We saw this on opening night, which is unusual for us. Our babysitter came through and we booked tickets. Packed cinema. Mix of age ranges; young and old. Halfway through the trailers of upcoming films, something didn’t feel right. A trailer for a brainless blockbuster was playing: Skyscraper with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
As is usual with trailers for blockbusters, there was lots of action and excitement. At one point, something exploded on screen; either the Rock’s biceps or a city skyscraper. The lady sat next to my wife lets out a small noise. Kind of like a small murmur of shock. ‘MmMm.’ Like saying ‘oooh’, but with your lips closed. The kind of noise you might make if you bit into a delicious cake.
That’s weird, I thought. I gave her a good once-over with my peripheral vision. She was in her late 50s, possibly early 60s, and was sat next to her husband of a similar age. Something else exciting happened on-screen, and she let out a similar noise. It wasn’t a loud noise – audible only to my wife and I sitting to her left, and to her husband, sitting to her right.
Another action-packed trailer showed, and she let out similar noises at all the mayhem. Maybe she doesn’t get out to the cinema much, I thought. Or maybe she just really likes the Rock. It could even be a food thing; maybe her husband bought her an ice-cream in the lobby and she’s really enjoying it.
Don’t worry about it, I thought. It’s just the trailers. I should just be happy that she’s not talking through them, or flipping through the messages on her phone.
The film started; the much-feared sequel to a classic film both my wife and I love. Based on the history of Hollywood sequels, it didn’t look promising. Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull didn’t seem too long ago, and Harrison Ford was in that turkey too. Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner was a perfectly put-together sci-fi film. Its source material was a short story, so it wasn’t bogged down with expectations, and the film wasn’t successful enough on initial release to justify a sequel. It eventually appeared over the years in many different versions, but it didn’t need to be expanded with a sequel or a TV series.
But the choice of director for Blade Runner 2049 suggested that this may not be a complete disaster after all. I first noticed Denis Villeneuve when he blasted onto the film festival circuit with 2010’s Incendies, the tale of a pair of Canadian twins who travel to the Middle East to unravel their mother’s past. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s an amazing slow-burner. Just don’t watch it with your parents.
He followed this with two films in 2013 – Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal as a pair of fathers who take the law into their own hands, and the fantastically trippy Enemy, starring Gyllenhaal as a man who encounters his double living in the same city. Or does he?
Incendies, Prisoners and Enemy were all relatively small films compared to what came next. 2015’s Sicario pitted Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro against the Mexican drug cartel and was a key collaboration with writer-director Tyler Sheridan who wrote the screenplay. Villeneuve’s next film, 2016’s Arrival, showed that he could do science-fiction, and that he could do it well. Another slow-burner, considering its subject matter, Arrival was Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, redone for the 21st century. Where Spielberg gave us the optimism and wide-eyed excitement of alien contact against a backdrop of bubbling paranoia, Villeneueve’s film offers a tale of caution and trepidation. Why would aliens want to make contact with us when we’re so disconnected?
So things were looking promising for Blade Runner 2049. No, it didn’t need a sequel, but at least it seemed to be in safe hands. At least Ridley Scott wasn’t behind the camera this time (see: Prometheus, Alien: Covenant).
The film starts. It looks amazing good and sounds great. So far, so good. Ryan Gosling’s K lands his spinner on a deserted farm in a desolate landscape. He enters the farmhouse and encounters Dave Bautista’s Sapper Morton, a man he believes is a Nexus-8 replicant.
A fight breaks out between the two men, and somebody is slammed into a wall. The fucking woman sat next to me makes that annoying fucking sound yet again. ‘MmMm.’ Another heavy blow: ‘MmMm.’ K eventually ‘retires’ Morton, to the soundtrack of ‘MmMm’ from my right.
In recent years, I’ve become a semi-professional at shushing people at the cinema. Director Joe Cornish (from Adam & Joe) calls it torpedoing, and it’s a fine art to get right. I almost got into a fight when the couple in front of me took the title of We Need To Talk About Kevin a little too literally and discussed each scene before the next one started, and took offence to me pointing out that we weren’t sitting in their living room. The couple in front of me watching Brighton Rock continued their discussion well into the opening credits of the film, earning a well-deserved ‘Excuse me, the film as STARTED’ in their ears from me.
One of the last films my wife and I saw at the cinema was last year’s Venom – we don’t get out much, and when we do we’re usually restricted to the dross that happens to be playing that weekend. The young lady sat to my immediate left starting playing on her phone a couple of scenes in. I waited a few minutes to make sure she wasn’t just turning it off, and was indeed scrolling out of boredom, before giving her a blast of ‘Please turn your phone OFF; you’re in a cinema!’ She recoiled at being called out, and then my peripheral vision caught her male companion lean forward and give me a good once-over. Just my luck, I thought. Her boyfriend is probably a bodybuilder, and will wait outside the cinema to extract his revenge. When we walked out after the film, they were waiting outside the cinema. But they were waiting for their parents to pick them up, being about 14-years old. Note to self: your peripheral vision is not the most trustable of sources.
Ten, fifteen minutes into Blade Runner 2049, and the woman sat next to my wife is still making these weird noises. ‘MmMm.’ My wife asks me to swap seats, and being the husband of the year, I oblige. Despite this change in seating right next to her, the lady continues to murmer during the next scene. Do I ask her to stop? What’s the worst case scenario here? Yes, I might get a beating from her war-hero husband who used to stack dead bodies as sandbags, but there’s a fate much worse than physical violence. What if I turn around and ask her to stop, and as the words are leaving my mouth, I notice to my horror that she looks disabled. She could be deaf, or partially deaf. She could have tourettes. It could be an involuntary noise, no fault of her own. Decisions, decisions.
The cinema is practically full, and there’s nowhere to move to. Maybe she’ll quiet down as she gets used to the violence and explosions. Plus, the noise could be a lot worse, and so I decide to tolerate it for the rest of the film. Better to be tolerant than to be called out for being an intolerant arsehole, I reason with myself. The last thing I need is to be the headline of our sleepy village’s local newspaper.
Despite my neighbour’s additions to the soundtrack, I manage to enjoy the film. It’s a wonderfully realised sequel to a film that nobody asked for. The world-building feels like an extension of Ridley Scott’s film, and the whole project doesn’t ever come close to exploiting the power of the original’s legacy. The music score, a collaboration between Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is right on the money – both a homage to Vangelis and a bass-heavy synth update for the 21st century.
I missed out on the original soundtrack release in 2017. I was going to pick it up, but didn’t get around to it for some reason. So I was happy to see this 2019 repress by Mondo Records, featuring new spot-varnish artwork depicting one of my favourite scenes in the film: K’s Nabokovian realisation that his desires are artificial and ultimately a fallacy. The double LP is presented on one pink and one teal disc.
My only criticism is the film’s handling of the character of Deckard. Ridley Scott’s 1992 Director’s Cut of the original film suggests he’s a replicant employed to track down his contemporaries. While Villeneuve’s film doesn’t explicitly state that he isn’t a replicant, it neither confirms that he is. Yet, the thirty-year gap between the setting of the two films belies the original film’s oft-repeated claim that replicants have a short life-expectancy. A second sequel is still a possibility, so maybe we’ll find out then. Here’s to Blade Runner 2079.
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