Blade Runner 2049 (2017): Beautifully Disappointing (Review)

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The long awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sleeper hit “Blade Runner” is beautiful to look at and offers a ranging plot line but ultimately disappoints by the time the end credits run. Directed this time around by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival) Blade Runner 2049 has the same dogmatic and plodding feel that the original film featured but with a lot more scope and, for lack of a better word, space. 

While the first film relied much more on the excellent Phillip K. Dick book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and a splendid cast that included Rutger Hauer as the lead replicant and a very young Daryl Hannah, this iteration moved forward in the verse to give us a different kind of “runner.”

K (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner who is not human, he is a “new” replicant.  As he starts chasing down the remaining old replicants he finds a mysterious box after killing Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morgan. Inside the receptacle rests the bones of Rachel and evidence of childbirth. 

The film then follows K (or Joe as Joi – played with an aching poignancy by Ana de Armas – the computerized companion calls him) as he tries to find out who the child is. At one point we believe, as he does, that Decker (Harrison Ford) is his father, but later we learn more about this curious triangle. 

The performances in Blade Runner 2049 are top notch, with only Jared Leto letting the side down a bit with his take on Wallace.  De Armas manages to practically steal every scene she is in and it is nigh on impossible not to fall in love with this brilliant actress as she brings Joi to life.

Rutger Hauer may be missing from this tale but the Dutch are ably represented by the marvelous Sylvia Hoeks who manages to make her character suitably scary in all the right places.  Villeneuve does a good job recreating the verse that Scott initially brought to the screen but the film is over-long. Two hours and 43 minutes is a long time to sit and the slow pacing of the movie made this seem much longer at times. 

Like the first film the progress of the plot and story line plods along at a frustratingly pedestrian rate. Too much time is spent questioning something that the audience, if they have been paying attention, will have guessed  midway through the film.

Despite the film generating a overall feeling of mild disappointment, there are enough nods and winks to the original to keep fans interested and pleased. The origami sheep (made by Gaff – a clear nod to the Philip K. Dick book), the clear raincoat worn by Joi, the atmosphere of L.A. and the re-emergence of Rachel (Sean Young appearing in a clip and later as a CG creation that just was weird looking as the CG replication of the late Peter Cushing in Rogue One.

Blade Runner 2049 looks beautiful and feels like a logical carry on from the first. However, like Rutger Hauer has stated, the first film was almost sheer perfection. Any sequel, despite the love and care that went into it, was bound to fall short, as this does.

But…

This is a film that needs to be seen. It encompasses so much, while still falling that little bit short, that one must see it in the cinema to appreciate the sheer grandness of the world it presents. The sets, the costumes, the performances and the cinematography combine beautifully to take us into this gloomy downtrodden world.

The film manages to bring us into its tale of a miracle amidst so much decay and loneliness (which, ultimately, this sequel is all about) with a lot of care to detail and stunning visuals. Mild disappointment aside, Blade Runner 2049 is still one to watch on the big screen.

There is violence, not much in the way of nudity and very little foul language. While not as originally pleasing as Scott’s 1982 version, the film earns 4.5 stars in presentation alone. Similar to this year’s version of the Stephen King horror re-imagining “ItBlade Runner 2049 will deliver a potent punch for fans, while still managing to disappoint overall.

Cargo (2009): This Swiss Science Fiction Ain’t Cheesy

Cargo (2009 film)
Cargo (2009 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you’re a film nut (or geek, or buff, or lover, or add descriptive word of choice here______), you will take a chance on a film you’ve never heard of. Often this unknown film is incredibly cheap, which can indicate that it is laughably bad and worth the paltry purchase price just to watch it and roll about the floor in uncontrollable mirth. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you Cowboys and Vampires aka Dead West as evidence and will rest my case.

But…

Sometimes you find a fantastically great film, that for some obscure reason, has been placed in the bargain bucket. The 2009 Swiss film Cargo  falls squarely in that category. Wikipedia will tell you that Cargo is Switzerland’s first science fiction film what it will not tell you is that the film is a mystery/thriller that just happens to take place in space.

Directed by Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter (Engler also co-wrote the film with another six people) Cargo is stark, moody, cold,  huge and brilliant.

Main Cast List:

Anna Katharina Schwabroh …      Laura Portman

Martin Rapold …                            Samuel Decker

Regula Grauwiller…                      Anna Lindberg

Yangzom Brauen…                        Miyuki Yoshida

Pierre Semmler…                          Pierre Lacroix

Claude-Oliver Rudolph…               Igor Prokoff

Michael Finger…                            Claudio Vespucci

The film is set in 2267. The earth has been polluted to such an extent that it is now uninhabitable. People now have to live in an enormous ‘space city’ that is overcrowded and affected by sickness and apathy. There is one other place to live.  A planet called Rhea. It is a Terra-formed planet that looks like a paradise. Anyone can live on Rhea if they have enough money or are lucky enough to win a lottery to move there.

RHEA

A young medical doctor, Laura Portman  hires on to a decaying cargo vessel that has been contracted to deliver building materials to a “way-station” that will be the mid-point for travel to another solar system.  She will make enough money on the eight year trip (four years out and back) to pay her way to Rhea where her sister Arianne lives with her two children.

Laura boards the ship and meets the five member crew, Captain Lacroix and his second-in-command Lindberg, Yoshida the ship’s engineer and the two maintenance men Prokoff and Vespucci. She learns that the journey will entail the crew having to man the vessel in eight month shifts. Only one crew member will be actively monitoring the journey while the others are in cryosleep.

On this particular journey the now six member crew will be joined by a security officer named Decker. Decker is there because of an increased threat from the terrorist group “Maschinenstürmer” (Machine strikers) who target and blow  up cargo vessels. Six of the now seven member crew then don their cryo-gear and enter the sludge filled tanks.

Three years and four and a half months later Laura is on the back end of her shift. She spends her time sending messages to her sister on Rhea, exercising (working out on a punch bag) and checking the crew and the ship’s status. She begins to hear unexplained noises.

When she attempts to track down the source of the noise she winds up at the cargo hold door. As she starts to look through  the ice covered door, something hits the other side. Frightened she runs away and bumps into Security Office Decker who says that he was woken from cryostasis because someone opened a restricted door.

Following the ship’s protocol Laura want’s to wake the remaining crew members. Decker insists that they only wake Captain Lacroix. Lacroix grumpily agrees to search the ship with Decker and Laura. He warns Laura that if they find nothing there will be serious consequences for breaching the Cryo protocol.

Once the three enter the actual cargo  area they split up. Soon after, Lacroix falls screaming from one of the higher walkways. After determining that Lacroix has died from his fall, Laura and Decker wake the remaining crew members.

Cargo looks fantastic, the cinematography, lighting and sets are reminiscent of Blade Runner and Alien.

The orbiting city at the beginning of the film looks spectacular and is the portion of the film that evokes the Blade Runner feel. You know that if you could walk the streets, they would be wet, dirty and crowded.

The cargo ship feels like it could be the Nostromo‘s ethereal twin, harsh contrasts of light and dark and the watery corridors that run through the ship like a damp maze. But unlike the mining ship from the Alien verse, Cargo’s shipping vessel is not built for crew comfort, it is cold, wet and icy (another type of contrast, if it’s not icy and freezing it is watery and cold). Although the crew’s area is at least dry, it is obvious that Kuiper Enterprises who own the vessel are saving money by not providing central heating for the crew.

The film is obviously science fiction if for no other reason than it’s futuristic space setting. But scrape away the space veneer and you will find a mystery thriller of the finest calibre. My daughter and I (both keen mystery fans and quite adept at guessing who’s who in most films) were constantly having to change our minds as to who the real ‘big bad’ actually was.

A lot of twists and turns in the plot area combined with an eerie cargo spaceship setting made for a wonderfully tense, suspense filled film.

The film was the maiden effort of both directors but you’d never know it by the quality of the film. Cargo builds suspense slowly but steadily throughout the entire film. The pacing is spot on and the acting is just great. The film is in German with English sub-titles. Thankfully the film makers did not go the ‘dubbing’ route as that would have surely destroyed the film.

The sub-titles aren’t ridiculously long so you don’t have to miss anything by reading a ‘Gone With the Wind’ type narration at the bottom of the screen.

An absolutely brilliant film that deserves to be placed in the same league as the above mentioned films, Blade Runner and Alien.