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

 

 

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Flying Cars Impractical

 Blader Runner car over LA

For anyone stuck in traffic having a flying car is the ultimate dream. It sounds like a good idea and looks so uber cool on film. Imagine zipping around the skies in a flying car like George Jetson or Doc Brown with his DeLorean in Back To The Future. You’re late for work, traffic has come to a halt on I-95 due to construction or some accident. But no problem! Shift your car to flight mode and off you go. Soar by all the rubberneckers and you make it in time to your meeting with minutes to spare.

Transition Production PrototypeThe problem with this concept is that flying cars are not practical, today. Yes, there are inventors fine tuning actual flying cars but they’re bound to be a novelty items at least for the near future. Actually, those so-called flying cars that are being tested now are really just mini-copters or airplanes with automobile features. They’re not hovercraft. Several companies that are testing practical flying cars include Terrafugia, Haynes Aero and Moller International. In fact, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has a multi-million dollar program with Terrafugia to build flying  military vehicles.

Terrafugia car

You would think that with all these recent developments and press releases that flying cars are just around the corner. The truth is that people have been building prototypes going back decades, but the cars built just weren’t practical. And neither are the ones being tested now.

Skyjams

Let’s look at the traffic scenario from above. OK , you’re stuck in traffic and switch your car over to flight mode to escape congestion. That would be fine if you’re the only one with a flying car. More likely, many drivers around you would have flying cars as well and have the same idea as you.  Before you know it, the traffic will be following you into the sky. Then there’s coordinating the air traffic with all the cars suddenly going up into the air. It would be a chaotic, logistical headache and will probably lead to more accidents.

DeLorean in sky traffic

As shown in Back To The Future, Part II, Doc Brown had to deal with traffic in the air when he flew the DeLorean time vehicle. In fact, there’s this one scene where he complains about congestion in the skyway. The film showed that when flying, the cars had to follow a certain path. A driver won’t have free reign and space to just go anywhere. Actually, any pilot will tell you that planes and helicopters have rigid flight paths that they must adhere to; any deviation has to be cleared with air traffic control. Flying cars will also have to follow strict flight paths; in effect a skyway will be created with these paths. So if flying cars were to take off in popularity, the traffic congestion won’t go away. It may turn out to be faster to stay on the ground! Of course, there are some futurists that may scoff at this hurdle with claims that flying cars operate three dimensionally instead of today’s ground vehicles that operate two dimensionally. In theory, they claim that traffic jams would not be a problem for a vehicle operating in a three-dimensional plane but reality will probably dictate otherwise.

Air & Road Compatible

Another issue is that there are many dials and features on a plane that a pilot has to contend with so it’s more complicated to operate than a car. Remember when they showed the dashboard and controls in that flying spinner car in Blade Runner? It looked very complex. Then there is making sure the cars meets both road and air standards.  What about safety features? Convertibles are definitely out, which makes that flying car chase sequence in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones even more ludicrous. It’s one thing to have Obi-Wan Kenobi landing on Anakin Skywalker’s flying car unscathed or Anakin jumping out of it to get to the assassin’s vehicle; it can be explained that they used the Force to control their falls. But Anakin jumped out of a convertible, how safe would that vehicle be or practical without a helmet and mask? Just look at the old biplanes. The pilots in them had to wear helmets, goggles and warm clothing. All that wind up in the sky is cold and brutal, there isn’t any way anyone could operate an open-air flying car.

Star Wars flying car

What if something goes wrong? This won’t be like a normal car situation where the vehicle just stops working and you push it off to the side of the road. No, that thing is coming down. Perhaps an onboard computer will sound off an alarm if something is wrong with the car, forcing an emergency landing. But how trustworthy is that computer?

A look at the current prototypes will tell you that these things can’t easily fit into an average mall parking lot or garage. The flying features, i.e. the wings and propellers, have to be more compact to reduce the vehicles’ profile on the road. But how much can be reduced to operate safely in the air? All of this will add significantly to the price of the cars. Which means even if they came out tomorrow only the wealthy can afford them. Plus, what kind of fuel is to be used and its cost hasn’t been taken into account. Continue reading

Syfy’s Brave New Worlds Of The Expanse

expanse poster

The latest TV show on the Syfy channel, The Expanse, is that channel’s most ambitious and intriguing series since their re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica. Easily one of the best TV shows ever done from Syfy, The Expanse has been described as a Game of Thrones in outer space. It’s an easy hook to bring in viewers, and one that doesn’t do the TV show justice.

expanse cast

Based on a series of books by James S.A. Corey, The Expanse takes place in the 23rd century where humanity has colonized Mars and the asteroid belt, as well as the moons of the outer planets. A fragile state of cold war exists between Earth, Mars and the colonists living in the Belt, with Earth and Mars being the two superpowers that rely on the resources mined from the Belt. Those living on the Belt, principally on the dwarf planet Ceres, are called Belters and live a hardscrabble existence. Looked down upon by the rest of humanity, these Belters disdain non-Belters and are on the verge of open rebellion. A group called  the Outer Planets Alliance (OPA) has emerged and become a major thorn for Earth and Mars, which considers them to be a terrorist organization.

The Expanse has three peripherally linked storylines; miller investigatesone takes place on Ceres and details the investigation by a gumshoe-like detective called Josephus Miller (Thomas Jane), who dresses the part and has a combover from hell. He gets an assignment to track this missing rich girl from Earth called Julie Mao (Florence Faivre). During his investigations which take him into the seediest corners of the station, Miller begins uncovering a huge conspiracy that threatens to upset the balance of power in the solar system.

expanse EVA

At the same time, The Expanse chronicles the odyssey of James Holden (Steven Strait), the first officer on the Canterbury, an ice freighter on its way back to Ceres. After answering a bogus distress call from a ship that was the last known location of Julie Mao, the Canterbury is destroyed by an unknown party. Only Holden and a handful of his crew manage to escape in a shuttle. As they struggle to make it back to Ceres, they witness first hand elements of the same conspiracy that threatens to ignite a war.

Meanwhile, on Earth, United Nations diplomat Chrisjen Avasarala (Shoreh Aghdashloo), suspicious of the OPA, becomes aware of the machinations to foment a war between her world and Mars, and tries to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

expanse earth

The Expanse has so many nice touches in its depictions of what life in the 23rd century might be like. It’s very commendable that the showrunners often go out of their way to depict environments with low to zero gravity, people griping about paying for air, how much of a paradise Earth seems nyc future(the future skyline of New York City was simply stunning) compared to the cramped, squalid neo ghettoes of Ceres, the strange mishmash dialect of the Belters, and so on. The meticulous production values are worthy of awards and envelop viewers into an imaginative, all-encompassing future that’s reminiscent of sci-fi classics like Blade Runner.

Fortunately, the show also makes the effort to develop the storyline. Watching The Expanse is a lot like peeling an onion. At its core, is a mystery, and we the viewers are forced to figure it out along with the main characters. During the scenes at Ceres, again echoing Blade Runner, we’re presented with a future noir atmosphere that is colder than the space outside the fragile habitats that is hard to look away from. It may be cliché but it’s still effective. The Expanse - Season 1Then the plight of the former Canterbury crew as they witness realistic space battles and life in outer space evoke the grounded grittiness of the Battlestar Galactica reboot only it’s less cluttered with the former show’s ponderousness about lofty themes. At the same time, we’re plunged into this completely immersive and realistically rendered future. The result is a gratifying and involving viewing experience.

The characters are mostly interesting, though some could use more development. They’re all well played with exceptions given to Thomas Jane whose portrayal of Miller would fit perfectly in a Mickey Spillane story and Shoreh Aghdashloo’s dignified performance. However, her scenes often get the short shift in many episodes and many times feel superfluous. For that matter, aside from seeing militaristic Martian crew, we have little to go on how Mars is like except for some spoken descriptions. The red planet and more of Earth are definitely worth exploring in greater detail in future episodes.

naming ship

Showing some wise patience, Syfy has already renewed The Expanse for a second season. Personally, I haven’t read the books this show is based on (something that will be rectified soon), but I hope that the answers to the core mystery will pay off well. In the meantime, I eagerly look forward to the next episode of one of the best sci-fi shows in recent memory.

Lewis T. Grove

Top 10 Dystopian Films

soylent green elysium 2

Some of the best sci-fi films present dark futures depicting societal and social collapse. They serve as a warning to us with their vivid imagery of how things may go horribly wrong in the future. Dystopian depictions are a mainstay in sci-fi films with Elysium being the latest to feature a broken world thanks to humanity’s abusive and negligent ways. Keep in mind these are different from post-apocalyptic films where civilization has fallen due to war, alien attacks, and other catastrophes. Here are the best films of this sub-genre.

hunger games

10. TIE: The Hunger Games/V For Vendetta: In The Hunger Games, poor districts in Panem, a futuristic North American nation, are forced to send young people to participate in deadly games. Contrasting these backwards districts is the opulent and morally corrupt Capitol that seems like a futuristic Rome. That and the combination of the intrusive and empty media coverage of the games is quite a damnation of this future society. V For Vendetta is an adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic book mini-series about a future London ruled by a brutal, Orwellian regime that subjugates its citizens. V (Hugo Weaving) is a mysterious anarchist out to topple the despotic government via acts of terror and sabotage.

idiocracy 29. Idiocracy: Mike Judge directed this humorous look at our future that satirizes our current obsession with sex, violence and consumerism. In Idiocracy, unintelligent people are out-reproducing smarter people today. Eventually by the 26th century, the dim-witted will inherit the Earth as society declines due to stupidity and low-brow tastes. Their only hope lies with a modern-day soldier (Luke Wilson) with average intelligence who is frozen and revived into this dumb society.

8. THX 1138: George Lucas made his directorial debut with this film about a futuristic, underground society controlled thxby oppressive AIs. The stark, monochromatic production design added to film’s unnerving atmosphere. Robert Duvall stars as the title character, who along with other citizens, is kept in a passive drug-induced state of mind. One day, THX 1138’s drugs wear off, allowing him to feel emotions. When he fails to function properly in the cold, sterile society, he is arrested, but his new emotional state enables him to rebel against the system.

7. Escape From New York: Kurt Russell stars in John Carpenter’s classic tale of an America where crime is rampant and New York City has been turned into a penal colony for hardened criminals. Russell is Snake Plissken, a former vet-turned-criminal who is forcibly deployed into Manhattan to rescue the president of the U.S. (Donald Pleasance). Carpenter’s vision of a nightmarish New York alarmed many who were convinced the city was headed in that direction. Maybe they should’ve been concerned about Detroit instead.

6. Elysium: The world in Elysium is an overpopulated and polluted nightmare. Los Angeles in 2154 looks more like a third-world country with bombed out and decaying streets and shanty homes. Basic necessities like proper housing and healthcare are rare commodities. As in many of these dystopian films, the elite live in a separate, idyllic society; in this case an orbiting habitat. Even though Elysium has a heavy-handed message about the haves and have-nots, its harsh depiction of a ruined Earth will resonate with viewers.

walle 35. WALL-E: This animated classic from Pixar is about a lone robot cleaning up an abandoned and overly polluted Earth in 2805. For the first half of WALL-E there isn’t any dialogue as the titular robot explores the dun-colored and filthy landscapes. Somehow, WALL-E is able to experience emotions and appreciate the remnants of a now-gone civilization. Eventually he discovers humans, who have been taking refuge aboard a luxurious starship. But humans over the centuries have become morbidly obese and atrophied thanks to their too-convenient lifestyle provided by service robots. It’s up to them to learn to be fully human again.

4. A Clockwork Orange: Stanley Kubrick directed this bleak and desensitizing look at the nature of clockwork 2violent behavior and society. Its opening scenes, which featured tight, unnerving closeups of Alex (Malcolm McDowell), a young, vicious gang member are haunting. In the future, violent gangs freely roam the streets of London. Dosed on drug-laced milk, these gangs rob, rape and pillage without abandon. What was jarring and disturbing for viewers was the use of classical and Broadway-style music as these young thugs committed violent acts. Eventually, Alex is captured by authorities and is brainwashed to abhor violence with unfortunate results.

3. Soylent Green: The film’s shock ending overshadowed the bleak portrait of a future where overpopulation and scarce resources are strangling society. Despite Robert Thorn’s (Charlton Heston) famous last lines in the film, the rest of Soylent Green is compelling to watch. Resources we take for granted like food and living space are rare, while the streets of New York in 2022 are depressingly crowded and decaying. What’s really touching are Edward G. Robinson’s final film scenes. In despair over the true nature of the Soylent Green substance, his character chooses to be euthanized and is treated to hauntingly beautiful images of a once-pastoral Earth. These scenes still resonate to this day, as does Thorn’s warning to the ignorant masses.

children of men 22. Children Of Men: By 2027, humanity can no longer reproduce, causing a downward spiral for civilization as it becomes clear humanity will soon be extinct. Terrorism and anarchism are commonplace as disorder inevitably takes hold in society. Reminders of a more civilized time are spotted and add to the bleak tone since they reinforce the notion that humanity’s days are numbered. Clive Owen plays an embittered government bureaucrat who finds a cause to believe in. He encounters a pregnant woman who represents humanity’s best hope, and is forced to protect her from various radical factions. Children Of Men’s director, Alfonso Cuarón shot the film using a harsh, realistic tone that engages viewers and brings them into the action. This was best seen in the film’s third act, which takes place in a hellish refugee camp that is attacked by the British army.

blade runner

1. Blade Runner: Ridley Scott’s dystopic masterpiece proves that just because the future may have flying cars and cool neon lighting, it doesn’t mean it will be bright. Taking place just a few years from now (2019) in an overcrowded and drenched Los Angeles, Blade Runner wasn’t a simple shoot-em-up with Harrison Ford’s character chasing down evil androids. Blade Runner is rather an ambitious example blade runner 3of future noir combined with a moody, smoky atmosphere, ethereal score and ambivalent characters. In the film, Ford plays Deckard, a former cop drafted to hunt down rogue, illegal humanoids called replicants. While everyone in the film wonders if replicants have souls, the humans should’ve reflected about their own souls. Blade Runner resonated with so many not just because of the above reasons but for its intricate and crumbling cityscape. It almost seemed beautiful, even though it represented a world that had seen better days.

Lewis T. Grove

Top 10 Summer Of 1982 Movies

While we’re in the midst of this summer’s crop of movies, one thing to remember is that it’s the 30th anniversary of the summer of 1982 films. That summer saw the release of many genre classics that are still revered today.

10. Firefox: Clint Eastwood’s stars as an emotionally fragile fighter pilot who is assigned to steal a Soviet stealth fighter plane. The sci-fi twist? The plane’s weaponry operates on thought. This underrated Cold War thriller is tense and riveting with some slick visuals of the plane in action.

9. The Secret Of NIMH: Former Disney animator Don Bluth showed up his old studio with this visually stunning animated feature. Beautiful layouts and designs highlight this tale of a mother mouse seeking aid from a society of rats with artificially enhanced intelligence.

8. Tron: Admittedly, the then-groundbreaking computerized special effects don’t hold up today, but Tron laid the groundwork for future CG productions. This film’s production design is very distinct and otherworldly and Tron gave viewers a fascinating cyberworld to explore in future follow-ups.

7. Conan The Barbarian: Arnold Schwarzenegger was perfectly cast as the title hero in this violent sword-and-sorcery film. While The Terminator truly made him a star, this film put Schwarzenegger on the map as he flexed his mighty muscles and hacked away at his enemies.

6. Poltergeist: Despite the ongoing controversy of who really directed this horror classic (either producer Steven Spielberg or listed director Tobe Hooper), this movie about evil spirits haunting a typical suburban family is very frightening with jump-out-of-your-seat thrills and special effects. It made many wary about falling asleep in front of a TV!

5. The Road Warrior: Technically this movie was released overseas in 1981 but didn’t premiere in the U.S. until the summer of 1982, so that is why it’s on the list. This sequel to Mad Max (about a renegade ex-cop in a dystopian future fighting crazy thugs that rule the highways in their custom vehicles) is actually a thrilling, white-knuckle action flick with kinetic car chases and stunt work.

4. The Thing: John Carpenter helmed this remake of the Howard Hawkes 1950s classic that is actually superior to the original thanks to a moody, paranoid setting and disgustingly gory makeup effects. Unfortunately, this movie about a deadly shape-shifting alien in an Antarctic research base bombed in theaters in the summer of 1982 but has attained a classic status over the years.

3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece about a lonely boy who befriends a stranded alien won near universal acclaim and was the biggest box office hit for many years. It’s quite a wonder that still holds up today and would rank higher if not for the fact that E.T. hasn’t persevered in the popular culture and geekdom circles as much as the next two movies. Nonetheless, it’s still a terrific film that must be watched by film lovers.

2. Blade Runner: Ridley Scott directed this eye-popping, futuristic, detective noir movie. Blade Runner happens to be one of the earliest and best cyberpunk presentations ever filmed. Harrison Ford stars as Rick Deckard, a specialized cop who is brought out of retirement to hunt down renegade Replicants (synthetic humans). Along with the striking visuals of a crowded, deteriorating Los Angeles, this movie brings up many philosophical questions about what it means to be human and the impact of emotions and memories on souls.

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan: As with The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II set standards for movie sequels. Generally regarded as the best Trek film, many subsequent films in the franchise (and other movie franchises) tried to copy Star Trek II’s winning formula. The movie has great character development, nifty special effects and an engaging storyline about growing old and being obsessed with vengeance. While other movie in this list may be considered superior in terms of the filmmaking talent behind them, Star Trek II is still emulated to this day. How many times has anyone screamed out “Khaaaan!” or talked about the Kobayashi Maru scenario? Also Ricardo Montalban’s classic portrayal of the revenge-minded Khan elevated that character as not just Star Trek’s best villain but as one of the best ever seen on film.

Lewis T. Grove