Grunting at the Screen (240)

 

 

The information age isn’t finished with us.

 

 

 

 

Blade Runner: 2049

 

This is the one I never wanted to see made.

The original was enough in itself, self-contained. No part of it said “franchise”.

 

Nothing about it said “sequel”.

Ridley Scott wasn’t one to sequalise his films (he has made just three, only two of his own films). And the original ended quite decisively.

 

But here we are and we deal with the world we have, not the one we wanted.

 

First the positive.

The director, Denis Villeneuve is good and he made all of the right noises. He said he spent a long time rejecting bad Science Fiction scripts before he found Arrival. He was tired of the clichés of action Science Fiction. He is aware of the challenge of following up a classic, aware a frightened. So far so good.

 

Ridley Scott is the producer, I suspect he is a producer with a light hand, but let’s not get into that.

He also made all the right noises. He praised the script co-written by original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher.

 

And the cast looks solid enough.

 

What is more they filmed in Hungary and the UK, far, far from L.A. And believe me film quality can be inversely proportional to the level of studio interference.

 

 

Despite this I have concerns.

Blade Runner (1982) is very finely wrought indeed, part of its artistic success is the intensity of its vision the minuteness of its detail as it realises a world that is visually complete.

And it is poetic, a deep emotional story about what it means to be human.

Making a film like Blade Runner is not easy: you start with a skilled director and screenwriter and from there it gets harder; because even then you have to have the stars align; the production designer, the art director, the cinematographer, the film composer to just name a few all have to be working in concert… no that’s not the word, they have to have the intuition of twenty-year jazz veterans creating a single work of audio-visual harmony so complete that the effect is not just audience satisfaction but audience astonishment.

Because it will not be enough if Blade Runner: 2049 is good, it has to be magnificent, or it might as well not exist at all.

 

I have a lot of time for Denis Villeneuve, I believe he has already turned in his Science Fiction classic with the Oscar nominated Arrival. But this sequel is a curse I would not wish on anyone.

 

 

 

 

A Word about the Director.

To be honest I knew very little about Denis Villeneuve, and until The Arrival, pretty much nothing.

When I heard he was making Blade Runner: 2049, I googled some of his stuff. Scratched my head.

Did not seem likely.

After I saw The Arrival I appreciated him more, he had his head in the game, he was a thinking director, like Christopher Nolan.

But in cinematographic terms he was no Neill Blomkamp, he was no Zack Snyder, he was no Ridley Scott.

I have a certain term I use: “visualist”, it’s not in the dictionary. I mean a director who communicates largely through the elaborate and stylish use of visuals, who uses everything in the visual box of tricks to tell stories. There are maybe ten to fifteen of them working at the top end of the film industry at the moment.

Denis Villeneuve is not one of them. He’s a good film maker, and he has an eye. I’m watching Sicario, he does location filming extremely well, beautiful shots of the real world.

The point? He isn’t the one I would have picked for the job.

And I would probably have been wrong.

Villeneuve is growing on me, he’s a slow-burning director. As well as the flashy cinematography and FX, he also has little time for the fast cutting that has standard in action cinema.

He must have grown up with the MTV style of editing that has infested film-making since the 80s, he must know it well, yet his style is slow, deliberate and considered. It’s a Ridley Scott pace.

So he has intelligence instead of flash. It might be a good thing.

It does not hurt that he can work with actors and he has a feel for character.

 

 

 

All about the Money

One thing I did not consider, until late in the game is, would Blade Runner: 2049 actually make money?

The original performed pretty poorly.

 

Now, you, I and everyone else take it for granted that Blade Runner is a classic, a giant among Science Fiction movies. A while back someone held a poll: what is the best Science Fiction movie of 1982? And the result? Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. Well, everyone has an opinion.

 

And this is the point I am making. To cineastes Blade Runner is a deathless classic. To Science Fiction fans (and I am not talking about me) it is not Star Wars, It is not Star Trek.

 

If you see the huge pre-sales a certain Science Fiction franchise attracts, guaranteeing each sequel and spin-off will earn hundreds of millions before a single frame is screened, I have say Blade Runner: 2049 does not attract that kind of response.

 

In fact the reaction I expected was “Blade what?”: the older generation have by- and- large never seen the original on the big screen. * The younger generation know it only through its influence on games and anime.

 

Seriously.

 

This is not a quality issue. Not a matter if 2049 is good, bad or indifferent.

 

But if can fill some seats.

 

Now the publicity started ten months before release: at the time I wondered why they were so early out of the gate.

 

But it makes sense; to raise awareness, get a buzz going.

 

To prevent a case of future-history repeating itself.

 

 

 

The Blade Runner Homages

 

Although I am in doubt about Blade Runner: 2049, one thing have no problem with are the Blade Runner rip o.. er homages.

First of all they show regard to Ridley Scott’s classic. Imitation is so the best form of flattery.

Second, they show just how far that film’s influence has spread; may films are well regarded but leave little impression on film general. Not a problem here.

And thirdly many of them just look cool.

 

Do I have favourites? I certainly do; some are much better than others.

 

The funny thing about them is how widespread they are, you find them in advertisements, in horror movies (oh yes) in foreign films and animation. The imprint is unmistakable.

 

I am not even going to try to list them all. Just include some of my top picks.

 

 

Anime was one of the earliest places to acknowledge the new thing back when it was new in the early 80s. And the best example was Akira.

The megalithic cityscapes, the advertising and especially the glass bubbles on the building facades screamed Blade Runner.

 

You can see the arc of influence that began with European bandes dessinée, flowed through Ridley Scott’s “ridleygram” storyboards right into the Manga and then Anime of Katshihiro Otomo.

 

 

Blade Runner’s influence on Anime was general, but never so direct as on Bubblegum Crisis; there is a character called “Pris” a corporation residing in a massive Tyrell-style ziggurat amid a cityscape looking kind of familiar; so far no-one has been sued, but there is still time.

 

 

 

Blade Runner’s look is not just for straight Science Fiction, it works on action horror as well, as evidenced from the urban sequences in Priest. It is your megalith skyline with creepy religious dystopia flourishes but still the cityscape we know and love.

 

 

The urban futurity, with extra scuz has been a feature of both far-future visions and those from a long time ago in a galaxy far away; as evince from the sequences in the first Judge Dredd film and Star Wars: The Attack of the Clones.

 

 

http://www.starwars.com/news/the-cinema-behind-star-wars-blade-runner

 

 

The Fifth Element of course (Flying Cars!) I cannot entirely say it is a Blade Runner homage, because it brings the vision full circle right back to the bandes dessinée that originated the dense urban futurities, but they sure-as-hell hired Blade Runner’s FX techs. So make of it what you will.

 

 

 

And it has slipped into Music Video by Joseph Kahn who was once attached to the Neuromancer film.

 

 

But by far my favourite has been Natural City, the lost South-Korean Science Fiction classic. The look is perfect because they used the same techniques that made Blade Runner look so good.

 

 

Blade Runner in Fandom.

to be honest I have been concerned that some of the major fan websites have dropped into silence.

It seemed like an ominous foreboding.

But fan enthusiasm has been expressed in other ways.

 

SLICE OF LIFE

http://cyberpunkitalia.altervista.org/blog/slice-of-life-short-film-blade-runner/

Production Diary

 

 

 

 

https://filmfreeway.com/project/914696

 

What strikes me most is that fan films have been in production for years before work on Blade Runner: 2049 commenced, but yet the efforts are coming to fruition now.

 

Some people get really obsessive about Blade Runner; this site is all about getting the synthesised brass sound from the soundtrack.

http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2010/02/21/the-iconic-sounds-of-synthesis-vangelis-blade-runner-brass-sound/

 

Perhaps most Blade Runner activity has moved to social media. here are a couple of BR twitter sites:

 

https://twitter.com/hashtag/bladerunner?lang=en

 

https://twitter.com/maxbladerunner?lang=en-gb

 

 

 

 

Weirdly enough back in March I read How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor. Don’t worry, the relevance will be apparent. It’s fascinating book; I read the chapter “The Line” all about the line in front of the Coronet cinema in San Francisco 1999, waiting for the debut of the Phantom Menace.

We know how that ended: with confusion, disappointment and bitterness.

And now we come to Blade Runner: 2049. The sequel appearing thirty five years after the original.

It was not inevitable that this debut will also be accompanied by confusion, disappointment and bitterness. After all, Mad Max: Fury Road was a storming success.

 

 

 

A Second Bite at the Cherry

I have no problem admitting I came to 2049 with an opinion.

At the root of it is the question; why would you ever follow up a classic movie?

you are on a hiding to nowhere: look at the matrix of it:

 

You love it and want to make something as good, but how is that possible? Classic movies only happen when the heavens align; cast, script director and crafts-people work in harmony. You think you’ll have that luck?

 

OK alternative two, you want to coast it; the film has a brand, the audience will come anyway, why try? Well why should we bother go, oh some of us will, the zombie hoards who just go see what we’ve seen before.

 

Alternative three, fuck-it, who cares about the original movie anyway. Take the money do what want and run. Well that is obviously cinematic poison.

 

You may think there is an option four, one where a great film maker makes a great film and the audience goes to it and loves it. But there is no such option. It is an outside possibility but you can’t choose it because the chances of it happening are just that: chance. The difference between good and great is probability.

which is why I say take that throw of the dice and make an original film so your film won’t always be compared to something that will always be better that it is.

 

 

Once I realised that Denis Villeneuve sincerely wished to make a good job of a Blade Runner sequel and he came to it from a place of familiarity and love, I knew it would not be fair to write a review that compared it to the original.

And yet it is impossible to unsee Blade Runner, and I’d have to unsee it a score of times in a dozen different circumstances.

So I plan two reviews.

The fair review is to look at it as a fresh film, without baggage, without comparison and ask; how does it work as a film I have “happened upon”.

 

The second review is as a viewer with great love for Blade Runner, love and awareness of its faults, and ask; how does it work as a sequel, how does it compare. It is not a fair question, but it is also not fair to unearth a masterpiece with intentions of extending it.

As I have said before, when people say “RoboCop” they mean 1987 not 2014, “The Thing. ” 1982 not 2011 (and not even 1951!), “Total Recall” 1990 not 2012.

Your precious reboot is likely to be swept under by the tide of history.

 

 

 

Just looking at the trailer made me aware that Denis Villeneuve did not intend to make a pastiche of Blade Runner. There were several indications. The cinematography and production design were different. The production design in particular was less busy, cleaner, plainer; un-Blade Runner.

He didn’t bring back Vangelis to do the soundtrack, although he brought back the main theme, kind of. I noticed in the first teaser trailer it was not Vangelis, there is a density of layers in the original, not present in the trailer music.

The released concept art made it clear we were getting a different take on future Los Angeles: instead of constant rain, there is snow.

More than one writer has remarked that 2049 takes us somewhere the original never did; out of the city. This opens the possibility of a Blade Runner not visually comparable to the original. Denis Villeneuve doing his own thing.

 

 

I saw an article that Blade Runner: 2049 could be up for an Oscars. I can reassure everyone that nominated or not there is zero chance of it winning: here is why. It is a science fiction movie; it is hard as hell to get one of these nominated, even in these enlightened days for the Film Academy “Science Fiction” equals “trash”. Second it is a sequel, this doubly damns it. The age when sequels were automatically inferior has passed, but the members of the academy are old, the news may not have reached them.

There is world that it might be up for technical Oscars. Ah, there is a problem. Although it is not acknowledged this is the paradoxical aspect of the Oscars. The Academy is reluctant to award popular movies for their art (it happens, but it is a struggle) , so great films that had the misfortune to be box office smashes are given consolation prises in the form of technical Oscars; they get awarded for their FX, Cinematography, sound design anything that will not suggest “best Director or Best Film”.

Blade Runner: 2049 falls neatly between stools. It is not a talky, one room, actor’s vehicle and thus will not win Best Picture. But it has not made a ton of money so it will not win technical Oscars either. I predict. before even opening, the Oscars for Best FX and Production design will go to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here at last is my review of Blade Runner: 2049.

I have tried to avoid saying too much, but you better not read it until you have seen the film

So let’s just say SPOILERS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blade Runner: 2049

Review

It’s huge, magnificent, no majestic.

And very good.

But the most important thing you should know is that this is a Denis Villeneuve film, and the virtues he brought to The Arrival are in full display here.

 

OK, the set up. It is 2049, humans have created a stronger humanoid class of servants called replicants, but the replicants have revolted. For a time they were banned , but a new industrialist has created a generation of entirely obedient replicants. The earlier generations of replicants are prohibited from earth, where found they are hunted down by special policemen called Blade Runners.

 

K is one such Blade Runner. He is on a routine retirement of a military model named Sapper, hiding out in the form of a worm farmer.

The job takes a strange turn when Sapper taunts K, that he “has never witnessed a miracle”, and then K discovers a mystery, a missing body from thirty years ago, and a secret that can shake the world to its core.

 

 

Wallace, the antagonist is interesting. he is the industrialists who has taken over from Eldon Tyrell. the business of building replicants Where Tyrell wanted to be a god (“It is not an easy thing to meet your maker”) Wallace is determined to be the Devil. But not a cartoon devil with horns and tail, but the majestic Lucifer of Dante Alighieri’s Paradise Lost. Wallace is determined to storm heaven and retake Eden (he even says so!)

 

I can’t actually reveal much at all without spoiling the plot.

 

The music is electronic, ominous, the cinematography is magnificent, the tone is visually cold and spare, and emotionally just about the same.

The performances are also cold and distant, with only Harrison Ford bringing a warm, if taciturn approach to his character. Yes it’s a pretty dour film and only Wallace’s personal assistant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) looks like she is actually having fun (if in a chilly, sociopathic way).

 

There are a lot of lovely things in here; like K’s hologram companion, a girlfriend who goes above and beyond to make him feel cared for, eventually it is subtly creepy and even horrific.

 

Similarly there is a moment (which of course I cannot tell you about because it spoils the plot) which makes us worry that we might treat replicants as casually as holograms.

 

Animals figure in the imagery: a bull, a horse and a dog. Sometimes they have symbolic significance.

 

The pace, as expected is gradual, surpassingly it does not have dead spots, although it is very French.

 

And I do mean “French” not “Canadian”, “French Canadian Or “Quebecois”. Yes I know Denis Villeneuve is Quebecois.

French Science Fiction films have a habit of heavily telegraphing their major plot points and even their revelations, and for a while you think 2049 is following the same pattern, you can see where things are going and want to shout to the character “go down that passage, that’s where it is!” and “or course it is, what else did you think?”. However you must remember, this is a Denis Villeneuve film, and if you recognise his methods, they are in effect here and you will be surprised.

 

The production design here is very competent, largely clean and very simple, I very much enjoyed the Las Vegas scenes. The FX are largely unobtrusive, except the hologram stuff. And to be honest I am not a huge fan of holograms in SF movies…

 

Talking of which; are there any negative comments? Well there is a scene where K brings back a present for his holographic girlfriend, it is a device that allows her to leave the apartment . Hme. Like the one for Rimmer in Red Dwarf. It’s not as fresh as it thinks. There is a more relevant niggle, K is being tracked, This is not a spoiler, if you have seen the teaser trailer, it is announced. However, the question of who is tacking him and how his is tracked is very important for the film, it changes everything.

Then there is the decision of a character to do something (yeah, I know) which seems to fly in the face of the goal to keep a secret.

 

Other than that, this is a major Science Fiction movie, well made and worth seeing twice.

 

However, I would not go as far as calling it a classic.

OK END OF REVIEW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now the unpleasant matter of the Box Office. Blade Runner: 2049 made $31.5m at the US Box Office, lower than the estimated 40m and much lower than is comfortable for a major motion picture with a big budget.

 

In Grunt 239 I sarcastically suggested that the film makers were trying to lose money.

Having seen the movie I have to say, without Irony, that this may have been the intention, because there is no way this film would make blockbuster box office.

And here is why:

In the past 30 years Science Fiction film has transformed into Action Science Fiction, blame Spielberg, blame Lucas, but when the spectacle came in the door, the ideas went out the window, and anytime you try to make a film with even the simplest ideas the audience says “ooh my head hurts!”

Blade Runner; 2045 will give Star Wars fans a head ache.

 

Even so, a few ideas might have snuck through if this had been a full tilt, pulse pounding picture. Not happening, not only is this longer than the original Blade Runner, the pace is careful, gradual and contemplative. This tosses most so-called current Science Fiction fans out the theatre on an ejector seat.

 

It also cut deeply into its audience by throwing in the nudity and making it an R rated film.

 

So: slow, full of ideas and nudity, looks like Denis Villeneuve and Ridley Scott just made the world’s most expensive art film.

 

Hey, it was worth it.

 

But before we lay all of the responsibility on the film let’s note, 2049 was the number 1 movie in a week where the number 2 took a third of the box office. It was quiet week.

 

The question is does it have legs? Mad Max Fury Road, opened quietly but hung on in the top ten until it earned a respectable amount. I don’t think his will be so for Blade Runner 2049. It is a quieter, more contemplative movie, and word of mouth will be that it is more of a brow-wrinkler than a crowd-pleaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Other News

 

 

 

 

Netflix optioned Daniel Suarez’s face-swap thriller, Change Agent. Suarez is used to getting his books snatched up, he previously sold Daemon and Influx.

 

 

 

So you’ve heard about the next Alien? I know the answers should be “what next Alien” after the box office performance of Alien: Covenant, you would have thought that had put paid to any talk of further sequels. Not yet; Ridley Scott is determined that the show must go on. He was saying before Covenant’s release that now he had control of the series back, he was never letting it go.

So, during the publicity for Blade Runner: 2049 Ridley was inevitably asked about Alien Movies to come .

He has big plans for the next one, but this time he wants to look at the future of artificial intelligence.

It is kind of a relief and a disappointment; he has wrapped up what he wants to say about the origin of the alien itself. However I feel like we have a missing middle, the story of the Engineer aliens of Prometheus, why they created humanity, why they wanted to destroy it.

 

Anyway. Likely story is there will be no sequel, until perhaps five years from now, because everything gets rebooted.

 

 

 

 

It seems ever since “IT” became a hit Steven King has been the flavour of the month. Latest property to be picked up is the massive tome he co-wrote with Peter Straub “The Talisman”.

Josh Boone will be writing the script.

 

 

 

Original science fiction is not quite dead. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s novel Children of Time is up for feature film adaptation.

I’ve read it , and it’s different, kind fun.

Earth is finished, the last colonist from earth are on their way to a new planet; it is supposed to be a paradise but during the journey it has been inhabited by giant intelligent spiders. Oops.

Colby Day is writing the script, no word on cast director or schedule yet.

 

 

 

 

We have a release date for the Science Fiction movie Defective (Grunting 237) it’s 17th Oct… if you live in Canada. No word on a US release, as for the UK… whistle for it.

 

 

 

So they released Geostorm, I’m kind of surprised. This is a disaster movie from Dean Devlin, the former film-making partner of Roland Emmerich (creator of some of the loudest disaster movies of recent years” 2112, Day after Tomorrow).

This time Gerard Butler is the scientist trying to stop the largest storm in history.

Hme.

I’ve read some reviews and I cannot claim to be surprised by the negative comments: uninspired, unintentionally funny. The actors are said to be miscast, and their performances, unconvincing. There is a scarcely an aspect that survives scrutiny. Even the FX (usually satisfactory in Devlin films) is said to be under par.

Hopefully this puts the cap on this particular run of Disaster films.

In coming years perhaps we can have a cinema that addresses deeper and more resonant view of relations between humanity and the climate.

 

 

Here we go again, you can’t maintain respect as a major director without publicly hating something, either Netflix or Marvel, David Fincher seems to actually quite like Netflix so, like Tim Burton , John Landis, Peter Jackson and Mel Gibson he has to declare against Marvel.

He now claims to speak for a large pool of talent who thinks there “is not much of sustenance working for Marvel”.

Interesting. Of course if you actually work for Marvel, as an increasingly larger pool of directors do, you might well disagree, especially if you find yourself directing multiple movies as The Russo Brothers do or if you have come from the television or independent film sector as just about all Marvel directors do.

In fact, what Fincher and the above list of major directors have in common is that they have never made a film for Marvel Studios, and there is no evidence that they have been asked.

What makes Marvel Studios interesting (in that respect) is the fact they are a home to interesting directors from outside of the “pool” of well know talent. They just don’t hire from the three big sources of blockbuster directors: The Action directors (including Michael Bay) The Art pool (including most of Marvel’s detractors) and the pool of directors coming up from advertising, and music videos.

This puts a big divide between them and Warner/DC who hire Zack Snyder, and (Post Success) Joss Wheldon. (In fact DC’s greatest success came when it went took a leaf out of Marvel’s book and Hired Patty Jenkins).

(Of course, with the increasing hand Disney is taking in Marvel’s policy, that may soon change).

Everyone needs to relax over the notion that Marvel is all-powerful. Super hero movies are a trend, and like all trends it will run its course.

 

 

 

Aside from Pacific Rim 2 there has been a marked lack of robot movies. Strange after years that have yielded quite a few; Ex Machina, Vice, Chappie. This is set to change with I Am Mother . The was first blogged in Grunt (219) as just “Mother” when it was a Black List screenplay. A robot mother raises a human girl to repopulate the earth.

There is now real movement.

Hilary Swank has been cast and it is now in production. No release date.

 

 

 

 

I have read a review for Takeshi Miike’s Blade of the immortal., and it is actually quite welcomed.

 

 

 

The live-action Fullmetal Alchemist will get its US Premiere at Anime NYC November 19.

 

 

 

Hah, Hah, Hah. Hollywood are trying to make a Lone Wolf and Cub movie! Paramount has bought the rights and they want the director of Fast and Furious to make it.

Andrew Kevin Walker is the writer. Justin Lin is director they have planned for it. No casting yet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Three times, since you ask, once in the Caribbean

 

 

I’m Jack Eris and if you know me, you know Jack.

 

 

And if you want some movie news about other than sequels and reboots try

http://screenanarchy.com/

 

And if you want to walk the wild side of genre video, try Starburst’s review section

http://www.starburstmagazine.com/reviews/DVD-and-blu-ray-home-entertainment-reviews

 

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