This Beautifully Crafted Blade Runner 2049 Does Not Replicate The Original Classic

blade runner 2049 poster

Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to the Ridley Scott sci-fi neo noir classic film that came out 35 years ago. It takes place in the same dystopian Los Angeles introduced in the original film, which took place just two years from now, yet seems uncomfortably accurate today. Now thirty years later the world is even more ruined but further technologically advanced. Humanity is still utilizing  race of artificial humans called replicants as slave labor. Whenever a replicant escapes or rebels, special police officers called blade runners are dispatched to kill them.

In Blade Runner 2049, replicants no longer have limited life spans and are more integrated into society. However, they are still second-class citizens who are derided by humans. The main protagonist in this film is K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant who is actually a blade runner that hunts down his own kind without remorse. Early in the film during an assignment he uncovers a baffling mystery. He discovers a long-dead body and this leads him on a mission to find out more about the deceased person because it has important connotations for replicants and society itself.

Denis Villeneuve directed this sequel and he is an inspired choice for the job because his visual style and storytelling techniques are very reminiscent of Ridley Scott. The landscapes are still breathtakingly chilling with the towering and crumbling skyscrapers, large intrusive holographic advertising and constant rain, which signal the climate change ravaging our planet. Only now snow and ash pelt the inhabitants of the futuristic Los Angeles. This does not mean that Blade Runner 2049 is a copy of the original. It tells its own original story without rehashing the beats of the first film, while further exploring the theme of what it means to be human. Gosling does his usual stoic act, which fits perfectly with his soulless character. But as he digs deeper into the mystery, he comes to question his own self and wonders if he has a soul. If so would that make him human despite how he is treated?

The sequel even takes time to examine the nature of sentience with K’s holographic home AI, Joi (Ana de Armas). At first glance, Joi just seems to be a household tool to K, sort of an advanced Siri or a Google Home but with holographic projectors. What was interesting about this set up is that a subservient non-human intelligence services a second-class citizen who isn’t considered human himself by society. How K and Joi treat each other in their tender,  growing relationship formed the heart of this film and featured in its best moments.

Another highlight is Harrison Ford himself, who reprises his role in the first film as Deckard, the blade runner who fell in love with a replicant. He is a welcome face and believe it or not helps lighten the mood in this dour film. Ford’s Deckard is a reminder of a world that has been lost and only now exists as a distant, treasured memory. Although Ford is a scene stealer, Gosling with his tortured character is the focus in this film.The most important question is about how Blade Runner 2049 compares to the original. Honestly, this is the kind of film that will be many things to many people. Already, some are hailing this as a masterpiece, while others are writing it off as dull. Bottom line, the original is the better film for several reasons. Starting with the story, the first Blade Runner had a tighter plot that was quite clear: Deckard had to find a group of renegade replicants. In this film, the mystery (and plot) are laid out but it seems more muddled and sometimes it is easy to lose track of what is going on. Later in the film, a new development occurs that is disjointed and clumsily inserted into the film. What is worse is that this development does not lead to anything and just reeks of an obvious plot thread for a sequel. This does not mean the film is dull as some are claiming. Just like the first Blade Runner, this is a slower, more contemplative film than what most of today’s audiences are used to, which is not a bad thing. Also, while it emulates the look and themes of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 fails to replicate (pardon the pun) that memorable future noir atmosphere that made the first film stand out. For a film that centers on a mystery it feels less like a detective story than the first Blade Runner. Another vital drawback is with the villain. Roy Batty so wonderfully played by Rutger Hauer was a much more realized and dimensional villain. He was motivated by a desire to be free and extend his short life span. That is something we can all identify with, which is why we mourned his fate at the end of the film. The villain in this sequel does not have a clear motivation and as a result comes off as one dimensional.Blade Runner 2049 is nonetheless a beautifully crafted film that honors the original while being able to stand on its own. Denis Villeneuve demonstrates again why he is one of the most lauded film directors today and this is a great entry in his filmography. The film’s cinematography is simply gorgeous even though it depicts a sadly decaying world. Every shot is expertly composed and should be seen at least once in the big screen. It goes without saying that the special effects are as grand and spectacular as the first film. But these technical aspects are just window dressing for the film’s central themes about humanity and how we treat each other. Those are the film’s true highlights and what will leave the greatest impression upon audiences.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

Advertisements

The Orville Captures The Traditional Spirit Of Star Trek

When The Orville was first announced, many quickly noticed that the Seth-MacFarlane’s dramedy had strong resemblances to the vaunted Star Trek. If it was not a comedy, it would have been labeled a rip-off and for good reason.

The TV show, which airs on Fox, is about the adventures of Captain Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) and his crew onboard the Orville, an exploratory starship in the 25th century. Like a traditional Star Trek show, each episode to date is a standalone where the crew would visit a strange planet or deal with some science fiction plot. Sounds familiar?

orville crew

Despite the overtly comedic tone of the early trailers, The Orville is not a laugh-out-loud comedy like MacFarlane’s Family Guy. It is very funny at certain moments but it’s more serious than one would think. This is probably why the show received so many negative reviews since the reviewers were probably expecting a yuck-fest. But if one would actually watch the show and put aside any preconceptions then what will be discovered is that The Orville is actually quite fun.

It is clear that Seth MacFarlane is not trying to make fun of Star Trek. It may be surprising to some that he is actually a huge Trek fan. This is why The Orville does not come off as a spoof that makes fun of the source material; it’s surprisingly respectful.

Anyone who misses Star Trek will be pleased to know that the spirit of Star Trek is alive and well with this show. This is not a knock against Star Trek: Discovery, but while the latest Trek incarnation has the burden of trying to be different, The Orville does not have that problem. It is free to capture the essence of Trek and show us why we loved Star Trek in the first place.

Typical episodes have the crew encountering alien cultures and planets where various themes are explored. In one episode, the Orville discovers a giant generational ship where the inhabitants believed they were living in a world. It was up to Mercer and his away team to expose them to the truth (the bothersome Prime Directive is noticeably absent) despite the efforts of the ship’s rulers.

Another episode centered on the plight of the Orville’s second officer Bortus (Peter Macon). He is a gruff Klingon-like alien that is part of a single-gender species. All the members are male but in this episode he and his mate have a baby girl and want to have her sex changed. This decision clashes with the human culture of the Orville crew and leads to ethical questions. While the episode did have jokes, the subject matter was treated dramatically and with respect, and in the end it was thought provoking like a classic Star Trek episode.

What completes the overt resemblance to Star Trek, especially the ‘90s versions, is the look of the show. The costumes, sets, and props look like they could blend in easily with Star Trek in the post-Roddenberry era. The ship has replicators, holodecks and the crew is adorned with communicators and phaser guns that only look slightly different than those seen on Trek. Of course, Star Trek: Discovery has much better effects, but it is comforting to watch the more downscale special effects in The Orville. It feels less pretentious and just a means to tell a story.

orville ship

With all those pluses for Trek fans, The Orville does have its problems. A lot of the attempts at humor falls flat or feels forced. More often than not, the jokes will only bring smiles, but when they land the humor is quite funny. Also, the natural banter between the crew tries too hard at times to sell the notion that they are everyday Joes. Somehow these characters do not seem like a good fit in an actual starship. Helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) and navigator John LeMarr (J. Lee) seem too laid back and casual to be believable starship officers. In trying to make them so relatable to viewers the show instead makes their behavior seem unnatural for their setting.

As for Mercer, MacFarlane lacks the gravitas to pull off a commanding presence. Instead Captain Mercer is more of an officer manager type, although he is quite likeable. Making him more sympathetic is his dilemma of his first officer being his ex-wife, Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki). Do not be surprised if the show soon veers into will-they-or-won’t-they shenanigans.

For those who are unable to easily watch Star Trek: Discovery because it’s held behind a streaming wall, The Orville is a perfectly acceptable substitute. After watching it, it is easy to see that The Orville in many respects outdoes Star Trek: Discover in carrying on the tradition of Star Trek.

José Soto

 

Star Trek: Discovery Launches Trek’s Return To TV

For one night only, Star Trek returned to TV. On CBS, Star Trek: Discovery premiered, but for one episode only. Want to see the rest? Then you have to subscribe to CBS’ streaming service CBS All Acess, which will leave many frustrated, especially with the way the first episode ended.

Sonequa-Martin-Green-Star-Trek-Discovery-screen-grab

Titled “The Vulcan Hello”, the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery introduced viewers to a new slate of characters starting with Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), the first officer of the Federation starship Shenzhou (the starship Discovery does not appear in the first two episodes). As the main character, she is rather mysterious and has an interesting back story that was only partly revealed in the first episode. After her parents were killed by Klingons, the Federation’s arch rivals, Burnham was raised by Sarek (James Frain) in the logic-oriented Vulcan culture. Now a grown woman, Burnham is having trouble balancing her human and Vulcan upbringing. By the way, yes, this is the same Sarek that is Spock’s father.

In the pilot, the Shenzou comes across an ancient-looking artifact on the edge of Federation space and Burnham volunteers to investigate it. Her curiosity quickly escalates a tense situation that brings the Federation to the brink of war. What is worse is that her actions afterwards are what make war more and more likely.On the whole, this was a solid and enjoyable episode. There were many issues with it, but most open-minded fans will be pleased with Star Trek: Discovery. What’s good to great about it? First of all, unlike the J.J. Abrams reboot films (except Star Trek Beyond), this feels like Star Trek, only modernized. There are many references and adherences to Star Trek lore that should satisfy hardcore fans.

Time is taken to explore characters and themes. The driving one in this episode is about how cultural misconceptions can be disastrous. This has been explored in other Treks, but this issue is still relevant given today’s fragile political climate.

The production values and special effects are absolutely stunning and rivals what you see in theaters. Yes, that includes the Star Trek reboot films. Every dollar spent is up there on the screen. The show is just beautifully filmed.

“The Vulcan Hello”, which was directed by David Semel, does a good job of building a sense of unease and tension thanks to liberal usages of Dutch angles and editing. You truly feel that this crew on the Shenzou is out there on their own. This creates a barely concealed uneasy feeling among them and us. The character that best expressed this anxiousness was Lt. Commander Saru (Doug Jones), a lanky and cowardly alien who is the first one to recommend that the Shenzou hightails it out of harm’s way.

Star Trek: Discovery takes place in the original Star Trek universe and is a prequel to the very first show. But being a prequel presents the show with many problems that comes with being a prequel. While the technology is stunning eye candy, it looks more advanced than even the later Star Trek shows so how can this be a prequel to the original Star Trek with its clunky sets and limited technology? This gives critics a good argument that it doesn’t take place in the Prime Universe and is more at home with the Abrams reboots. But that is just nitpicking.

The bigger flaws with Star Trek: Discovery lie with its script and some execution. The dialogue is often stiff and clunky, unlike the show’s new rival, The Orville. Most of the time, when characters speak, their speech comes off as wordy and does not feel natural. This is a problem because it sometimes brings the show’s pace to a grinding halt and it happens whenever the Klingons appear.

psuedo klingon

Scenes with the alien race are probably the biggest stumble for Star Trek: Discovery. All their dialogue is spoken in a clumsy tongue with tiring subtitles. Honestly, they are nothing like the violent and popular Klingons of previous Treks. Even their look is different and downright ugly, and not in a good way. Previous Klingons appeared imposing and hulking with their brow ridges and fur-covered armor. These new Klingons lack hair and wear hideous, bony tunics that Liberace would have loved. They look more like the poorly received Abrams version of Klingons, which were also disappointing. It makes you wonder why producers keep insisting on changing the classic look of the Klingons. They were perfect, why mess with the look?

Issues aside, “The Vulcan Hello” heralds an auspicious beginning for the latest incarnation of Trek. For too long, we waited for new Star Trek and now we have it. But there is a big catch.

In order to keep watching Star Trek: Discovery it will literally cost you since it’s on a streaming service. Outside of North America it is streaming on Netflix, so if you have not subscribed to the service then it is worth doing so to continue watching the adventures of Commander Burnham.

But in the U.S. fans are being forced to subscribe to CBS’ own streaming service. This begs the question, is this show worth a subscription? Sadly, the answer would have to be no. As good as “The Vulcan Hello” was, it did not hit it out of the ballpark. Plus, the cliffhanger ending, which forces viewers to subscribe to find out how the story ends, will infuriate fans. Sure, some will say just spend the six to ten dollars a month. But for just one show? Seeing the commercials for the other programming on CBS All Access is enough to convince me it is not worth the money. Frankly, I have no interest in watching CSI: Insert an American City or Survivor. Not only that but it usually takes three to five episodes of a series for me to decide if it warrants continued watching. One episode simply is not enough to convince me to subscribe to another streaming service. If you are that much of a hardcore Star Trek fan and have to get your fix, then go ahead and subscribe to CBS All Access. I can wait to see the entire show on a later date. After all, I have the other Star Trek show to watch, The Orville, and I do not have to spend extra money to do so.

José Soto

 

A Bizarre Return To Twin Peaks

twin peaks return poster

Twin Peaks: The Return brought audiences back to the surreal world created by David Lynch and Mark Frost that featured FBI special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) seemingly trapped in an alternate dimension known as the Black Lodge while his evil counterpart was let loose in the world. This is how the second season of the Twin Peaks show ended in 1991. Ever since then, fans have been wondering what happened to Cooper, as well as the other characters on the show. Twin Peaks: The Return answers these questions, at least somewhat in this 3rd season. How these questions are answered can be seen as controversial since Lynch takes his time with the story and tells it in a roundabout way, with many episodes not even taking place in the town of Twin Peaks (the original show’s setting) at all. Much of the action, especially in the early episodes center most of the action in faraway places like Las Vegas and New York City as Cooper’s return to our world is in the form of a low functioning alter ego known as Dougie Jones, who is barely able to speak. Meanwhile, his evil doppelgänger rampages across the country in search of mysterious coordinates. This along with the ambiguous ending make the legacy of this return something that is already controversial among fans and will generate conversation or years to come. I have not even gotten to the truly mystifying eighth episode that doesn’t even have much dialogue at all and instead shows a collage of bizarre images of an atomic explosion in the desert and scary looking woodsmen, all of which seem to show how the denizens of the Black Kodge came to our world.

One aspect of this season that harkens back to the original is the combination of genres that Twin Peaks is famous for. Scenes with campy humor followed by something that is truly menacing or sinister, along with seeing iconic locations like the double RR diner and the Twin Peaks sheriff station all take us back to the first time we encountered these memorable places and people. Most of the original cast returns and are as wacky as ever along with new and funny characters like the Mitchum brothers (Robert Knepper and James Belushi) and Janey-E (Naomi Watts) and Sonny Jim Jones (Pierce Gagnon). These moments will definitely leave those wanting a nostalgic feeling satisfied.

Answering the question of how much you will like the rest of Twin Peaks: The Return depends on certain things. For me, I really enjoyed the whole experience because I found the whole story and characters to be very interesting and thought provoking. I will admit that the seemingly open-ended nature of the final episode was unexpected and I’m not sure what to make of it. Having said that, I still like the idea of the continuing debate that will make you remember the show and think about it long after it’s over. However, if you are not really a fan of David Lynch’s movies, this might not appeal to you since Twin Peaks: The Return is much more in line with his feature films like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me instead of the first two seasons of the show. Those original episodes were almost like a parody of soap operas that centered on a quirky town and its characters that audiences came to love. While we do revisit these characters in the new season and it’s great to see them again, the whole tone of the 3rd season is much more in line with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and other Lynch films like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and even Eraserhead. If you are looking for a show with a strict beginning middle and end, I’m not sure how much you will get out of Twin Peaks: The Return. It was filmed and shown as basically an 18-

hour movie, that has scenes and characters that seem to come out of nowhere and don’t seem to have anything to do with the main story. Eventually, most of what we see comes to make sense in the second half of the season as various characters and storylines do come together in the town of Twin Peaks during a final confrontation with evil Cooper. Getting there, however, does require some patience on the part of the viewer. Even then, there are some situations that seem to go unresolved at the show’s end. The basic story of Agent Cooper and his struggle with his doppelgänger does get resolved, but his ultimate fate, along with that of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) and Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn), are not clear.

This does seem to hint that Lynch and Frost would like to continue the story in a fourth season. But as of now, it’s not known if this will happen. There is a book written by Frost called Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier coming out in October, that might give some hints to the mysteries still not solved, but we’ll have to wait and see. If this is the end for Twin Peaks, I can say that while I would have like a little bit more of a resolution, i am happy that we got to go back to this world and further explore its mysteries. I’m also eager to rewatch the whole thing again, hopefully in a blu-ray release, maybe with some more answers in a missing pieces like segment that accompanied the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me blu ray. Here’s to hoping of more cherry pie and coffee in our (and Agent Cooper’s) future.

C.S. Link

The Defenders Come Together At Last

marvel-defenders-tv-show-images

The Marvel Studios mini-series event The Defenders just premiered on Netflix and is the culmination of the past four Netflix/Marvel superhero streaming shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The Defenders finally brings the main leads from those shows together at last like in The Avengers, which what fans have been waiting for ever since the superhero shows were announced years ago. Needless to say this is a big deal for fans of the shows for obvious reasons.

Running only eight episodes, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist along with the supporting actors from their respective shows and Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, the show’s main villain. The Defenders does not take long to get into the action and meat of the story. It starts with all four heroes separately running afoul of the mysterious Alexandra and by the third episode they all meet in the heat of battle and the story just moves along from there. As expected with these Marvel Comics stories, the four don’t exactly get along at first, which is best shown with Rand actually hurting the invulnerable Cage with his Iron Fist. But all ends well as they put aside their differences to face their mutual foes.

In their separate investigations, they learn  that the shadowy criminal organization, The Hand, who have appeared in Daredevil and Iron Fist, are making an ominous move in New York City. In a nutshell without giving too much away, the leaders of the Hand, which includes Alexandra, are carrying out an operation that will wind up destroying the city and it’s up to our heroes to stop them.

alexandra and gao

Overall, The Defenders is an enjoyable and brisk-moving mini-series that should delight fans and casual viewers. All the actors bring their A game to the show with the standouts being Cox and his own show’s cast. Fans of the shows should be pleased that all the characters are faithfully presented. Matt Murdock carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jessica Jones drinks whenever she can, Luke Cage stands around and gets shot at without any injury and Danny Rand finds any opportunity to say “I am the Immortal Iron Fist!”

Despite all the complaints about Jones and his show, his character here is much better portrayed and less insufferable. Fortunately, Jones proves that he can bring something to the role and Iron Fist’s appearance here presents the case that the faults with the Iron Fist TV show were due to those showrunners, not the character or actor. For example, Jones seems more at ease during his fight scenes, a critical flaw with Iron Fist, and on the whole, the fight choreography was crisp and full of power. The standout fight scene was probably in the third episode when the four Defenders finally all meet each other, but the others spread out in the other episodes are fun to watch and grab your attention, though at times they are too dark and it is clear that some of the actors seem more natural at fighting than others. That criticism does not apply to Jones, believe it or not.

defenders hall fight

The villains are another quibble with The Defenders. Unlike The Avengers which had the breakout villain, Loki, the villains in this show are not particularly compelling. Basically, they are just a bunch of super ninjas and though that is appropriate for the power levels of the Defenders, they could have been more threatening or had more clear motives. Another gripe about the show and the villains has to do with the fact that the show takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  It is not the fault of the show, but it is annoying that with the severity of the threat to the city, no one has the notion to try to contact the Avengers or even Dr. Strange given the supernatural aspect of the Hand. We don’t even see the Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, whereas in Spider-Man: Homecoming that film took every opportunity to show the tower whenever there was a shot of the city. Then there is the reaction of some of the characters to what is going on; basically they have a hard time believing in the Hand and their threat, and even the nature of the leads’ powers. This goes for especially Luke Cage, who cannot accept that Danny Rand spent time in another realm and became a mystical warrior. That is a strange reaction for an inhabitant of the MCU that has seen open alien invasions and big league superhuman battles. Let’s not forget that Cage himself has superhuman powers. For these reasons it is hard to accept that The Defenders takes place in the MCU. But that is something that fans have to ignore and just go with the story.

daredevil and defenders

What ultimately makes The Defenders work is the camaraderie between the leads and seeing them all together. Thankfully, after taking time to introduce them individually in the first episode with interesting cinematography that presents each hero with a different color scheme, the show quickly has them teaming up and getting to the meat of the story. Their interactions were very amusing and some of the show’s best moments. They all had good chemistry and complemented each other well to the point we were sold that they came to care about one another. While The Defenders may not have the same thrilling impact and joy of The Avengers, it is quite enjoyable in its own right and helps set a path forward for the future of these grounded heroes.

Lewis T. Grove