s?

Which leads me to another possibility. The films text opening assures that Wallace Corp Replicants (Nexus 9s) are programmed to obey and can be thoroughly trusted, explaining the resumed manufacture of Replicants following the issues with Tyrell Nexus models running amok. And yet Luv behaves rather oddly, shedding tears during times of stress, killing people and even, indeed, inferring that she will lie to Wallace about why she killed Lt.Joshi. She even suggests to Joshi that her own trust in K may have been misguided, and that K may have lied to her (which indeed he has). I wonder if this might be related to Ana’s memory implants having some other code as I have mentioned, thus possibly explaining some of Luv’s and K’s behaviour. I guess you might call it freewill, or independence from set programming- maybe it’s the same thing.

On the other hand: this is what the baseline test is designed to pick up, perhaps stress/trauma is the one thing that breaks through the Nexus 9 programming to ‘obey’. A Replicant Blade Runner experiencing combat and near-death moments would experience sufficient trauma to break its programming. Likewise, Luv, doing what she feels she has to do to protect/satisfy Wallace, experiences stress and trauma that breaks her own programming and causes her to act more erratically/aggressively. She certainly doesn’t react well to Wallace killing the newborn Replicant, and goes downhill from there.

One of my favourite scenes from the film might seem a strange one. Its in the orphanage, after K has learned that the records book has been tampered with and the specific information he is after has been ripped from it and stolen, leaving him with a dead end. A noise outside the office draws him back out to the engine/furnace area, and in a perfectly-paced, almost hypnotic sequence, he feels compelled to approach the furnace of his memory and where he remembers hiding the wooden horse. The place of his memory is evidently real, and he slowly gets pulled back in, his memory of a past event, implanted or not, like some kind of inexorable black hole. The music is an ambient dirge, as he is slowly pulled into an emotional and intellectual abyss. There is no dialogue. No voiceover. Its just pure cinema, and finally, when he holds the real wooden horse and the camera slowly closes in on his trembling face, we can see he’s on the verge of exploding, his mind unravelling with the implications of where he is, what he is experiencing, who he is, what he might be. A Replicant who thinks he might be human, a delicious twist on the original film’s Rachel thinking she’s human but realising she’s actually a Replicant. Its bloody brilliant, how its staged. Pure Cinema, as Trumbull used to say.

The transition/cut from the desert campfire where K is recovering, the sparks and embers from the fire rising into the night sky suddenly transforming into the cityscape. Brilliant, a cut as good as the Kubrick bone to orbital bomb in 2001, its that good. A primeval fire’s sparks and embers rising up into the night and leaping thousands of years of technology into future megalopolis. Almost thrown in as an incidental aside as we change scenes. Extraordinary.

2049dWhen K takes Joi up onto the roof, in the rain. The sound design in that scene is just sublime, perfect. The sound of a disembodied voice echoing in the concrete canyons, the rain, the whoosh of distant air traffic and machinery. The subtle textures of the synth soundtrack gently picking its way through the sound effects. Its exquisite work. And of course the cinematography is awesome, I think I could re-watch that scene over and over.

Ridley Scott would have us think that the central question of Blade Runner is, is Deckard a Replicant? I don’t think that is the central question of that film; I rather think that it asks how much who we are, and what we are, is defined by our memories, real or false. That question is asked again in BR2049, and yet with an ironic twist on what Ridley would have us obsess over- here we know K is a Replicant, but at the end of the film, is he actually human too? When Roy Batty saves Deckard in the original, and K here sacrifices himself to rescue Deckard and reunite him with his daughter, do they each attain humanity enough to deserve the term ‘human’? In a spin on the original thesis of Philip K Dick’s original novel, which was regards defective humans and what is ‘human’ in a world of atrocities like Nazi death camps etc, do the films offer a suggestion that engineered Replicants can actually by their actions become truly human, which further suggests that humanity is not a physical state but one that may be intellectual or emphatic, a result of actions and deeds.

How wonderfully special that here is a sequel that expands and informs upon the original. I have not re-watched Blade Runner since seeing BR2049 last October, but I probably really should. If only to give some new perspective on the question, is BR2049 as good as Blade Runner? Is it possibly even better? Ah, now that there feels like an extraordinary question, being someone who has revered the original film since 1982. But it is one that -incredibly- I find myself considering. A year ago, I would not have believed such a consideration possible.

What a strange world this is.

 

2049 is beautiful, isn’t it?

Hey, it’ll be here soon. To tide you over (its a bit like Christmas for us dystopia fans, isn’t it?) here’s a link to a lovely piece by screenwriter Michael Green about writing the screenplay and visiting the BR2049 set. Personally, I wish he’d write a book on the subject of his BR2049 adventure, as this tantalizing glimpse just isn’t enough.

https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/blade-runner-2049-behind-the-scenes-michael-green-journal

 

Ridley’s Blade Runner 3

br2049Well, call me a bit of a cynic, but no sooner was Ridley Scott complaining that BR2049 was too long (which was why it failed at the box office) and that he would have taken out a half hour, than he’s already commenting on making a Blade Runner 3- and I rather doubt he’d allow anyone to keep him out of the directors chair this time around. He told Digital Spy  “I think there is another story. I’ve got another one ready to evolve and be developed, so there is certainly one to be done for sure.”

Regarding that story, I would imagine (or hope) it’s the one that original scribe Hampton Fancher is keeping close to his chest. Speaking to The Los Angeles Times, Fancher revealed that his original idea for a sequel took shape around 1986 when Ridley first approached him about returning to Blade Runner.  The story involved Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard and centered around Deckard’s next job as a Blade Runner. Fancher called the idea “horrifying” and teased that we might actually get to see it if a sequel gets greenlit; “…that idea is back in my head,” Fancher said about the story. “But I’m not going to tell you what it is.”

Now, general perception of BR2049 as a box-office failure is rather wrong. For a rather long R-rated film based on a 35-year old property that was highly sophisticated and demanded attention from audiences, BR2049 did very well at the box office. Its scale and ambition likely proved its financial undoing, and would likely make that sequel seem a dim possibility, but Alcon Entertainment is apparently keeping the door open on further Blade Runner projects.  The IP likely cost them a packet, so they would likely see sense in investing further into that IP. The film was, after all, well-received by critics and fans and might well see recognition during Awards season. The home release might have considerable success. Who knows. A smaller, leaner, less cerebral Blade Runner story might get better traction with American audiences.

I’d rather hope Ridley sticks to producing, but maybe he thinks he’s got something to prove. Given a good enough script, he can still work wonders with a tight budget and schedule (look at The Martian).  So maybe, just maybe…

Wouldn’t that be something, a Blade Runner movie that proved a hit at the box office (I can see me complaining about it already). Third time’s the charm? I don’t know. A fast-paced, action-packed Blade Runner film popular with American cineplex audiences doesn’t really sound like a Blade Runner movie at all, but Alcon do deserve a break after giving us BR2049. As long as Ridley can keep himself from proving Deckard is a Replicant. Ambiguity is a powerful thing, Ridley…

Ridley’s Blade Runner Blues

Some interesting comments from Ridley Scott during recent interviews whilst doing the press for All the Money in the World (or ‘The One That Erased Spacey’).  Interviewed by New York magazine’s Vulture website the subject turned to the recent BR20149 and he seemed to blame the film’s box office failure on the film’s length:  [Whispers] “I have to be careful what I say. I have to be careful what I say. It was fucking way too long. Fuck me! And most of that script’s mine…  I shouldn’t talk. I’m being a bitch.”

br2049It set me thinking. I mean, Ridley may have a point about the film’s length- its 163-minute running time clearly put off some viewers, but would it have made it a better film? To me, the pace of BR2049 is part of the film’s appeal- its leisurely pace is that of a tone poem, a sad study of what is human, what is real. And it must be remembered that a chief criticism of the original Blade Runner, even today, is its perceived slowness, something I consider one of its successes.

But Ridley’s words made me think just as much of his last few movies. I recall on one of the behind the scenes docs, he made a telling comment that one has to be careful in the editing room of rewatching a film too much, of losing objectivity. I can’t quote him exactly, but he said something along the lines of ‘even the best jokes wear thin once you’ve heard them too many times’, and that it is too easy to over-cut a film, and cut some good stuff out, not because it isn’t working but simply because of over-familiarity, of seeing it too much, and it can actually hurt a film, cutting too much.

I remember watching Ridley’s Kingdom of Heaven at the cinema and being thoroughly disappointed by it- it was empty-headed pretty nonsense, every bad habit of Ridley’s thrown into one vacuous historical epic. And yet his directors cut of Kingdom of Heaven, restoring really important footage, is simply brilliant, and is one of his best films (in fact, I’d rate it right up there behind Blade Runner and Alien, and like Billy Wilder’s The Apartment or Hitchcock’s Psycho,may be remembered as Ridleys last great movie).

The irony is, that theatrical cut of Kingdom of Heaven didn’t fare particularly well at the box office and got a general savaging from the critics, so what did that shorter cut achieve? There are numerous times when I have eulogised about how great the film is, to be scoffed at by others, and I have to ask them what version they saw. Its like there are two seperate movies with the same title and cast.

Thankfully, this is not true of BR2049; we got its directors cut and the critics loved it and I’m sure when people finally get around to seeing it on home video/streaming they will be pleasantly surprised by it or reconsider it on subsequent viewings. Sure, some will rally against it pace and length, as its more a ‘seventies movie than a present-day movie in some of its sensibilities.

God knows I’m a huge fan of Ridley’s work and have defended him so many times- I can always find something worthwhile in most of his movies, indeed even The Counsellor, which is widely pilloried, is a pretty good film to me, particularly in its extended cut.  I do find it annoying these days though, how how a film is perceived can often depend on which version one saw. In the old days, there was only one version of Gone With The Wind, Citizen Kane, West Side Story or Casablanca (barring regional censorship). We didn’t need two or three seperate versions to tell a story.

Moreover, I do wonder if some of Ridleys comments stem from his ire at BR2049 being perceived by some as being actually superior to his original. Maybe he has been stung by such views, or the lavish critical praise for it in the wake of less-favourable reviews of his last few movies. Maybe I should take a leaf out of Ridley’s book….  I shouldn’t talk. I’m being a bitch.

 

 

For the BR2049 Bookshelf

cinefexBack in 1982, I remember standing in the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham, upstairs in the magazine section. looking through Cinefex issue 9, which was devoted to Blade Runner. I very nearly bought it, but on limited pocket money funds decided to buy a few REH paperbacks instead, and maybe pick up the Cinefex at a later date. Damned fool I was. There was never any later date for Cinefex 9, as it quickly sold out and I spent years looking for a copy. Fortunately the issue was reprinted by Titan books in a hardback book many years later, which itself is OOP now and fetching rather large sums, so I did manage to eventually own and read it.

So, when I learned the latest issue of Cinefex would feature BR2049, I quickly ordered it, keen on history not repeating. It arrived a few days ago and it’s a pretty good read. It doesn’t look as if Cinefex devotes issues to single films as it used to (God knows there’s far more effects films these days than there used to be) so the BR2049 article shares the issue with articles on Dunkirk, The Dark Tower and the latest Kingsman film. Consequently the coverage isn’t as in-depth as it was for the original film (the issue also devotes a few pages to a pictorial of the original Blade Runner coverage from 1982, which is nice but does raise the forlorn wish that the issue might have simply been devoted to both films).

Of course in the good old days Cinefex coverage meant brilliant pictures of behind the scenes stuff, like models being built and matte paintings being painted on glass, and on the whole that’s all gone now thanks to CGI taking over. But BR2049 does feature extensive miniatures so there’s some nice pictures of that, amongst the CGI renders and wireframes that no-one on this planet can make exciting. I think the Cinefex article suffers from the cloak-and-dagger secrecy around the film prior to release, so although it discusses the creation of the 1982 Rachel, it doesn’t have any images to back it up, which have been made available elsewhere on the internet since the films release. Ultimately it’s a good article but not as exhaustive or complete as I would have liked, but hey, it’s different times now. We don’t even have the massive articles of Cinefantastique these days either. Progress, eh?

artbrA much more complete package, imagery-wise at least, can be found in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 book. Its an oversized (and consequently rather expensive, although Amazon have since reduced the price substantially) coffee-table book, that from the title might be inferred to be an art book but is actually more of a making-of book, dominated more by behind the scenes and production photographs than artwork. As a visual record and memento of the film and how it was made, it’s quite brilliant and everything a fan of the film could hope for. The imagery for the visual effects material is superior to the Cinefex article, although the text less substantial (so yeah, you really need both sources, unfortunately). The book also shares some of the limitations of the Cinefex article regards some of the more closely-guarded sequences (no imagery, again, of the CGI Rachel for instance).

It’s a brilliant book though. I might have preferred more substantial text but the imagery is breathtaking in the film so consequently that gets reflected here. There are some lovely behind the scenes shots and commentary about the film. It’s exactly the kind of book that I would have loved to see about the original film. Both are intensely visual experiences, and the Blade Runner ‘bible’ Future Noir is severely lacking in that regard. So maybe someone might write a more in-depth book about making BR2049 someday, who knows, but for now this will more than suffice.

george-hull-br6.jpgI almost wish one of the actors could have written a diary like Bob Balaban did for CE3K, that was a great book. Walter Koenig did a similar fly-on-the-wall book for ST:TMP. You don’t see that kind of book/coverage anymore but both were fascinating glimpses of the frustrations of making technically-demanding films and managing all the boredom behind the scenes. Yeah we get loads of DVD/Blu-ray featurettes on the best disc releases these days but that’s never as impartial/balanced coverage as one would prefer.