Wednesday, October 11, 2017

OSCAR WATCH: Blade Runner 2049

If there's one thing you can't fault Denis Villeneuve for, it's his ambition. Since his Oscar-nominated foreign language breakthrough "Incendies", this gifted French-Canadian has successfully crossed over to Hollywood, taking the industry by storm with his awe-inspiring directorial vision. Indeed, with each new film, he has charted new cinematic heights, amassing praise for the stunning scope and scale of his productions. It therefore gives me no pleasure to admit that I was left disappointed by his most ambitious effort to date - "Blade Runner 2049".

As the title suggests, the film takes place in the year 2049, 30 years after the events of the original film. In this future society, the bioengineered humans called replicants have been redesigned to obey, allowing them to act as blade runners to eliminate the remnants of older models. One such blade runner is a man simply known as "K" (played by Ryan Gosling), who is sent on missions to infiltrate a rebel movement of replicants fighting for freedom. During one portentious mission, he comes across the remains of a female replicant. And upon further analysis, it is revealed that she died in childbirth. This shocking revelation calls into question the humanity of the longstanding practice of using replicants as slaves. The authorities therefore try to cover up this potential scandal. But K is hell-bent on finding answers, which takes him on a journey that will change his world forever.

"Blade Runner" fans will be pleased to learn that this new outing retains the philosophical essence of its predecessor. This time however, the mythology is deepened further, improving on the dystopian vision by incorporating ecosystem collapse. Indeed, Villeneuve's expansive world-building is truly something to behold. And with great style, he maintains the grungy noir atmosphere, albeit spruced up with modern production values, such as the Oscar-worthy Cinematography and Production Design.

The visuals are almost staggering at times, complimented by the bold, immersive sound design (Oscar noms for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing are a lock) that has become a staple of Villeneuve's work. And the storyline is just as rich, though at nearly 3 hours, it struggled to keep me engaged throughout. In fact, the only thing measured about this film are its performances, notably by Gosling in the lead role. There's an intensity to him that is gripping and often saves the film through its dull patches.

"Blade Runner 2049" is bigger in every way, but is it actually better? I'm not fully convinced by this lauded Best Picture contender. Despite its considerable virtues, the film left me cold. Whereas "Blade Runner" was concise yet still intellectually and emotionally stimulating, this grandiose and overly cerebral feels superflous in comparison. There's undoubtedly some outstanding filmmaking on display (I would certainly support a Best Director nod for Villeneuve). But for me, it was maybe too much of a good thing.