Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A late review of Blade Runner 2049

Friends have asked me about Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to the ground-breaking 1982 film by Director Ridley Scott and a very talented cast, crew, and composer. I was 13 when the first film came out and it made a huge impact -- it was a dystopian future, to be sure, but one that was fascinating and different than the "clean" utopias depicted in Star Trek or the alien-infused space opera of Star Wars.

Back to Blade Runner 2049. I saw it on IMAX and went on an afternoon when I knew there wouldn't be many other people in the theater to disturb my experience. The film was beautifully shot, and had some incredible scenes, including the climactic, desperate fight scene outside the city's sea wall. I really liked the score by Hans Zimmer, too. He had a tough job, not only being brought in to replace the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, but also living up to the incredible soundtrack from the first film by Vangelis (which has perhaps the most dedicated cult following of any film soundtrack, judging by the mods and remixes created by fans, such as the Esper Edition. I've included one of them below).

Nevertheless, there were some serious flaws in BR49. Ryan Gosling had the lead role, and was an obvious pick (Hollywood always goes for leading men with strong "brands," which it had done when Harrison Ford in the first film). But I believe Gosling was the wrong person for the role -- he was too emotionless and almost mechanical in the fight scenes. Yes, he's a synthetic human, but considering they were designed to be "More Human than Human," I expected more humanity in Gosling's character in the 2049 generation.

There was another element that bothered me. Los Angeles 2049 has clear Asian influences, including Chinese and Japanese signage everywhere, and a cafeteria that has Asian dishes and themes. Yet there were hardly any Asian people in any roles, even extras.

Taking things one step further: Assuming demographic trends persist, in the far future society "minorities" will be white and the population will be mostly black, brown, yellow, and multiracial. Yet every major and most minor roles in Blade Runner 2049 are white, except for Olmos (reprised from the first film for about a minute), the east African shopkeeper (another short scene), and the junkyard orphanage owner.

The 1982 film was far better in this respect, imagining a future where society did include lots of people from different backgrounds and cultural influences from across the Pacific -- and even a street language based on Japanese, German, and English! 

Blade Runner 2049 isn't the only science fiction film that gets the future humanity wrong. In my long experience watching science fiction movies, only Luc Besson's 1997 film The Fifth Element tried to get humanity right, at least with secondary characters and extras who were black, mixed race, and Asian.

Despite all of this, I would like to see Blade Runner 2049 once more. I had trouble following some of the plot threads and details, and would like to see it at least once more to wrap my head around them and help me fathom the meaning of the story.

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