I have an admission to make: I never really got into the original Blade Runner. For years this puzzled me. It felt as if it was a personal flaw, and so I would watch and re-watch it again and again in different cuts. I always enjoyed it, but I never loved it. What was really strange was this was just about the perfect movie for me to love. It had all the elements I like in story-telling and movie-making, and yet…
I would watch the movie with great admiration. It was a terrific story. Visually it was fantastic. It was moody and imaginative. It had memorable characters played by excellent actors. As always I found myself admiring Ridley Scott’s skill as a movie maker. Every element just about ticked the box for me, but as a whole it seemed a little less than the sum of those elements. For years I wondered at that, before finally concluding that I was not as emotionally involved in the fate of the characters as I should be.
There is a coolness, an emotional detachment, which is perhaps common in Scott’s movies. Generally you get so wrapped up in the gripping story that it never really occurs to you. The Alien movies are basically monster movies elevated to high-art. The story-line races along, and for those couple of hours you are thrilled to be taken away to inhabit a strange, perfectly imagined other world where you find yourself fascinated, and sitting at the edge of your seat. Scott is one of my favourite film makers, and he is in his element creating fantastic worlds and directing narratives headlong and building tension. His movies are high art, beautifully shot, and masterpieces of set design. Blade Runner is that, but at its heart is a story which I could appreciate, but never really feel.
So on Friday night I went and saw Blade Runner 2049 with the guys. It’s not a perfect film, but I think it a better film than the original.
So why isn’t it perfect? There is so much that is breathtakingly good. Visually it’s as stunning as anything Ridley Scott ever designed, and more. Some of the set-pieces are literally awesome. The soundscapes are perfect, and add so much to the atmosphere. It’s a brilliantly conceived world, and executed better than anything we’ve seen before. As a story it’s even better than the original – really, a worthy sequels, as so many aren’t. The characters are great, the acting fantastic, many of the sequences compelling. It’s a little too long to be perfect, perhaps, a little too ambitious to be perfect.
For me these are small things, and are made only in reference to how a movie like this might be shaped. Both my friends enjoyed it, but neither loved it, and both thought it about 30 minutes too long. I could understand, and from a purely technical perspective they’re probably right – but speaking for myself, I was happy for that extra 30 minutes.
I loved that they didn’t take the simpler option. There would have been a very satisfying movie without the additional elements, but for me those elements really topped it off, taking the story from impressive to poignant. Most will see it as gilding the lily, but it’s that stuff I live for.
Setting aside the sheer film making, super-impressive as it is, it’s the story that lifts this well above the average movie. The story-line is elegant, fascinating, and ultimately profound – and the writing matches it.
You can see this movie as a superior piece of entertainment if you like, like the original Alien say. I think that’s what my friends were looking for, and so will many others. It is that, but the ambitions of the director and writers go beyond that. There is a philosophical thread throughout this which goes to the human condition, and indeed, what it means to be human. This is inverted, our expectations confounded, but in so doing the point is pressed deeper. This is a sci-fi action movie which is really a character study, and which engages with some high end questions of identity.
I applaud them for that: it’s bold film making, and I wish there were more film makers willing to risk that. This is not just a sci-fi movie, and if you are willing to immerse yourself in it you’ll come away with questions in your mind, wonders in your head, and in your heart a sense of humanity we too often miss. This time my emotions were fully engaged.