Planet Slop Film Club #1: Blade Runner 2049
Planet Slop welcomes you to our inaugural edition of the Film Club, first up in our firing line, Blade Runner 2049.
Welcome to Planet Slop‘s Film Club. Made up mostly of LJMU Film Studies and Creative Writing graduates, we like to talk about films as though we know what we’re talking about. Which we sort of do. Sort of. Even if it is subjective, totally unquantifiable, and even though none of us wanted to study something hard, like law or medicine, or even a single honours English degree.
This week we watched Blade Runner 2049. Naturally there may be spoilers ahead.
The film left us with a lot to talk about, which is why several hours, (and many more beers), later we were still sat around our table in the Pilgrim Pub, dissecting everything we liked, and disliked, about the long-awaited sequel to a cult classic, and, sorry to disappoint but the subject that interested us least was whether or not Deckard is human or a replicant — thankfully the movie didn’t ruin the ambiguity of Deckard’s identity by giving us an answer either way. Here’s what a few members of the club had to say on the film:
Blade Runner 2049 gifts us with a multi-dimensional, active protagonist. In the original, Deckard (Harrison Ford) lacked depth, there was little complexity in his character and we were offered next to no insight into his motivations except for his love of Rachel (Sean Young).
Director Denis Villeneuve makes us feel like we really are in post black-out Los Angeles but what really impressed me was the unfaltering focus on story. Admittedly, it’s less of the open-ended philosophical exploration which incited such a variety in interpretation, and more of a ‘who am I?’ story which tackles, head on, the thirty-five-year-old question – are Replicants more human than humans?
On the back of his Oscar nom for Arrival (2016) Villeneuve has once again conquered the fusion of story and otherworldliness, and sure, many will argue the telling is slow in parts, but do well to remember this is a story based Science Fiction film. Not the other way around.
Deckard, replicant or Human?
Tanya’s verdict: Replicant because it would be more in keeping with the miracle baby plotline.
Blade Runner 2049, although flawed, is an accomplished extension of its predecessor. The beautiful iconography of the original remains intact, the score is excellent – and although it is a little overpowering at times – it underpins and drives the narrative, especially during the film’s most poignant moments. BR2049 is populated with characters who are more complex than in the original and Ryan Gosling, as the replicant K, is the shining light of this movie taking up the mantle left by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) from the original, he undertakes an exhaustive journey through the ‘big’ questions of humanity – Is he in love? Can he be loved? Does he have a soul?
Deckard, replicant or human?
Daniel’s Verdict: Replicant because of all the evidence that suggests he is, e.g the origami unicorn.
Until last night, I hadn’t even seen the original Blade Runner movie, or read Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but I don’t live under a rock. I’ve read other stories by the author and I’m aware of the cult status of the original movie. Last night I watched Blade Runner and I wasn’t impressed, that is, until the famous ‘tears in the rain’ speech. That scene had me lying in bed rethinking everything I’d just watched as if somehow the story was carrying on away from the screen.
BR 2049 impressed me much more in its first hour than its predecessor. From the start the characters were well rounded; much more believable. Even Dave Bautista impressed me — I’ve only seen him as a WWE superstar and in the Guardians of the Galaxy films so naturally I thought the man couldn’t act. However, after the brilliant setting up of this familiar/yet changed world it became sluggish, and by the time the film’s ‘secret’ was revealed it had lost me. Up until the movie’s big reveal, Ryan Gosling’s, replicant K, had provided much of the story’s momentum; it wasn’t just a great Sci-Fi world but a great character driven piece. After the reveal Gosling didn’t seem to have a legitimate motivation to carry on, and because I couldn’t believe his actions made sense I was no longer fully invested in the story. Overall, I still enjoyed the movie, but there were a lot of moments that lingered with me for the wrong reasons.
Deckard replicant or human?
Sean’s verdict: Human because I want to believe he’s human. Although I only watched it last night and most of the evidence suggests I’m probably wrong.
The Final Slopinon
Bladerunner 2049 was initially very impressive. The fight between new Blade Runner, K (Ryan Gosling), and Dave Bautista, was an excellent example of how to give exposition through action. In this scene we learned that new Nexus-9 Replicants, like K, are now so obedient that they can be trusted to hunt down other androids, for fans of the original movie, that is an important change. Most of the elements of the world new/old were introduced in this manner; subtly, through action or well-chosen dialogue and that is important when the story is reliant on the audience suspending their disbelief. It becomes even more important when trying to sell such a vastly different world to an audience.
Another element that helped with the initial immersion in the world was the score. Daniel, and others commented on the music which felt like it was ‘unrelentingly bashing against your head.’ It was excellent and really suited the claustrophobic, atmosphere of a dystopian future. Lights and smoke were used again to create a vision of a world, although huge in size and scope, that felt cluttered, and unnerving — a world in which you always feel like you’re being watched.
The sequel can also boast something that the 1982 film cannot, it is filled with interesting, well rounded characters. In fact, the driving force throughout is Gosling’s protagonist, K, who, unlike Deckard (Harrison Ford) in the original, has clear goals and motivations for the things he does. We can empathise with him, so we care about what happens in his story.
Our issues with this movie, were largely with the second half. As mentioned earlier much of the exposition in the movie was done subtly, at times the dialogue was a lesson in brevity, packed with subtext but at other times it was convoluted, glib, and sometimes felt unnecessary. Like when Gosling raises a glass to himself and drinks a toast, ‘To strangers.’ Really? Who talks like that when they’re alone? That was clearly one for the cameras and it wasn’t profound, it was pointless. A common criticism of this movie is that the pacing is sluggish, and, moments like that, and some of the exchanges between characters served only to keep us in our seats longer without divulging any new information or pushing the narrative forward.
Niander (Jared Leto) and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) could have easily be one character which could have helped a long way in tightening the narrative and keeping the audience emotionally invested in the story. Leto’s screen time is minimal, and his presence felt impotent. He is a moustache twirling villain; the most two-dimensional character in the film, and oddly, considering that the movie focuses on the importance of pro-creation, all he does is undermine the threat posed by Luv, and as a result the final confrontation between her and Gosling feels hollow because her death doesn’t serve the story in any meaningful way.
The character of Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) and the ambiguity surrounding her — how much did she know? How could she possibly not recognise her own memories? — caused much debate in the pub afterwards. One thing we all agreed on was that the revelation that Ana, rather than K, was the ‘miracle child’ was one of the most jarring moments in the film because it stripped K of his chief motivation but that still didn’t stop him rushing off to rescue Deckard. It could be argued that the film’s theme of ‘dying for a cause’ gives him that reason but honestly, that has nothing on ‘more human than human’ — you can die for a bad cause for a start — and the beauty of the original film was that idea, that perhaps the replicants were indeed better than humans.
However, at the end of it all, with Deckard’s hand on the glass, with K laying on the steps (a pointed nod to the original, with the same music playing, as when Roy Batty utters his iconic ‘tears in the rain’ speech) we wanted more, and we hope that we’ll return to that world again soon.