Monday, 16 October 2017

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 is as visually stunning as it is unbearably dull

The original Blade Runner, released way back in 1982, does very little for me. Beyond some nice cinematography and a few grown up sci-fi themes, I struggle to find much to enjoy in the film. Its slow pace and dreary dialogue threatened to put me to sleep, and I also must confess to really not finding the story all that interesting either. Because of this, I approached the sequel, Blade Runner 2049, with apprehension, even though director Denis Villeneuve is one of my favourites working today - Incendies and Prisoners were both terrific, while his last two efforts Sicario and Arrival were flat out masterpieces.

So it's safe to say my excitement for 2049 has been up and down like a yo-yo in the weeks leading up to its release, and it turns out I was right not to let my Villeneuve-based hype get the better of me. This is less a Villeneuve film than a Blade Runner film, which is to say it's undeniably well made, but dull beyond human comprehension. Clocking in at an unbearable 2 hours and 45 minutes, the film seems to last a lifetime in just its opening act, it dribbles and splutters through a middle act without ever landing on anything interesting, and it all builds to a finale that feels so separated from the film you've just been watching that you'll question whether the slow pace sent you to sleep and you've woken up to a different story.

Blade Runner 2049 has already fallen deep into that category of film where if you don't like it, the fans will simply tell you that you "didn't get it". I will readily hold my hands up and admit that the core concept of the Blade Runner series just doesn't work for me, its depiction of humanity's future is paradoxically both drained of life yet overbearing in colourful personality, and it's a tone and futuristic vision I simply don't get along with. I really tried to enjoy Blade Runner, and I practically begged myself to fall in love with 2049, but the matter of the fact is that there is simply no need for this film to be so long and so slow. It's been dismissed by fans as capturing the tone of the original, which is an admirable move I'll grant the film's writers, but it makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience in all the wrong ways.

I can handle slow films - 2001: A Space Odyssey, y'know the film with nothing but apes for 15 minutes and spaceships docking for another 10, is one of my all time favourites. I don't need compelling story to love a film - Boyhood, y'know the film with literally no story whatsoever, is my idea of cinematic perfection. But because I can't get on board with 2049's concept, no part of me has any desire or hope for the dreadfully slow first half to ever morph into something I'll wind up enjoying. This is a film experience dependant on a multitude of elements per viewer, and unfortunately they don't stack up very nicely for me.

That said, 2049 is breathtaking to look at. Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins add layers to this dystopia that aren't in the script, the frame bursts with beautiful colour schemes and awe inspiring framing work. It combines CGI with practical effects in borderline revolutionary ways, crafting frame after frame and image after image of simply stunning visual design. The film bored me to tears, but at least it's pretty to look at: if Deakins doesn't win that Cinematography Oscar for this, riots are inevitable and I'll be there front and centre. (Armed with a shield to protect me from the aforementioned fans who will probably be telling me I "just really didn't get it").

Ryan Gosling's performance here is solid, and Harrison Ford makes the most of his surprisingly very little screen time. The film's soundtrack is loud and off putting, but deeply effective - aside from the pacing, it could prove to be 2049's most divisive element. This is a film that will work wonders for a lot of people, and I can understand why. As a sequel to Blade Runner this is probably perfect film making, which is great for fans of the 1982 cult classic and I'm happy that, in an era of phoned in, cash grab sequels, Villeneuve has landed something that has pleased fans and critics alike. For those of us who weren't exactly bowled over by Ridley Scott's efforts some 35 years ago though? Well, there's about as little to like here as there was then.

In A Sentence

As painfully overlong as it is staggeringly beautiful, Blade Runner 2049 is an admirably fan pleasing but deeply uneven sequel that sticks to what it knows best and has little intention of trying anything new.

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