Denis Villeneuves sci-fi sequel repudiates the breathless fury of modern-day money-spinners in favour of a hypnotically unhurried formula. It wont catch on will it?
Blockbusters seem faster and more furious than ever, and not only because producers are desperate to slipstream the success of Vin Diesel’s tyre-screeching franchise. Even as baseline running days have sailed past two hours, the majority of would-be tentpole movies seem resolutely anti-downtime, charging through their story beats in commotions of frantic editing and punch-drunk action.
In a year of worsening assaults such as the fantasy mish-mash tosh of King Arthur, the heavy-metal headache of a fifth Transformers movie and Kingsman‘s caffeinated, cartwheeling sequel, the languid pace of Blade Runner 2049 stands out like 2001′ s monolith: a mesmerising reminder of cinema’s capability to instil awe. At one point it is revealed how the most recent replicants are “born”, splurging from suspended sac filled with amniotic fluid. Denis Villeneuve and his cinematographer Roger Deakins seem to have agreed on a similarly immersive approach, practically drowning viewers in visual immensity.
Blade Runner 2049′ s serious-minded stateliness could be seen as Villeneuve’s faithfulness to the cyborg-circadian rhythms of the original- what Peter Bradshaw described as Ridley Scott’s” massively controlled andante tempo “. There are a chorus of visual, sonic and psychological echoes between the sequel and its forebear. Thirty-five years ago, Harrison Ford’s dogged Deckard gazed intently at a photo, informing a proto-Siri computer to pore over it until a crucial clue was disclosed. That ritual incantation is repeated multiple times in 2049, with different watchful characters examining, analysing, zooming in on details. It feels like an invitation is being extended to the audience, too: find, absorb, contemplate.
At the centre of such studies of stillness is Ryan Gosling’s methodical blade athlete K, often glimpsed in a cramped retro kitchenette shooting in the gorgeously heightened chiaroscuro of a Renaissance canvas. With his high-collared trenchcoat and melancholy poker face, K is as much of an old-school gumshoe as his gruff predecessor, even if the “runner” in their job description increasingly seems inaccurate. Despite being issued with a flying LAPD Peugeot, K is a defiantly shoe-leather detective. As Villeneuve’s camera shadows him navigating the teeming, tech-strangled LA of 2049 and its neighbouring irradiated wastelands, Gosling rarely induces it to a pace that Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t match. For the returning Ford- who appeared a little puffed out as Indy a decade ago and broke his leg while constructing The Force Awakens- the methodical pacing must have been a relief.
Blade Runner 2049′ s slim selection of action scenes were diced up and stuffed into pre-release trailers to juice up the hype. When they arrive in the film, these sequences are exciting and often alarming but their concussive impact is never at the expense of visual comprehension. Characters may crash through walls but it is never unclear where those walls are in relation to the mayhem. These occasional jolts of intensity do not snap us out of the film’s hypnotic spell, which remains persuasive enough to build the 163 -minute duration feel like something to luxuriate in rather than an endurance exam.
While the cinema is already on track to construct some serious money with punters, it might be its reception from critics that sees it be removed from from jumbo-sized cerebral outlier to a genuine industry disrupter.
Casting around for reasons set out above 2017 has, overall, been a financial cowpat for Hollywood, studios have pointed their thumb at review-aggregating sites such as Rotten Tomatoes. Blade Runner 2049′ s beefy 90% on the Tomatometer may well inspire execs to crib from Villeneuve’s amazing instance, in the manner of the post-Avengers mania for” cinematic cosmoes “.
Best case? A new wave of contemplative blockbuster film-making, probably in 2019, since it usually takes around two years for studios to rip off unexpectedly successful notions. And worst? An implacable inundate of molasses-paced movies that slavishly copy Blade Runner 2049′ s lugubrious pacing with none of the artistic or intellectual panache. They would be the worst kind of replicants.
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