I didn’t know what to expect going into Bladerunner 2049 but I ended up quite blown away by it. The design, the cinematography, the CGI were all incredibly well done although the sound design by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch might have been the most interesting element of the film.
I have never sat in such a quiet cinema, despite being the opening weekend, Sunday, 08, October 2017 and a busy cinema, (Vue Omni.) it seemed that everyone there was holding their breath, the interspersed silences (which were so quiet I could hear the guy next to me breathing) are broken into by sudden grinding noise, which is sometimes overwhelmingly loud so that it borders on uncomfortable. The music sounds like the film looks. It is disquieting but brilliant.
The whole look and feel of the film is what Bladerunner wanted to be but didn’t yet have the technology to achieve.
The mix of future and retro is still there, high tech at it’s most plastic, featureless and drab. All of the worlds natural beauty has been turned into synthetics. Vast expanses which might fool the eye into seeing fields in black and white turn out to be grey plastic buildings that house protein farms. The cities are huge blocks of overcrowded humanity. With the only colour the massive holographic advertisements. The action doesn’t stay in one spot so we get to see a changing landscape, vistas all equally dystopian and often desolate but all beautifully shot. There are moments after moments that could have been on the poster. Beautifully rendered, and none real. Incredibly though you wouldn’t know it. Scenes that are packed and busy and full of noise are constantly contrasted with scenes of near total minimalism where the play of light or the curve of a wall is the only backdrop to the acting.
Again this feels like a continuation of what Bladerunner was trying to achieve with the production and cinematography taken to the next level that a greater budget can allow for.
The costume designed by Renee April is a direct contrast to all this lavishness in light and sound but fits perfectly with the colourless stripped down look of the future society being depicted. The main character ‘K/Joe’ played by Ryan Gosling spends most of the film in a long leather coat with some reinforcement patches and a sheepskin collar that can be turned up and buttoned to hide the lower half of the face. A practical feature in a world where the environment has been messed up so much that storms and particularly dust storms are common. Harrison Ford reappearing as Deckard is in a grey t-shirt and black jeans for the time we see him. The characters wearing slightly more visually interesting clothes are still not wearing anything we might not expect to see now, such as ‘Love’ one of the few named replicants, who wears structured fashion forward office wear, mostly in shades of white heavy monochrome or ‘Joi’, a personal computer interface that takes the form of a holographic woman. With an AI so advanced she can feel and think in a way that blurs boundarys of “human”. Which is, as in the previous film, a major theme. The look of her clothes come from many sources depending on the situation and message, at one point she appears as a fifties housewife, another time in a see through plastic rain coat (another call back to the previous Bladerunner perhaps) But again this future is one in which the world has moved forward only for the very rich. Anyone that can afford to leave Earth has done so and those that remain are not able to access the technological advances that we might imagine would allow clothes to become something new and different to what we know. As such practicality and comfort are more in line with the story of the film and the individuals portrayed.
One particularly interesting debate surrounding the film was whether or not it is feminist when it portrays women and Joi in particular as an object made to satisfy men. We meet a surprising amount of female characters for a mainstream science fiction. There is the strong female police chief, the dreamer who creates memories for replicants, the replicant whose job and life is to be second in command to a psychopath and seems to have taken on some of his personality in self defence. There is the replicant who is a prostitute and the replicant who leads the revolution and was willing to mutilate herself for the cause. All of these women are portrayed as having depth, an inner life beyond a man and his needs.
As a woman watching the film I ended up feeling that rather than playing to the narrative that a woman is there to nurture and pander to the male ego, the film was instead making a point about society’s need for this narrative.
In depicting a society where ‘natural born’ women are free and equal but to fill the gap they make synthetics that are built and programmed to replace this role, it suggests that even in an advanced society where women appear equals the problem will continue unless the root is addressed. In other words the film seems to be trying to highlight the problem rather than playing into it, using the themes of what makes human, human, that run all the way through both films.