I have to preface this by admitting to not being a cinephile at all – I usually watch a few motion pictures a year, if that. But I am indeed fascinated by the most important films, be they of widespread fame or aficionados’ laurels. This time, I decided finally to check out the Blade Runner franchise.
1 Blade Runner (1982). In the very first 10 min of this cult classic, we have an… exposition dump! Isn’t the breaking of the Show, don’t tell adage a major cinema sin?
My main criticism, however, would lie in its characterisation (or lack thereof) of its Replicants. The question is – why make their number five, if only two (2) of them have any character arcs at all? The girl with the snake and the other guy die in a few seconds after having barely any exposition or explanation, whereas Pris, while enjoying plenty of screen time, is still confusing to me, and frankly, her arc is non-existent. Immediately on my first viewing, I wondered whether her encounter with Sebastian was a bait, yet I couldn’t make up the answer with that meagre information the film gives the viewer. Roy later finds them both for whatever reason, so she was indeed a bait? Yet Pris behaved in an utterly care-free manner, making it a really weird plot point. …And later on, she dies with barely any words, like a mook.
So, we have two somewhat characterised Replicants… Or, should I say, 1.5, because while Rachael is getting plenty of development (in Deckard’s bedroom), Roy’s final chase scene is so bewildering, I couldn’t even understand whether he wanted to kill Deckard at all (which he didn’t in the end).
And the general points about Ridley Scott – I still fail to understand why he’s considered a well-beloved director, his style is absolutely obnoxious, drawn-out for no reason, masking with long shots his lack of substance. The aesthetic is on point, I’ll give him that (but still, the lack of sunlight is nowhere expressly mentioned).
2 Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Now this film struck me as an unquestionable masterpiece. While a detective-like bundle of plot threads, that confusion was still used to further the development of its characters and not for its own sake. And I get the impression that the character arcs were not merely an arbitrary jumble, but each tried to give its own answer to the major philosophical question.
There was one point where I wondered whether the film couldn’t make up its mind about the end to the character – the double death of JOI. Yet then it hit me – what if that was a reference to Karl Marx’s aphorism of “History repeats itself twice – first as a tragedy, then as a farce”? Hits rather close to home, considering the situation in my Ukrainian country (and giving characters a satisfactory ending is overall difficult).
Bare with me, this is not an empty claim – the marvelous later scene where Deckard is faced with a recording of his voice from Blade Runner (1982) is a little exploration of the historical method as we know it, a contrast between the conjecture based on material evidence, and the living experience of the historical figures, their mnemonic account.
Of course, roleplaying is a major theme of the film – the choice of the K/Joe character as to his own self-image among the other moving pieces. And the twist at the end serves not to subvert the viewers’ expectations, but to reframe the entire story from the inside, to look at it from a different angle while retaining its essence.
Regarding some other points – I was absolutely blown away by how realistic the interaction with the sex-bot was. Maybe it was indeed foreseen by the wise men of the past century, but that one interaction where K/Joe forcefully insists that that day was his “anniversary” with JOI is exactly how modern kids interact with their AI – that’s an uncanny experience of being part of the movie, which I do appreciate.
A delightful part of the film is also the few relatively unassuming places where it inserts various femdom kink aesthetic, including step-mommy-dom, pet play and even giantess play – it was tastefully and unassumingly placed, almost as if for the people in the know.
On the other hand, while having 4 female characters (2 sub, 2 domme), they all revolved around a single white male through whose lens the viewer experiences the story. Again, a delectable choice.
Some final points – I do appreciate Denis Villeneuve’s aping Scott’s drawn-out shots while also filling them with substance, it’s the best of both worlds. He explains the lack of sunlight much better, it is an actual plot point instead of a random neo-noir stylistic approach; he balances slow scenes and dialogue with incredible information density and plain variety; the lighting overall characterises the very atmosphere of each scene so well (the orange sunset/autumn-esque lighting of the Korean bar place followed by the final snowfall of the end scene).
In conclusion, Blade Runner (1982) left me largely disappointed, whereas its apparently terrible sequel (© Random Film Talk) turned out to be a masterpiece, both in its micro execution and the general macro decisions.