What year is it?

tp12017.52: Twin Peaks – The Return

Well, what was all that about, then? Up to the penultimate episode I thought I had a fairly decent grip on things but then Lynch, that crafty old goat, comes along with a final curveball with a confounding episode 18 that pulls the rug from under viewers and leaves a cliffhanger that just hangs there for… well, forever?

Who knows? Maybe we’ll get another season in four or five years, or maybe it’ll never happen. Even if it did, I doubt that we’d get any closure or things would ever tie together. That’s not what Twin Peaks was ever about- every mystery solved just unwrapped another mystery. Back when we learned who killed Laura Palmer we didn’t really learn who killed her- or what killed her, the answer not really being an answer, just something else to analyse and decode. In some ways, Twin Peaks isn’t at all strange or odd- it just mirrors our own reality, our lives and world that makes little sense either. The fun is just being there, and enjoying the crazy madness of it all.

Which rather sums up my feelings about this Twin Peaks revival, an event as crazily impossible as a Blade Runner sequel-  2017 is some year for  ‘pinch me, this cannot be possibly happening’ moments.  The Return is a brilliant, bizarre show that faithfully  echoed the appeal of the original and just took it even further out there. Indeed, it occurs to me now that this is quite similar to how 2049 did just the same thing. Both projects took a cherished original and reworked and expanded upon it, where the creative forces had freedoms that outweighed any backroom pressures. Watching this new Twin Peaks you could tell Lynch was just doing his thing with this great toy set of cast and crew, in just the same way as watching 2049 I had the sense that it was Villeneuve’s film, that he had total freedom to make his movie his way.

There are so many incredible moments through the 18 episodes of The Return, clues/codes/red herrings, so many cameos and dead-ends. Was there ever any connection to that New York sequence early on, what was that scary creature that killed that naked couple (whoever they were), what was the significance of the Atom bomb test in episode 8? Indeed, was Episode 8 of some particular significance, as the talking boiler that represented FBI agent Phillip Jeffries (who Cooper tells us  “doesn’t even exist anymore, at least not in a normal sense”)  exudes a steam cloud that transforms into the number 8 and an infinity symbol when turned on its side.  Maybe it means something. Maybe it means nothing.

Quite astonishing really. In just the same way as 2049 has been rattling itself around in my head for the past few weeks over three viewings at the cinema, so Twin Peaks: The Return has been rattling around in my head these past few months. It’s been quite brilliant, confounding and exhilarating,  possibly the best show on tv all year. Its positively nuts, crazy, maddening, funny, bewildering, scary- only in 2017 could television get away with this. With this and 2049, it’s as if the stars are just aligned somehow. “What year is it?” Cooper asks, the series very last line. I feel like shouting back: ‘2017. You better believe it!’

Or on the other hand-

Maybe The Prisoner has something to do with it. That show is the spiritual father of Twin Peaks and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. How fitting that The Return premieres 50 years after Patrick McGoohan’s show first confounded unwitting audiences.  1967 = 2017. Maybe that means something.

Blade Runner 2049: Have you ever seen a miracle?

2049d2017.50: Blade Runner 2049

He would have loved this film, so I’ll begin by paraphrasing the late John Brosnan: Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece, much to my surprise. So too,  I am sure, would Sara Campbell, and I just wanted to mention them both, for this film has been 35 long years coming, and not everyone who deserves to see it are still here to do so. There is a sadness knowing that, a reminder of the sense of mortality that permeates both (both! Still can’t get my head around that!) Blade Runner films, and a reminder of how lucky we are now, how remarkable this is. This film, Blade Runner 2049, should not exist.

Where to begin? Well, have you seen 2049? If not, stop reading now, go see the movie. You need to see it and it seems the film needs your patronage. And you really don’t need to read the spoilers that follow. If you have seen the film, you won’t mind the spoilers, and I hope you can give me your time, share with me my thoughts, offer some thoughts back. Sitting comfortably? This could be a long post. Time enough, as Batty might say.

First of all, I really have to say how strange an experience it was. Anybody who has read this blog will be aware of how much of a big deal the original Blade Runner is for me. I first saw the film in September 1982, and it remains the most intense cinematic experience of my life. Thursday night may have been the most bizarre cinematic experience. You see, Blade Runner has been my favourite film for some 35 years – years in which it grew from box-office failure and obscure cult film to a video favourite and critical darling. For all those years until just awhile ago, the very idea of a sequel was ridiculous.

Yet here it was. I’d pre-booked my tickets for the first evening of its release, and was going with my long-term friend Andy who had been there with me back on that Saturday afternoon in 1982 when we saw the film for the first time. The tickets were 75p each back then, markedly rather more now. 35 years is half a lifetime ago and much had changed, but we both still shared our love of this particular film, and here we were for its sequel.

Of course I was nervous. The film had been the subject of much hype and early word on Twitter last week was frankly ecstatic. But what do critics and people who weren’t even born back in 1982 know? A good film doesn’t necessarily mean a good Blade Runner film, was this film made for modern audiences or for the fans who have lived this film since 1982? I cannot possibly explain the impact the film had back in 1982, in just the same way I cannot possibly explain the impact of the opening Star Destroyer shot in Star Wars on audiences back in 1977/1978 to people now. Films are of their time and while they may impress years later…  it’s hard to recapture that impact. I consider myself lucky to have experienced the original in 1982. It was of my time. It’s in my blood.

So here we are 35 years later and watching Blade Runner 2049 was an utterly bizarre, almost out-of-body experience. Yes I enjoyed it, I was fascinated and awed by it, but also there was an almost detached point of view of it, from outside almost. Interrogating it like some Voight-Kampf test of it being a ‘real’ Blade Runner film as opposed to some second-rate modern Hollywood replicant. The relief, of course, was overwhelming. 2049  is indeed a great Blade Runner film, but more than that, its a great sequel, a film that both informs and expands upon the original, in the same way as The Empire Strikes Back with Star Wars, or indeed The Godfather Pt.2. Watching Blade Runner again in the future might actually be improved by having seen 2049. Imagine that. 2049 might actually make Blade Runner better.

I’ve been thinking of Philip K Dick and of his astonishment at seeing twenty minutes of Blade Runner footage shortly before his death where he couldn’t work out how they got those images out of his brain.  For the past few days the film has been rattling around in my head as if I have been in some kind of post-traumatic fugue, trying to make sense of it. Was this how PKD felt when he had seen that Blade Runner footage? It’s not that I saw things Thursday night that I had imagined before, it was simply that they existed at all. Blade Runner 2049 is… well, in some ways it should not exist. It’s a near three-hour long arthouse movie made with a blockbuster budget, and a sequel to that strange dark sci-fi film that flopped spectacularly over three decades earlier. More than that, it’s a cinematic love-letter to all the films fans for all those years. And it’s quite brilliant.

2049fTo be clear, 2049 is not perfect, it’s not without its faults. But 2049 is also quite extraordinary. It raises more questions, cleverly sidesteps others. We are no longer simply asking how real or human a Replicant is, but also how real or human a hologram, or an AI can be? Can an AI fall in love? Can it feel empathy for another? Can it dream of electric sheep?

The film has the pace of a dream, is slow and hypnotic… shots, scenes, linger… maybe too long, I’m not sure, but it’s a long film and modern audiences get impatient with that. Not me, anyway, as it harks back to the Golden Days of ‘Seventies American cinema when American film was, well, better. But yes, it’s long, and its pace would seem to be utterly alien to most cinemagoers today. As expected, everything is beautifully staged and the cinematography is sublime- surely Roger Deakins will get his Oscar at long last. Speaking of Oscar….well, dare I say it, Harrison Ford actually turns in a performance I thought he was incapable of. It might even be the greatest performance of his career, oddly confounding any suspicion that any Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod might be a consolation gesture for that long career. The guy probably deserves to actually win it.

In my last post I mentioned that The Force Awakens was like a comfort blanket for Star Wars fans- what I meant was that the film contained familiar faces, music, places, objects, and was complete with a familiar plot that was like a greatest-hits package of all that had come before it. The whole film is designed to please, to wrap fans in a nostalgic return to childhood while lapsing into the calculated stupidity of so many contemporary blockbusters.

2049 isn’t like that. Yes its a Blade Runner film -sing the praises from the the highest rooftops!-but it’s quite utterly disturbing, particularly for Blade Runner fans.. well, certainly for me anyway. When that crate was dug up and its contents put on display in the LAPD morgue, I knew immediately whose bones they were. I just knew and it cut me deep. It was Rachel. This was Rachel, her skull…

For 35 years Sean Young’s Rachel has been frozen in time, a vision of utter beauty, a replicant of impossible perfection, the magical chemistry in celluloid of a beautiful actress, Jordan Cronenweth’s gorgeous cinematography, stylish make-up and costume design. I have seen Sean Young many times in films since but she never really looked or sounded or acted quite like Rachel. For 35 years she has existed in that one film, a creation as timeless and permanent as any iconic performances of Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe. But here she was, a skull, some bones. It felt brutal, cold.

I’m not certain why, but throughout the film that really creeped me out. That feeling seemed to inform every scene. A sense of horror, of mortality, of melancholy. Later on when Jared Leto’s enigmatic (under-used?) villain Neander Wallace held Rachel’s skull in his hand before Deckard, it felt like something utterly monstrous. And when the inevitable happened, and that 35-year-old vision walked into the scene as if 35 years had never happened and the impossible had been given form, I nearly freaked out. My jaw dropped. I think I may have moaned. This was Pure Cinema. It was like a nightmare. I saw the pain and horror etched on Harrison Ford’s face and the torture was complete, palpable. I felt it too.

It was horrible. It was perfect. This film, I realised, should not exist.

And I’m thinking again about PKD’s reaction to seeing that Blade Runner footage. His astonishment. His reaction: “How is this possible?”

2049bHow is this possible that 35 years after Blade Runner, they made this huge slow enigmatic study of the nature of humanity and existence? The protagonist is a Replicant who has a relationship with a hologram. Two artificial intelligences sharing… love? Debating the validity of implanted memories? Discussing the possibility of being ‘real’? It’s a genius twist of the original film- here we  know that Officer K (a brilliantly nuanced Ryan Gosling) is a replicant, but does that make him any less real? As the films events unfold and he finds cause to question his implanted memories, and begins to think he may not be more human than human, but actually human, if not some kind of hybrid, the sadness of the eventual truth is heartbreaking.  And yet, like Batty in the earlier film, he reaches some self-awareness, some humanity that is undeniable. What is human anyway?

(This film even has a great joke, a funny one: as he considers Deckard’s dog, K asks, “Is he real?” and Deckard deadpans “Ask Him.” I guffawed. But that joke sums up the film. Is it real? What is real?)

We live in thrall to technologies intended to serve. People cannot seem to live without their smartphones. The hologram Joi is the natural extension of the smartphone, what it may evolve into. An AI assistant, a diversion, a replacement for human company. We may never have the flying cars of Blade Runner, but I suspect AI like Joi is inevitable- indeed, barring the holographic flight of fancy, it’s almost already here. But is it real, can it feel, can it aspire to be human?

Consider this:  an Hologram AI has purchased/arranged a pleasure-model Replicant to have sex with the Holograms owner/lover who is a Replicant itself (himself/herself/itself, how does that work with Replicants?). While I try to get my head around that, add this to the mix: the pleasure model that Joi hired is part of the resistance/uprising who uses the opportunity to plant a tracker in K’s coat, so is Joi a part of that resistance all along? Is K being steered by unseen forces all along?

2049eI really need to see the film again. All sorts of thoughts and observations have been rattling around in my head for the days since. A sign of a good film is one that lingers in your head. I am sure 2049 will reward repeat viewings, possibly for years. But I really need to see it again on the big screen before it slips across to disc (the thought that six months from now I will be used to simply rewatching it at home whenever I like is a frankly salivating prospect).

They show you someone weaving memories together in this film. Its breathtaking, like fashioning dreams with a strange (very PKD) device that looks part-camera, part bus conductor ticket machine. They show a Replicant having her nails done whilst orchestrating rocket fire from some automated weapons platform hanging unseen in the sky. A giant hologram selling an app steps out of the skyline to accost our protagonist who has already loved and lost that product, the giant hologram’s blank unfeeling stare utterly at odds with the loving sincerity of the eyes that he loved.  A wooden horse replaces the origami unicorn of the previous film, but seems to represent the same question: what is human? Can you trust your memories in a world that can have them woven like dreams and implanted? What is the meaning of the final shots where a dying K stares up at the falling snow and watches it fall into his hand, while Dr. Stelline in her glass world nearby fashions memories of snow falling out of nowhere?

This film should not exist.

Sadly, as I write this it seems the Box-Office for the film has been very disappointing, particularly in America. I feel a sense of history repeating, and it seems awfully unfair that the bravery in making this film so sincere and ‘honest’ to the original won’t be rewarded financially, and we won’t get a third film. Not that we should even measure quality by box office anyway, or that we even need a third film, but its seems cruel that, when we finally get a quality adult sci fi film, it stumbles at the box office, as if we’re being haunted by the lessons of 35 years ago all over again. In a genre swamped by huge empty-headed spectacle or superhero comic movies… Well, it’s very frustrating and quite utterly depressing and disappointing. 2049 deserves better from audiences, but at least it got the love of (most) critics. So it’s doing better than Blade Runner there, at any rate.

The question still rattles around in my head: this film should not exist, but it does. How is this possible? PKD would have loved that.

 

Blade Runner: It’s supposed to be cult, not popular…

P1070640Well, I’m back from my holiday up in sunny (yes, really) Scotland and I’ve got my tickets booked for Blade Runner 2049 Thursday night. I was intending to wait until the following week (and I NEVER go to the cinema weekday evenings anymore) but what the hell, it’s been 35 years since Blade Runner first crossed my path, and while I’ve been avoiding reviews I have seen all those Twitter feeds last week with the hugely positive opinions of the movie. Words like ‘masterpiece’ and ‘superb’ and ‘modern sci-fi classic’ and even a few citing it as superior to the original (nonsense, obviously). So how can I possibly wait and risk spoiler apocalypse? Expect a review late Friday or Saturday, work permitting (maybe a sentence or two Thursday night).

I recall my postings on this blog back when the new film was first announced. Here we are, it is here. This is the week.

I must say, it has been a very strange past few months leading up to this week, as the film’s marketing campaign has geared up. Those three prequel shorts were a nice touch, teasing but not revealing very much. How strange it was, particularly, to see that anime short directed by Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe. Seeing those visuals so tightly entwined with those of Blade Runner, all these years later. There’s a sense of unreality to all this. I can remember late in 1982 when Blade Runner was like every sci-fi geek’s best-kept secret, and god knows back then plenty of geeks hated the film too- it really was the very definition of cult for the first few years back then. Here we are now, and we are revisiting that  future-noir world again. There’s a sense of unreality to all this that is hard to quantify. I mean, this is Blade Runner. I remember back when no-one ever seemed to know of it. Now it’s this huge new movie that everyone is raving about. Someone’s Twitter feed even suggested possible Best Picture nods come Oscar time. Heresy, surely- Blade Runner is supposed to be cult, not popular- something’s gone terribly wrong. Goodness knows how I’ll feel if this film proves a box-office hit and spawns a (horrors!) trilogy or, (even more horrific!) a franchise of prequels/sequels.

So this week, probably tomorrow or Tuesday evening, I’ll be rewatching Blade Runner again, one last time before having any further viewing shadowed by the Blade Runner 2049 experience. Good or bad, in small or significant ways, the new film is surely going to impact any future viewing experience of the 1982 film. How can it not? Shades of those Engineers spoiling the Lovecraftian mysteries of the Space Jockeys in Alien is the most obvious and worrying comparison. For the last few decades, Blade Runner‘s story has always ended with those lift-doors closing on Deckard and Rachel. After this week, we’ll always know what happened next, for good or ill.

I’ll admit to being nervous. And excited. I mean, it does sound good. At least it isn’t some pg-13, noisy, dumb cgi action-fest, and it’s clear already that this film was sincerely made, even if it fails to be great. God knows it could have been a hell of a lot worse. But  all this positive word of mouth and (apparently) glowing five-star reviews that surfaced Friday and Saturday leaves me troubled.

While I admit that there is every chance the film is indeed a better film than Blade Runner, well, a better film doesn’t necessarily mean a better Blade Runner. For me, many peoples issues with the original -the darkness, the pacing, the lack of action, even the 80s synth-drenched soundtrack- that as a film it could be criticized for actually make the film more special for me. Its this weird, blockbuster arthouse movie, a techno-noir ambient chamber piece. It isn’t supposed to be a box-office success nor a Best Picture contender.

Anyway, I’ll know on Thursday: I’m going to see the sequel to Blade Runner, more than 35 years after I first saw the original. Pinch me.

Villeneuve’s Dune

dune1Ah yes, I’m liking the sound of that. Legendary Pictures has confirmed that Dennis Villeneuve has signed to direct their upcoming  remake of Dune. Well, here the term ‘remake’ seems a little wrong- this won’t be a remake of the David Lynch movie, but rather a fresh adaptation of the Frank Herbert classic space opera novel. Dune is one of my very favourite sci-fi novels; its got a huge, far-future scope, its at turns mysterious and familiar and rather terrifying too. I know many don’t feel it has aged at all well (it wears its 1960s hippie/counter-culture credentials loud and proud) but I love it, and you know, maybe its time has finally come. The David Lynch film has terrific art direction and looks impressively strange and other-worldly, but was always hampered by the effects of its era and its limited running-time. I think film-makers can get away with a three-hour film now, and a longer director’s cut is so normal on home formats that an eventual four-hour cut likely inevitable- and of course with cgi imagery now anything is possible.

If it gets made that is. Too many of these projects (and quite a few involving Dune, including attempts from  Alejandro Jodorowsky and Ridley Scott) have fallen through over the years, so this announcement might yet lead to nothing. I’m sure the box-office performance of Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 will have some impact on its progress. Have to give some credit to Villeneuve though, he’s got some bottle- first he takes on the sequel to one of the most iconic sci-fi films ever made, and then he jumps into making one of the great sci-fi classics. And both after shooting a sci-fi flick titled Arrival that gets several Oscar nominations. Wow. Eat your heart out James Cameron, there’s a new genre kid on the block.

And he could be making Dune next. Pinch me.