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Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Warner Home Video
4K UHD Released: 1/16/2017
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/8/2017
It's been a while since we have discussed a belated sequel, but they are still out there. Some of these films are late-arrival follow-ups to movies which were big hits. We also have cult movies which weren't necessarily successful upon their initial release, but have garnered such a reputation in the intervening years that the powers-that-be have determined that another film is in order. When it was released in 1982, Blade Runner was met with oohs and ahhs from a certain crowd, but also with general indifference from the general public. Over the years, we've seen various cuts of the film released and there is definitely a group of filmgoers who revere the film. But, is the world ready for a sequel which is not only 35 years late, but one with a $150 million budget?
Blade Runner 2049 takes us back to a dystopian Los Angeles of the future. The Tyrell Corporation, which manufactured Replicants, very lifelike androids, has been taken over by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and the Replicants are now safer and obedient than ever. Still, some older rogue models still exist, so “Blade Runners”, police officers who hunt Replicants, are still necessary. K (Ryan Gosling) is both a Replicant and a Blade Runner, and his superior (Robin Wright) loves that he does his job well and never asks questions. As the film opens, K visits a farm outside of the city in order to complete a job. There, he discover a box buried under a tree which contains a skeleton. Following an examination, it’s revealed that the bones contain a secret which would shake the foundations of society. Thus, K is assigned to discover who the bones belonged to and to erase any trace of what that person did. However, this case causes K to begin to ponder the morality of his job.
Again, since its release in 1982, Blade Runner has garnered a legion of fans who are known to debate about the deeper meanings of the film. However, I have to assume that there are a lot of people out there like me who saw the film, appreciated it for the visuals, found the overall experience to be a bit boring, and then moved on with life. There's no doubt that the film was ground-breaking in terms of production design and visual effects. There has been other movies which had presented views of the future, but none had offered such a gritty, detailed landscape. The attempt at combining a film noir detective story with science fiction was certainly an interesting one, but the overall effect was something which lacked a comprehensive story. This issue was further compounded by the fact that various cuts of the film have emerged over the years and debate still rages on what the ending of the movie means.
The makers of Blade Runner 2049 clearly understood and acknowledged those issues, as the movie contains a much more coherent story...at first. At the outset, we are immediately told that K is a Replicant and the movie doesn't get bogged down in the who is or isn't real issue which was a big part of the first film. The mystery surrounding the skeleton and K's assignment is actually interesting and does a great job of propelling the story forward. But, about halfway through, Blade Runner 2049 begins to trip over its own feet. The purpose of K's mission begins to get muddled and despite the fact that this movie is nearly 3 hours long (more on that in a moment), there are times when it feels as if scenes are missing or that the story suddenly leapt forward without explanation. The ending is rife with plotholes and is certainly not satisfying. There's also a feeling that the movie worked too hard to get Harrison Ford involved, and yet, not hard enough. He doesn't show up until the third act and his part of the movie feels rushed...and yet drawn out.
Those issues aside, like the first film, Blade Runner 2049 is a visual feast. While $150 million is certainly a big budget, the scope of the movie and the size of some of the sets gives the appearance of something which could have cost much more. There are certainly some creative things here (such as the Vegas-style show) and the movie undoubtedly takes some chances. Ryan Gosling has certainly been overly stoic in other roles, but that approach pays off here, as he's believable as the synthetic man who is confused by his own being. In fact, most of the cast here is top-notch. I do have to question Director Denis Villeneuve, who some apparently see as the savior of modern sci-fi. I've seen several of his films now, and while they all contain great visuals, he seems to have issues on closing the deal when it comes to telling a story. If nothing else, someone should have had the guts to tell him to cut about an hour out of this movie. (There are way too many scenes of K traveling from place-to-place.) Blade Runner 2049 is more palatable than its predecessor, but still seems determined to draw the viewer in with the visuals, but keep them at arm's length with the story.
Blade Runner 2049 never explains why a robot needs a coat on 4K UHD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 70 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. This is a dark film and the transfer only shows hints of the flickering which can plague 4K transfers when the darkness hits. When colors do arise, they are vibrant and realistic looking. The image shows a nice amount of depth, as the actors are clearly delineated from the background and the level of detail is impressive. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Despite a somewhat low bitrate, the track provides strong sound. The subwoofer effects are palpable, as they relay all of the sounds coming from the city. The action sequences, especially the assault in the third act, provide dynamic stereo and surround effects, offering detailed audio for events taking place off-screen. The scene in the water delivers sound which really places us in the middle of the action.
The extra features for Blade Runner 2049 are found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc. "Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049" (22 minutes) takes us behind the scenes to see how the sets and production design where influenced by the original film, but also took on its own style. We see concept art and the construction of some of the sets, as the creative team describes their goals. "To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049" (17 minutes) has Villeneuve discussing his vision of the characters and allows the actors to talk about their roles, and how they were approached. "Prologues" offers three short films, -- "2022: Black Out" (16 minutes), "2036: Nexus Dawn" (7 minutes), and "2048: Nowhere to Run" (6 minutes) -- which help to set up the stories and the world of Blade Runner 2049. "Blade Runner 101" (11 minutes) contains six chapters which help to familiarize the audience with some specifics of the movie. (All of this points to the fact that someone in charge realized that audiences didn't remember the first movie.)
Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long