Monday, October 09, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Some Good, Some Bad

As usual, I don't care about SPOILERS. Read at your own risk. You've been warned.

I watched Blade Runner 2049 last weekend. It's a mixed bag. I could rave about the things I like -- Edward James Olmos' return, some clear nods to fans-in-the-know (like Olmos' origami sheep, or the alternate-universe continued success of Atari) -- but gushy reviews are boring ones. In Blade Runner fashion, bring on the dystopia. Let's see the bad, the boring, the indifferent.

I'll start by saying I liked most of it except Jared Leto. I thought his character was idiotic.

To clarify: I think that they were trying to use Leto to bring to his role some of the poetry of Rutger Hauer's performance in the original. Only, Hauer's performance brought something significant and new to the character. He showed us that the replicants were not merely desperate killing machines. Leto's character is pointless. So much so that I don't remember one damned line he said. He's quirky for the sake of being quirky. If half of his scenes were simply cut -- not re-written, not replaced -- it would improve the final film immensely. All of his scenes are too slowly paced. I would never want this as action-adventure; but I want conversation to occur at a pace that doesn't leave me feeling like Barry Allen.

As for the rest of it, I liked it, with a nit to pick here and there. One of the things that made Blade Runner a cult classic was the uncertainty of whether Deckard was a replicant. Well, that's off the table. I don't mean the issue is resolved, despite Ridley Scott's insistence that Deckard is a replicant. I mean, they just don't address it... at all... and we don't care about it... at all. And truth be told, the events that play out indicate that he isn't. So whatever you believe about Deckard, just keep believing it. But I think they did successfully transfer a similar form of that  uncertainty to Ryan Gosling's character ('K'); and they execute that particular head-fake pretty well. Blurring the lines between what's real and what isn't is signature Philip K Dick, so I'm pleased with not having seen the obvious-in-retrospect.

It's 30 years on, but visually, it's the same incessant rain, the same giant billboards, the same crowded squalor, the same flying cars limited to the same cops. And somehow they managed to carry that rainy feeling to Las Vegas in the form of a persistent dust cloud sans wind. Take your choice... constant grit or constant rain. Empty sky is for utopias. The visual message is that change and growth are not happening here. It's stagnant future, very little removed from that which was imagined in 1982.

Nothing much changes in 30 years.

As a vision of the future, Blade Runner and its sequel are set way too close to the present, but beyond that, the world they paint is just weird. They presumably have supra-light interstellar travel, as they talk of battles in distant star systems. They have off-world colonies. But that tech doesn't appear to have brought home much of value. In the original, we were left to assume that the City had just built up over the years. Here, we see that they just abandoned the whole damned modern world and left the old buildings to rot. Look at Dresden... Berlin... Coventry... that's not how humans rebuild. And they side-step the persistent nature of a surveillance society with a little lip-service about a global blackout that had erased... well... everything. Except what it didn't. As a software developer myself, I realize that there is no difference to a computer between programs and data, and I shudder to think of the scope of re-writing all of the software in existence. If you will, imagine the task of getting any computer to run when everything down to the bootloader is deleted by an EMP. But this was a special magic blackout that deletes data and leaves the software. But if Star Trek can have magic gravity, I suppose I can suspend disbelief for this logical fallacy.

Joi. You can look, but not touch.
One thing new that their tech has bought is personal company. Shell out the dough and you can buy a holographic personal assistant. Think "the Siri I wish I had". "Joi" can be anyone you want her to be, except a flesh-and-blood woman. And in one of the most uncomfortable-in-a-guiltily-good-way sex scenes ever put on-screen, she manages to find a temporary loophole around that little limitation. A little more moolah will get you an "emanator" (a mobile emitter). Late in the show we're still left with that signature question, "How much of this is real? If the simulation is good enough, is there even a difference?"

As for the acting, I have no complaints, except Leto. He takes the place of Tyrell from the original film. If there's one character in the whole story who should be grounded, and know the difference between reality and simulation, it's him. Despite putting on the fatherly mentor façade for his creations, Tyrell was insightful and could convincingly hold down a nuts-and-bolts technical conversation. Leto's character, Wallace, didn't project anything even approaching competence. What grounding he might have had was undermined by filtering his entire reality through software. And then they chose to put the most execrable yet forgettable dialog in his mouth. In the end Wallace was nothing but yet another delusional little god wanna-be, as cliché as they come. The saving grace of this is watching Harrison Ford's wtf facial expressions as Deckard tries to decipher Leto's crypto-speak.

Then again, it's in one of Leto's scenes that we have the high note, which is the biggest spoiler. Rachael's return. Granted, I've only seen the film once, but I was looking hard at this, and the CGI'd "Rachael 2.0" (Sean Young) was picture-perfect. Perhaps this has something to do with her slightly surreal performance in the original film, but this is one case where there's not even a hint of the "uncanny valley". And even the one detail they "got wrong" was crucial to Deckard's reaction. Great job on that one.

No comments:

Post a Comment