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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Thriller > Artificial Intelligence > Replicants > Mystery > Murder > Crime > Blade Runner 2049 (2017/Warner 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017/Warner 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray)

4K Ultra HD Picture: A- 1080p Picture: B Sound: A- Extras: C+ Film: B-

In the sea of sequels, remakes, revivals, 're-imaginings' and franchises, it is no wonder so many bad films get made, especially with big price tags that show even most of them (too many cinematically illiterate to begin with) know that they are making awful work and cannot tell you who the audience for most of the duds are for. It was not always that way in Hollywood, where they used to be able to tell the difference between a major motion picture and B-movie. Serials and movie series may have had low budgets, but the more ambitious ones were fun and more watchable and entertaining than most of the tentpole disasters of the last few years. That also means the big films that had something to say or show were the hoped for hits that would have respectability, were made for smart adults, might win awards and a few might even become classics.

When did this change? There were always blockbusters, some more than at other times, but usually when you made a film that really, really worked, the idea was to spend the energy and resources trying to find something new instead of cheapening the achievement or selling it out. A sequel would make a classic seem like it made some kind of mistake, did not mean what it said or showed and was a childish affair. Even a big budget, big screen movie series (from James Bond and Star Wars, neither of which knew they'd be series, though they intended to be!) knew what not to repeat and knew to go in new direction to survive. But then, for better and worse came The Godfather films.

Made under unusual circumstances (the book gets bought, then suddenly becomes a best seller as production is happening, so the director (Francis Coppola) is followed by an 'instant replacement director' so the studio can protect their potential blockbuster) was a serious critical and commercial hit, but Coppola and author Mario Puzo had more to say and show, plus they would finally have the freedom to totally do what they wanted, thus we should think of the first two films in the series as one in some respect. That the sequel was also a big hit (despite no Marlon Brando) and critical hit, that opened the gates for sequels to 'anything' and that has produced a bad moviemaking mentality, as well as some of the oddest choices for sequels ever made.

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) was a compromised film that landed up with multiple versions, yet did become a classic because fans and filmmakers gravitated to its look, themes and the density of the world that was created. It would also become a classic of serious science fiction like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and neo-Noir classic like Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), so doing a sequel to any of these classics have high risks, yet the studios involved decided to try for what they expected could be potential Godfather II situations by getting highly talented people to make sequels to films that really did not need them.

Godfather III (1990) was so problematic, Coppola (rebellious as ever!) bashes the money motivations for making the film at the start of his own audio commentary on the film, then explains what he tried to do to make it work anyhow, but it was 16 years later and especially without Robert Duvall, the film was too compromised and too late, which was can also say about The Two Jakes (also 1990, also Paramount Pictures), a belated sequel no one expected out of Chinatown (turns out the writers wanted a trilogy back in 1974!) with Jack Nicholson (who directed it!) back as Detective Jake Gittes. The case from the 1974 film resurfaces in a new case, but I give the makers credit for not shying away from the dread of the first film.

Peter Hyams (Outland) directed 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984, seven years after Spielberg's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) also 16 years later by coincidence. Kubrick was asked back as it was based on the sequel book by Arthur C. Clarke, but Kubrick (unhappy about not getting all of his 2001 royalties among other things) said no, though he helped Hyams a bit and Clarke did much more. Unfortunately, the film was too talky, had technology that looked more dated (analog TV picture tubes especially) and awful insights in its predictions (the Soviet Union exists in the film, but would fall two decades before!!!) means the film should have been called '1983' and did so bad, no more Clarke books would be optioned. Ironically, Outland, released a year before Blade Runner by the same studio (Warner Bros.) and production company (The Ladd Company) held up much better and was much more influential (it and Scott's Alien helped usher in Blade Runner's dark post-modern dystopian look) and the film influenced all kinds of outer space films, down to those by James Cameron.

So after several cancelled attempts (including Soldier, with Kurt Russell in a film using a recycled script from one of those attempts), we get a Blade Runner sequel 35 (!!!!) years alter entitled Blade Runner 2049 from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario). Like all those other serious sequels, they were made with big hopes and expectations in mind, planned for big 70mm blow-up releases (even when shot on lower-definition formats) and big screen multi-channel sound and set up as prestige releases the studios thought would be big hits. Sadly, history repeated itself so far again with 2049 (as we shall refer to it henceforth) with the film not being the hit expected, a mixed critical response and some odd results.

One huge issue in this cycle of rare upscale sequels is that the original films were not reissued in theaters, on home video or both before the sequels arrived and in all cases, you need to have seen the originals to understand all going on in the sequels. Thus, here is our link for more on the 1982 film, starting with its remarkable 4K edition...


Another problem with all these sequels is they tend to rob the originals of their mystery, finality and maturity on some level. In the case of 2049, we have to believe that Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard character is still alive 35 years later, whether he was human, a replicant or some odd combo of the two. Never addressed all the way in 2049, that right there killed the film for many fans who think it sells out the best cuts of the film. It is no spoiler or secret that Ford returned, despite his unhappiness with the first films' production. However, like the confusion of the editing in The Two Jakes, the awful tech choices and effects in 2010 and the mixed flatness in Godfather III, 2049 has its own problems including not being able to imitate the odd feel of the first film (though changing the format it was shot on throws it off not unlike Christopher Nolan going from Panavision 35mm in Batman Begins to larger film frame formats in his Dark Knight sequels), or adding more density to its dystopia (there was actually more, but they kept it out of the film!!!!) or if they are going to answer some questions, why not ask a solid number of new ones?

However, the film was made by a group of people loved the original at least as much or even more than the other sequels noted, those who returned had now things to contribute that made this fresher than expected, new casting is often great (Robin Wright, David Bautista, Jared Leto and some new faces we will hopefully see more of very, very soon) and the new, more vicious 'skinjob' Blade Runner is cast in the best possible way by the most underrated lead actor working today: Ryan Gosling!

Gosling is one of those too-rare actors who can carry an entire film as a lead, yet despite being an actor since his childhood, he is somehow still not the big box office name he should be. This actually has the advantage of making him immune to typecasting and being one of the best actors of his generation can meet the challenge (this was not easy work here) of what turns out to be a more complex role and performance than anyone was expecting.


K (Gosling) is the new LAPD guy to 'retire' replicants, especially older ones made by the Tyrell Company, which has somehow collapsed while Coca-Cola and Atari continue to thrive in the late-Capitalist economy of this messed-up future, when his boss (Wright) has him trying to solve the puzzle of a missing replicant. This happens after an odd encounter with one of his targets (Bautista) and though he may have his act together to be able to turn on a dime, events start to even start to throw him off. Unknown to him and his boss, he is being used to help out powerful others with bad intents, including the man who heads the successor of Tyrell's empire (Leto), so the return to a new living hell is set up.

With that, I will say there is some great action, suspense, performances, impressive production design, cinematography and money on the screen in a way that makes sense (this is the most expensive of the sequels we've been discussing), yet it did not always feel like it was able to connect with the original, it does run on longer than it ought to and there are more than a few missed opportunities throughout. Otherwise, it is worth a look and will hold up in the long run better than 2010, but 2049 also makes a few misassumptions about the first film and that is where it really falters. Now you can see for yourself.

Speaking of seeing, the biggest impediment to the film was having a look worthy of the original Blade Runner, darkness included, but also without looking like the many (and usually lame) imitators of the 1982 film. Then, the sequel took so long to make that they had the option of film, Ultra HD cameras or both. Boldly, though you cannot get it to be dark in the same way, the makers chose 3.4K Alexa XT UHD cameras and the result is that the 2160p HEVC/H.265, HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced 2.35 X 1 Ultra High Definition image is one of the best HD shoots to date in the 4K format and in any motion picture. This is not to say there are not some flaws and issues, but they are minor, though you can see motion blur and more color, detail and depth limits in the still good looking 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on the regular Blu-ray. So who could have the vision and talent to pull this off?

No surprise, it is one of the visual geniuses of our time, no joke, the great Director of Photography Roger Deakins, BSC, ASC (Skyfall, Kundun, Fargo, Barton Fink, Sid and Nancy) making this as big screen and widescreen as he can with his superior command of light, shadow and advanced grasp of color. He does not go as dark as the original 1982 film by his own admission (though you could argue Skyfall has some shots that are as dark as both), so instead, he not only comes up with many shots that reference the 1982 film and captures its look and spirit, but he then turns around and comes up with some new views, looks and even visions that are not imitations at all, yet still an advanced, yet logical extension of the classic film. (It finally won him an Oscar.)

Not as easy as it looks or seems. Some shots still reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey and George Lucas' 1971 THX-1138, but that's not a bad thing either. If anything, it adds a whole different sense of creepiness to the film it needed and exposes the limits of all those imitators who fell short. This joins The Revenant as one of the few great 4K releases originating in all UHD and not only makes a great visual companion to the original, is stunning demo material for all serious home theater systems.

One side point. The film was made with IMAX presentation in mind (even the 70mm trailer on this one looked good) so the frames are actually larger and not as wide in that format, but this disc stays with the scope frame that the original film used. We may or may not ever see a version with IMAX shots that fill up our screens to 1.78 X 1 or the like, but it is a fair argument we might be missing some picture info, while the other films noted for 70mm blow-up usually were missing some information on the left and right sides of the frame. Only the late Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter, Heaven's Gate, Year Of The Dragon) ever letterboxed his scope films when they got 70mm blow-up prints. Either way, the presentation is solid and was even issued in 3D,not available in this set.

In theaters, the film was released in several 12-channel formats including DTS: X, Dolby Atmos, Auro 11.1, IMAX 11.1 and in Sonix DDP, but both of these discs use Dolby Atmos 11.1 (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 on older systems) and it is far more strong and state-of-the-art than I expected with rich bass, exceptional articulation, fine music (even a Vangelis piece from the first film is used) and is very well recorded, mixed and engineered. This is so much so that it is easily one of the best-sounding films of the year and definitely one of the best on home video to date. Be careful pumping this one up upon first viewing or you might unintentionally damage your system!

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber capable devices, while the regular Blu-ray adds nearly two hours of extras including three short films (one animated) that try to bridge a gap between the two films:

Prologues: 2036: Nexus Dawn

Prologues: 2048: Nowhere to Run

Prologues: 2022: Black Out

...plus a really interesting Behind The Scenes/Making Of featurette in multiple parts you should watch AFTER seeing the film:

Designing The World of Blade Runner 2049

To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 101: Blade Runners

Blade Runner 101: The Replicant Evolution

Blade Runner 101: The Rise of Wallace Corp

Blade Runner 101: Welcome to 2049

Blade Runner 101: Joi

Blade Runner 101: Within the Skies

So despite my reservations, length issues and how it makes too literal ideas from the first film, Blade Runner 2049 is still a pretty good sequel worth your time. However, being a long one, you'd better watch the original first, preferably The Final Cut.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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