06 October 2017

Dangerous Days 2049

This is a big pop cultural, weekend folk! Except...is it? Today we see Blade Runner 2049 (2017) come out, a whole thirty-five years after the original, which is also property advanced thirty years into its own future. It's amazing that we're actually not quite up to the November 2019 where Blade Runner (1982) takes place, but maybe we can get another sequel with an old-ass Ryan Hosling in the year 2047 called Blade Runner 2079. That'd be sweet.

But let's talk this out, and this post could go on for a while. First, let's quickly mention the other wide releases we won't bother even pretending to get into this week: The Mountain Between Us (2017) and My Little Pony (2017). The former is quasi-Oscar bait, and adult adventure-drama that seemed to me a little contrived, but with a solid pair of actors at the helm. I'm super-vaguely interested. And I do feel like My Little Pony should be getting more hype than it is, considering its cultural cache, but to be fair, that cache is really only potent for little girls and weird grown men. This is going to be a really weird theater experience for thousands of families out there. To be fair, it feels a lot like The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017) a few weeks back (ugh, Ninjago, I have such a complicated relationship with you, now), in that it's based on a pretty well established TV Show that doesn't actually have a lot of crossover appeal. I don't see either of these doing particularly well.

You're a long way from jazz, boy.
So, on to 2049. First thing's first, this ought to at least win the weekend, considering it really just has to clear the $9 or $10 million that either IT (2017) or Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) or American Made (2017) will make. That should be doable, right? Well, we all seem to be forgetting that Blade Runner 2019 did fucking dogshit in theaters. Actually, check out this weekend. It lost to E.T. (1982) in its third week, but other films include Rocky III (1982), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), The Thing (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Conan the Barbarian (1982), and the white version of Annie (1982). What a time to be a nerd. Also, every single one of these films had a remake or sequel within the past six years, with the exception of E.T., which is kind of a miracle. It's about time we got around to Blade Runner.

Part of my point, though, is that most people really hated Blade Runner 2019. It was long, slow, pretentious, had a terrible phoned-in Harrison Ford voiceover, and more importantly, totally fucked with expectations. This was Harrison Ford hot off of two Star Wars films and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). and Ridley Scott hot off of Alien (1979). It was all wrapped up in a promising new sci-fi world of androids and corporations and eyeballs. Not to mention that it had the coolest name ever (changed from "Dangerous Days" which is okay but not nearly as sweet, and definitely a step up from the Philip K. Dick thoughtful but less sexy source material title, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"). "Blade Runner" could be the coolest title ever. What the hell is a Blade Runner? In the film it's a specialized cop who hunts down replicants, or bioengineered androids, but that title doesn't mean anything. Perhaps it's indicative of the perilous lifestyle, teetering on the edge of a blade? The disregard for safety, hence running rather than being cautious? Or is it yet another indicator of Deckard's precarious position, ready to fall on one side or another - human or replicant? Totally cool, but any meaning has to be inferred.

But getting back on track, this is a classic case of expectation vs. reality cinematic dissonance. Instead of Indiana Jones in Space featuring the most bankable actor of his generation, we got a long, boring, contemplative study of what it's like to be human surrounded by occasional flaming smoke stacks. Even in the good versions, including the (for now) definitive 2007 re-re-release, the pacing in this movie is just damned terrible. I can't imagine what 1982 audiences felt.

And that's just it - it feels like audiences have forgotten what Blade Runner actually is. It's like it's 1982 all over again. This is Ryan Gosling in Drive (2011) mode, not La La Land (2016) mode. It's Denis Villenueve who had a solid hit last year with Arrival (2016), but favors challenging audiences rather than catering to them. And dammit, this is the long, contemplative, neo noir world of Blade Runner, not The Force Awakens (2015).

At some point after its release, everyone decided that they were supposed to love Blade Runner. I constantly debate whether or not it's a good movie, but the cinematic community generally agrees it's sweet. I think they like the dark noir aspects, which present a very different sci-fi environment from most cheerful looks at the future. Yet it's not a total apocalyptic or dystopian society, either. It's more settled into its characters and a very specific problem, which almost isn't a problem at all. Keep in mind that Deckard doesn't even kill Roy Batty the big bad replicant - he just dies from his lifespan running out. You've got to hand it to Rutger Hauer for being insane and making up that Tannhauser Gate bit, and "tears in the rain" which is just brilliant and ridiculous that it was totally improvised.

This points towards a few ridiculous issues with this film. Besides it being slower than molasses, for every scene that brilliant contemplates the meaning of life and humanity there is a weirdo fucking scene of conscious toy Napoleon Bears walking around. I hate J.F. Sebastian. He's a schmuck, and that's fine, but he's also sad and creepy as hell. He'd be sad enough but then we learn that he's only 25 for some reason and has a degenerative aging disease. Why is that in this film? To make a parallel with the replicants themselves? That's something, but there's not a lot more to infer.

And again, why is Deckard even hired for this job? Basically just because replicants are outlawed due to either a fear of technology or a fear of losing what it means to be human. The replicants don't really cause any trouble, except for when they're either threatened, or in Tyrell's case, because he doomed them to that early four-year lifespan. They're simultaneously manipulative and emotionally underdeveloped, which is a rough combination, but a death sentence is a little harsh right? Are they human or property? These are the questions that make Blade Runner resonate and even as I'm trashing it, emerge and make me reconsider.

1982 Deckard was a grump - this will
be Grumpy Harrison UNLEASHED!
Still, my point is that if you just wait, this problem will solve itself, although who knows what other lives would be caught in their anarchy. It's super fucked up that Deckard only kills the two females (Sean Young's Rachel kills Leon and Roy just...dies). Also this whole thing is pretty inexcusable, even if it was the 80s. There's also that completely out of place scene where Harrison Ford affects and effeminate voice to disguise himself to the stripper Zhora for some reason, like he's trying to be funny but is totally out of character and fairly offensive. I also don't really buy the Deckard is a replicant thing, but hell, even Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford disagree. One of the things about this sequel that worries me the most is how they'll deal with this essential question, and enduring thirty-year mystery full of debate, subtle clues, and unicorns.

That has probably played some part in Blade Runner's longevity, but above all else, this film has sustained itself despite a solid amount of sloppy acting and plotting because of its visuals. The production design is unparalleled and the cinematography is magnificent. Everyone always talks about Blade Runner's influence, but it's a viable point. Every post-1982 future urban noir resembles this film. Why stop there - movies ranging from The Fifth Element (1997) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) look like they could take place in this world. It's so bad that I also fear that 2049 will look like it's ripping off thirty years of other science fiction in its iconography, but it's really just more Blade Running. It helps that the only advanced technology was flying cars and the replicants themselves, although that is the most intense zoom and enhance scene in movie history.

Despite the cinematic influence, or perhaps because of it, Blade Runner is one franchise that was never really much more than its solitary film. There were certainly no previous sequels, but not really any children's animated TV show or mainstream comic books, despite it being pretty popular amongst nerds. We got two issues back in '82, a video game in '97 that was well-received, but not really influential, a Canadian mini-series that combined it with concepts from Total Recall (1990) for some reason, and a series of sequel books in the mid-90s. I'm curious how many of these you guys have heard of or read or seen or played. I'm a fan and this is all new to me.

Then there's this blind chode
There's a lot to like about what's going on here. Ridley Scott tends to either make huge awesomely great films or massive massive disasters, and although popular consensus is that Blade Runner leans towards the former, I don't think it's the sci-fi masterpiece it's been accepted as over the past twenty years. Denis Villenueve, though, is an up and coming relentless filmmaker, and if this flick trends more towards its roots in integrity and auspicious filmmaking, then I'd be really excited. If it's another shitty cash grab franchise-starter, well, then fuck that. The rest of the cast includes the great Robin Wright, a Dave Bautista that is either a nerd or a badass, and the always insane Jared Leto, whose schtick I've been sick of since Lord of War (2005).

There's actually a lot of other interesting cast bits. Mackenzie Davis hot off of "San Junipero" from Black Mirror. Ana de Armas, who I only really know from being super hot in Knock Knock (2015), but has been in better shit since. I mostly just love how she paired with Keanu again in Exposed (2016) playing a totally different relationship. Anyway, we also got Edward James Olmos, just because this cast was getting far too beautiful with Armas, Leto, and Gosling in the mix. Keep in mind that EJO was 35 during the first Blade Runner. He's 70 now. Gross!

What do you think about 2049? Stupid? Going to keep waiting until 2079? Are all our lives meaningless and designed by some higher power who cares not if we live or die? Watch Blade Runner and find out!

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