Review

Blade Runner 2049‘ Review:

For me, ‘Blade Runner 2049‘ is akin to the complete cinematic experience. It’s a complex tapestry of a film that’s often stunning (almost to the point where it’s jarring), but one that also feels so fully realized that it’s hard to not be engulfed by it. For a film that is a sequel—let alone one that was released 31 years after the original—it doesn’t feel like a sequel in the traditional sense. As Villeneuve explains it, the film is being painted on the same canvas, using the same material, but it simply just happens to be a different painter this time around. And while this may seem like the obvious approach to a sequel such as this one, the difference between something like ‘2049‘ and ‘Tron: Legacy‘ is that Villenueve’s love for this world exudes onto the screen, and it makes all the difference. The great thing about a film like ‘Blade Runner 2049‘ is that it is so densely crafted that anyone who watches can take something different away from the film. For me, the film is concerned with exploring the human condition through characters that aren’t even human. And it’s through the central thematic question of “what makes us human”, that the film really shines.

Blade Runner 2049‘ is a frustrating movie–in the best way possible–but that’s also part of the point. And despite this frustration, director Denis Villenueve‘s instant classic is also perhaps the most rewarding film that I have watched in recent memory. Much like the first ‘Blade Runner‘, many of our main characters aren’t even human, but that’s also why the film is so ripe with interesting ideas. What makes ‘Blade Runner 2049‘ different from the original is that the story is told from a replicant, Ryan Gosling‘s “K”, as opposed to the original’s perspective from maybe-human-maybe-replicant Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). It’s through K’s perspective that this thematic question is explored, to great effect I might add. And it’s because these characters are being explored through the eyes of people who aren’t human that makes things more interesting this time around. And while I’m not here to compare ‘2049‘ with its predecessor, this altered perspective is what really differentiates the two films for me.

blade runner 2049

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. / Alcon Entertainment

What I love about a film like ‘2049’ is its commitment to exploring these ideas to their bitter end, such as with the relationship between Gosling’s K and Joi, a holographic companion of sorts (played wonderfully by Ana De Armis). It’s interesting, because Joi pretty much acts as both a sidekick to K throughout his investigation in the story, as well as a love interest—and yet it seems that she can’t even comprehend the idea that she isn’t human or even really in love. There’s a heartbreaking scene late in the third act, where Gosling’s K is encountered by an advertisement for Joi, only to realize that the specific experiences that he had with his Joi were only generalized responses to his experiences. It’s moments like this that truly set ‘Blader Runner 2049’ apart from the original, because it takes the story into places that are completely unexpected, often subverting our expectations in more ways than one. Although Joi is certainly a microcosm of this, pretty much every main character in this story gets their due, except for one.

I don’t have many problems with the film, but perhaps my biggest reservation has to do with Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace. I’ve been thinking about his character a lot after watching the movie, but there’s something that just feels off about his interpretation of the character. As the intended antagonist in the film, Leto’s Wallace is a semi-interesting, mostly pretentious-feeling interpretation of the character who is not given enough screen time for us to care. It’s a shame really, because if the film would have focused on Luv as the primary antagonist–the filmmakers would have only not only given her far more interesting character more depth–but it would have promoted Wallace as this mythical figure that we never see in the film. It seems like a missed opportunity, because at the end of the day, I don’t really care about Leto’s Wallace after finishing the movie.

It’s interesting, because many fans of the original ‘Blade Runner’ hoped that the Deckard question would finally be resolved ‘Blade Runner 2049’. I’m willing to admit that a small part of me hoped that it would finally be settled, but to be honest I’m actually really glad that the film didn’t even go down that road. Instead, ‘2049’ affirms that we were asking the wrong question all anong, and that is part of what makeis it so great—subversion. ‘2049’ is a film that features long, almost sullen, moments of silence peppered with violent bursts of action. It other words, it’s a very meditative story, almost to a fault–almost. It’s a movie that’s surprisingly lean, despite it’s near-boisterous runtime. It’s a movie that often asks more questions than it answers, but in the case of ‘Blade Runner 2049‘, I think that this feeling is inherently intentional. For a movie to ask all of the questions that the film does—and the amount of story that it needs to cover—it’s a brilliantly executed work of art.

Rating: 4/5

blade runner 2049

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. / Alcon Entertainment

The Picture:

In what is perhaps Rodger Deakins’ masterwork, the Oscar nominated cinematography is easily the highlight of this disc, as well as being one of ‘Blade Runner 2049’s overall main selling points. Shot on the Arri Alexa and presented by Warner Bros. in a 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 aspect ratio offers a step down from the Imax theatrical version’s 1.90:1, which was a sight to behold. Nevertheless, this Blu-ray transfer offers reference-level video quality. The blacks offer a variety of tones, even in the many scenes that a shot in silhouette, and the detail never wavers throughout the film’s 164-minute runtime. The overall visual aesthetic is a little more encompassing than Scott’s original film, and also a little drearier overall. The majority of the film sees the characters in monochromatic locations, from police headquarters to K’s apartment and San Diego to Las Vegas. Much like the story itself, the visuals feature the monochromatic spaces, infused with flashes of bright color throughout. The scenes with moving light remain just as spectacular as they were in the theatrical release. The only semi-noticeable issue with the video transfer here is the bitrate, which tends to remain on the lower side. This is most likely due to the film’s lengthy runtime, along with the inclusion of HD special features, but a wonderful video track nonetheless.

Rating: 4.5/5

blade runner 2049

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. / Alcon Entertainment

The Sound:

Blade Runner 2049’ comes to Blu-ray with a wall-shaking Dolby Atmos sound mix that blows you away one minute, and immerses you with the subtlest of details the next. The booming score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is the highlight here, paying tribute to Vangelis’ original work here and there, while also creating a while new sound for the score of this film. It’s really hard to quantify how truly detailed the sound mix for ‘2049’ is in this Atmos transfer. There are only a handful of times that K fires his weapon in the film, but the earth shattering sound that emanates form it is not forgotten due to the intricate sound design. Environmentally speaking, the silences are just as effective at the moments of bombast in this sound mix, particularly how the beginning and end of the film both serve as audible bookends in terms of silence. It should be noted that included is also a DTS-HD Master 5.1 track, but the Atmos track is far superior in terms of dynamic range and spatial awareness. Overall, it’s pretty much a perfect track, offering reference-quality audio in what is easily the best part of this disc.

Rating: 5/5

blade runner 2049

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. / Alcon Entertainment

The Special Features:

The experience of watching ‘Blade Runner 2049‘ is so awe-inspiring that it’s really hard to not be excited about getting a glimpse into the making of the film. With that said, there’s a certain amount of disappointment I felt when I learned that there wouldn’t be a feature-length documentary on the making of ‘2049‘. It’s also kind of a shame that we don’t get a commentary track form Villenueve, although I can understand the director’s reluctance to discuss inaccuracies of the story

Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049 (21:55; 1080p): A somewhat lengthy piece on creating the visual language of the film, along with how the filmmakers took the foundation that Scott’s original film and expanded upon it. The feature delves into how the film serves an an extension of the ‘Blade Runner‘ mythos, while adding something new at the same time. It also discusses the integral nature of Deakins to the film, and how it’s as much the cinematographer’s brainchild as it is is Villenueve’s. It also covers the production design, along with the tangible nature of the sets that were built for the film. Overall a good little feature, although it could have even been more in depth, given the density of the film itself.

To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049 (17:15; 1080p): In what is basically an extended featurette that focuses on casting and working with each of the actors major actors in the film. It’s here that we learn that Villeneuve set out to find the best up-and -coming actors in the film, and With the exception of a handful well-known names, pretty much every role features a wonderful character actor. The featurette also explains how Dave Bautista almost didn’t get the role of Sapper Morton, but overall it’s pretty much talking head interviews intercut with clips from the film.

Prologues:

  • 2022: Black Out (15:45; 1080p): Told as an anime short directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, ‘Black Out‘ explores the replicant uprising in 2022 that led to the short-lived prohibition of replicants. ‘2049‘ heavily references “the Blackout”, as it’s a key event of backstory to the film and Wallace’s plan as a whole.
  • 2036: Nexus Dawn (6:31; 1080p): Directed by Luke Scott (son of Producer Ridley Scott), this live action short serves as an introduction of sorts to Leto’s Wallace, along with giving some back story on how Wallace was able to get the replicant ban lifted.
  • 2048: Nowhere to Run (5:49; 1080p): This final prologue serves as backstory for Sapper Morton, explaining how he ended up on the farm at the beginning of the film. Also directed by Luke Scott, this short is easily the best of the the three for numerous reasons.

Blade Runner 101 (11:22; 1080p): A collection of short featurettes that explain some of the more intricate aspects of the blade runner universe. While these little videos pretty much serve as a primer for anyone who is not privy to the franchise, because there’s not much we really learn here from the inclusion of these marketing materials other than that. A “play all” option is included.

  • Blade Runners
  • The Replicant Revolution
  • The Rise of Wallace Corp.
  • Welcome to 2049
  • Jois
  • Within the Skies: Spinners, Pilotfish and Barracudas

Rating: 3.5/5

blade runner 2049

Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. / Alcon Entertainment

Conclusion:

In one part of the special features of the disc, Villeneuve says that by bringing on Deakins so early into the process was like “Giving the best race car driver the best car”. I honesty think that this sentiment is true for pretty much everyone who worked on the ‘Blade Runner 2049‘, even the director himself. While this Blu-Ray is a technical marvel that does a great job of reproducing the theatrical experience, ultimately it’s lacking special features hold it back from perfection. Highly Recommended.



About the Author

Taylor Salan
Taylor Salan
Taylor Salan is a independent filmmaker who currently resides in the San Fernando Valley. Since childhood, Taylor Salan had a fascination with movies. Although he was an avid fan of film as a child, it wasn’t until his years as a young adult that his passion for the art of filmmaking truly came to fruition. A current student of the film production program at California State University Northridge, Taylor studies Cinematography but ultimately has plans to direct full time if afforded the opportunity. In his spare time, Taylor produces audio podcasts and blogs about film for ageofthenerd.com. He is also a longtime musician, playing drums for over 8 years.