Old Friends and Movie Reviews

A long time ago, I had a friend who was into films big-time–she was a film and videography major, in fact–and it was a pleasure to talk with her about movies because we had similar tastes and appreciated filmmaking from very different perspectives. I really wish we were still friends sometimes because I’d love to pick her brain about Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to a film we both loved.

If my friend were still available to talk–calling her Cindy isn’t a major reveal since she most likely doesn’t read this blog anyway–I’d start with something simple but visceral: Did you like the film? A mutually interesting topic of conversation, discussed with a good friend, can joyfully fill a good hour or two, as you explain the different aspects and tangents of the topic that please or horrify you.

And oh my gosh, where do I begin with Blade Runner 2049?

To start, I probably should have looked up to see how long the run time for this movie was. My internal time sense told me when I reached the two-hour mark, and I realized that the movie was nowhere near over. So: the pacing was slow. Another friend pointed out to me that the original Blade Runner had sort of a slow roll to it, and I couldn’t argue with him about that. The difference, however, is that the original didn’t feel long. If I notice the fact that I’m sitting in a movie theater rather than immersed in the story, that’s a problem. Pacing matters if your audience notices the passage of time without feeling entertained.

And given that the film clocks in 2 hours, 44 minutes, the filmmakers had plenty of time to develop their characters, advance the plot, or both. Instead, the director seemed more keen on feeding the audience with eye candy–albeit much of it horrific eye candy. Both this film and its predecessor portray a dystopian future; the first film used scenery as it was meant to be: a backdrop for what the characters do and say. In the 2049 film, the scenery almost becomes its own character, assaulting us with vision after vision of a crap future. Enough already. Meanwhile, the characters lacked some of the quirky individuality that came through in the first film. We could relate to Ridley Scott’s androids/replicants because they had something approaching human foibles or vulnerabilities. In Denis Villenueve’s film, it’s hard to find sympathy for the humans, much less anyone else.

My film-major buddy explained to me that Ridley Scott, director of the original Blade Runner, is a big fan of stylized lighting: spotlights glaring through rotating fans, rotating lights appearing from strange angles, moving lights peeking through metal gratings, etc. There is some of that to be found in the sequel, but most of the visual artistry comes through various computer-generated special effects. Funny how the low-tech can seem creepy or artistic and the high-tech commonplace depending on how it’s employed.

Maybe I’m missing some subtleties (it wouldn’t be the first time). The script is meant to extend the moral questions posed by the first film about the nature of humanity, identity, and sympathy. Many of those questions are central to the works of Philip K. Dick, upon whose novel the original film was based. However, there are also some gratuitously weird or awkward scenes that the director probably felt he could add because, “Hey, it’s science fiction!” However, in some cases they made no sense. Maybe I got irritated because the film tried too hard to be portentous or serious or About Something Important.

And lastly, as more than one critic has pointed out, I think we’re about over dark, awful futures. Perhaps we’ve achieved Peak Dystopia? In 1982, Blade Runner was something of a standout in view of competitors like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It was a new, albeit, distressing look at the future. Now, after we’ve seen the original Blade Runner, several Batman and disaster flicks, the teen  dystopias like The Hunger Games or Divergent, would it kill Hollywood to use their special effects powers for good? Disaster porn is getting old and depressing.

My film-major buddy Cindy no doubt has different ideas, and it’s a shame that I won’t get to hear them. I would probably ask her what the director/editor did wrong to make the film feel so turgid. Was this “good” filmmaking from a cinematographer’s point of view? What was the director missing? What am I missing that I don’t like this film?

Alas, if you make enough mistakes, you pay the price. One of them is losing the ability to talk to people you like about topics of mutual interest. Get something right now and then, however, and you make new friends to have different conversations. So maybe I’ll just ask someone else. Unlike the “message” or “vision” of Blade Runner 2049, that’s a story I wouldn’t mind hearing again.

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