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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Star Wars Movie Retrospective: Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi

jedi poster

” I am a Jedi, like my father before me” – Luke Skywalker

Anticipation was immensely high for the grand finale of the Star Wars saga and for good reason. The first two films in the trilogy were both critically acclaimed and financial successes. The last film The Empire Strikes Back, considered by most people as the best Star Wars film ever, ended on a tantalizing cliffhanger and with many unanswered questions. Given this background, it would be difficult for Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi to match the previous films. Regrettably, that proved to be case, but nevertheless it was a generally rousing conclusion to the Star Wars saga.

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The film takes place long ago in a galaxy far, far away. A Galactic Civil War is reaching its conclusion with the evil Galactic Empire readying a decisive blow against the Rebel Alliance. In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the Empire’s battle station, the moon-sized Death Star, was destroyed by the fledging Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Now, the Empire is constructing a second Death Star that is orbiting the forest moon of Endor. Sith Lord Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) arrives at the nearly complete battle station to oversee the finishing touches. He informs the nervous imperial officers that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) himself will arrive soon to ensure that the station is finished on schedule.

As the construction continues, Luke goes to his home planet Tatooine to rescue his friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) jabba 2from the gangster Jabba the Hutt. Han owed Jabba, a humongous slug-like alien, outstanding debts and in the previous film was captured by Darth Vader and the bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) and entombed in carbonite.

Luke sends his two droids C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) as gifts to Jabba at his lair and to relay a message about bargaining for Han’s release. Jabba refuses this offer and at that moment, a helmeted bounty hunter called Boushh enters the lair with Han’s friend Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), a Wookiee, in chains. Later that night, when Jabba and his minions are asleep, Boushh, who is actually Princes Leia (Carrie Fisher), frees Han. Before the lovers can celebrate, they’re captured by Jabba’s guards. Unknown to Jabba and the other criminals is that one of them is actually Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams).

luke at jabbas

The next day Luke arrives in person and is also captured. Now he, Han and Chewbacca are sentenced to death while Leia is kept as a chain-bound slave. The trio are taken out to the desert wastes of the planet as Jabba and his entourage watch their sentence carried out from a nearby floating barge. At Luke’s signal, R2-D2 shoots out Luke’s lightsaber at the Jedi and Luke uses it to free his friends and decimate Jabba’s forces. In the end, Han accidently kills Boba Fett, while Leia strangles Jabba and Luke destroys the barge.

sand barge battle

They leave the planet in Han’s ship the Millennium Falcon to rendezvous  with the Rebel fleet. Luke instead travels to the planet Dagobah to meet with Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz) and complete his Jedi training. Visibly withered, Yoda admits that he is dying of old age and that Luke doesn’t need any further training, but needs to destroy Vader before he can become an actual Jedi. He also confirms that Vader is indeed Luke’s father and before he dies and fades away, reveals that there is another Skywalker.

Grief stricken, Luke is soon met by the ghost of his old mentor Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi (Alec Guinness). The old Jedi explains Luke’s family history, revealing the story of how Anakin Skywalker fell to the dark side of the Force, the mystical life/energy field that is used by the Jedi and their enemy the Sith. He also reveals that Leia is actually Luke’s twin sister and that he and Leia were hidden at birth to keep them away from Vader, who must be destroyed by Luke.

Later, he reaches the spaceborne Rebel fleet and joins his friends as they meet with the Rebel leaders. An assault is planned to destroy the Death Star before it’s completed. But, before the Rebel fleet can engage the lando at helm 2Death Star and its guarding ships, a strike force has to land on the forest moon and destroy an imperial base that is emitting a force field protecting the Death Star. Luke, Han, Leia and Chewbacca volunteer to head the strike force while Lando, now a general, will pilot the Millennium Falcon and a contingent of ships to destroy the Death Star.

The four reach the moon in a stolen imperial shuttle along with the droids and several Rebel soldiers. They soon discover imperial stormtroopers and engage in battle. During the fracas, a few soldiers escape using speeder bikes and Luke and Leia chase them down with a seized speeder bike. The twins successfully stop the soldiers but get separated. Leia later encounters a small, bear cub-like creature wearing tribal gear. He is Wicket (Warwick Davis), an Ewok, and takes her back to his village as his guest. Meanwhile, Luke, Han, Chewbacca and the droids try looking for Leia in the thick forest, but are captured by Ewoks. C-3P0, however, is mistaken to be a deity and treated as a revered guest.

speeder bike

At the Ewok village, the golden droid convinces the Ewoks to free his friends thanks to an assist by Luke, who uses the Force to levitate C-3P0. Soon, the group enlists the Ewoks to help against the imperial soldiers stationed at the moon. Luke, however, is troubled after sensing Vader’s presence and is afraid he is jeopardizing his friends. During some festivities in the village at night, he confides to Leia about their true relationship and Vader, who he thinks he can redeem. Luke bids her a sad farewell as he leaves the village and later surrenders to Vader. Despite Luke’s efforts, Vader refuses to denounce the dark side of the Force.

Luke is taken up to the Death Star and meets Emperor Palpatine, who is eager to corrupt the young Jedi as he did with his father years ago. With Vader at his side, the Emperor plays mind games with Luke and admits that he knows about the Rebels’ attack. In reality, the Emperor allowed this to lure them into a trap.

rotj death star attack

Down on the moon, an attack on the fortified imperial base by the Rebels is quickly defeated. However, the brave Ewoks mobilize their own army and join the fight against the Empire, but are clearly outmatched. Meanwhile, the Rebel armada arrives in the Endor system and Lando quickly realizes that they’ve jumped into a trap. Then, the Rebel fleet is swarmed by overwhelming imperial ships. As Luke witnesses the firefight outside in despair, the Emperor divulges that the station is operational by having it open fire on the Rebel ships. This goads Luke into lashing out at Palpatine with his lightsaber but Vader parries the would-be killing stroke. As the climatic battle rages outside and on the moon a final confrontation between father and son, good and evil commences.

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Star Wars Movie Retrospective: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Empire poster

“No, I am your father.” – Darth Vader

The Empire Strikes Back was the most important Star Wars sequel ever made simply because it was the first sequel. If it stumbled and failed to at least match the hugely successful Star Wars, then who knows how the Star Wars franchise would’ve fared. Maybe creator George Lucas may have been able to complete the trilogy and the films would not have been so revered as they are to this day.

Fortunately for everyone, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back turned out to be much, much better than expected. As it stands, it’s still the gold standard for Star Wars films that hasn’t been matched more than 30 years later.

The Empire Strikes Back’s opening crawl tells of a Galactic Civil War taking place long ago in a distant galaxy. The Rebel Alliance has scored an impressive victory when the farm boy-turned-rebel Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) destroyed the Galactic Empire’s massive Death Star battle station. The celebration was short lived for the Rebels, who were forced to flee their headquarters to the frozen planet Hoth. Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), commanding the imperial fleet, leads an exhaustive search for Luke and the Rebels with the intent of crushing the rebellion.

taun taunAn imperial Star Destroyer battle cruiser launches several probe droids throughout space to find the Rebel’s new headquarters. One of them lands on Hoth and begins its mission. A few miles away, Luke Skywalker is out on patrol riding a tauntaun, a bipedal beast of burden. After checking in with his friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Luke and his tauntaun are attacked by a wampa, a yeti-like predator. The tauntaun is killed while Luke is knocked out. Waking up in the creature’s den, he manages to escape, but is lost in a raging blizzard. Before long he succumbs to the pelting snow and collapses. Before passing out he sees a vision of his old, deceased mentor Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi (Alec Guinness) and is tasked by the specter to go to the planet Dagobah and continue his Jedi training.

Han Solo returns to the Rebel base and announces to Rebel leader Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) that he intends to leave the base to pay off his debt to the gangster Jabba the Hutt. He and Leia get into a heated argument, which underscores the smoldering romantic tension between the two. Then they learn that Luke hasn’t returned yet from his patrol. Fearing the worst, Han heads out with a tauntaun into the white maelstrom to look for his friend. He eventually finds Luke unconscious, but they’re forced to spend the night out in the tundra.

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The next day, a Rebel patrol rescues them. Back at the base the celebration over their return is cut short with the news that a probe droid transmitted their location to the Empire. The Rebels are forced to evacuate as Darth Vader arrives with his fleet and dispatches a contingent of imperial walkers, ambulatory tank units shaped like quadrupeds, to attack the Rebel base. To delay the imperials, Luke and a group of fighter pilots fly several snowspeeder fighter craft and engage the walkers, but the fight is one sided. The walkers are too armored for the snowspeeders. Still, the fight gives the Rebels enough time to evacuate. However, Leia is blocked off from her route to an assigned ship. This forces her and the protocol droid C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) to leave with Han and his Wookiee first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in his ship the Millennium Falcon.

kissOnce in space, Han finds out that the Millennium Falcon’s engines are damaged and the ship can’t jump into hyperspace. Pursued by imperial ships, Han hides out in an asteroid field to make some repairs. During this time, the feelings between him and Leia grow stronger and the two begin a romantic relationship.

While Han, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3P0 escaped Hoth, Luke and his astromech droid R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) managed to flee Hoth as well in his X-Wing fighter craft. Instead of rendezvousing with the Rebels, Luke instead goes to the planet Dagobah, a planet covered in dense vegetations and swampy environments. The X-Wing crashes into a swamp, but Luke and the droid are able to make a camp. Before long, they are visited by a diminutive, goblin-like being (Frank Oz) that claims to know Yoda and takes Luke to meet him.

luke on dagobah

Luke and R2-D2 accompany the small green person to his muddy hut and Luke becomes irritated by the person’s eccentric behavior and syntax. The being rummages about his dwelling and speaks gibberish to the point that Luke scolds him about wasting time. Seeing the young man’s impatience, his demeanor becomes serious and says to an unseen person that Luke cannot be trained. In response, Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice implores that Luke has potential. Luke realizes that this person that he dismissed moments ago is indeed Yoda. Startled by his error in judgment, Luke joins in the conversation and practically begs to be trained as a Jedi. Finally, Yoda gives in agrees to train him.

Time passes in the bog as Luke learns luke and yodathe ways of the Force, the mystical energy field wielded by the Jedi. He grows in mind and body as he undergoes physical and mental training. He also begins to have explicit visions. One of them is a precognitive one. Luke sees that his friends Han and Leia are in trouble. This convinces Luke that he has to leave to save his friends. This concerns Yoda and Obi-Wan, who now appears as ghostly presence. They believe that Luke hasn’t completed his Jedi training and is vulnerable to Vader and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), who want to lure him into embracing the dark side of the Force. Luke is adamant about leaving Dagobah, but promises to return to complete his training. As he leaves with R2-D2 in his salvaged X-Wing, Obi-Wan laments that Luke is their only hope. Yoda replies “No, there is another.”

cockpit view

Back on the asteroid field, Han and his group are forced to leave their hideout because it turned out that he piloted the Millennium Falcon inside of a giant whale-like space creature. Outside the field, they resume their cat-and-mouse game with the imperial ships. During the maneuvers, the Falcon is able to evade the Star Destroyers by piggybacking onto the side of one of their hulls. The Rebels are finally able to shake their pursuers when the Star Destroyer jettisons its garbage and they drift away with the debris. The plan works as the imperial fleet jumps into hyperspace, but they’re unaware that nearby in a small ship, a bounty hunter called Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) is tracking them.

meet lando

Going through his navigational charts, Han realizes that they’re near the planet Bespin. He knows an old friend there, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), who runs a floating mining facility there and can offer them a safe haven. When they arrive in the luxurious floating city, they’re greeted warmly by Lando, but they don’t realize that they have walked into a trap that will lure Luke Skywalker into the hands of Darth Vader.

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Star Wars Episode VII Cast Announced

Well so much for waiting for May 4th to make the announcement. After months of speculation from fans and the press, Lucasfilm has just announced the cast for the upcoming Star Wars Episode VII.

As expected many of the actors from SWcastthe original Star Wars trilogy will reprise their iconic roles including Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia (will she be a queen by this time?). Also returning are Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, and Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker as the droids C-3P0 and R2-D2. At this point, Billy Dee Williams has not been announced as returning to play Lando Calrissian.

new castNow for the new actors, there hasn’t been any official announcement as to who will play who, but the following actors have been confirmed: John Boyega, best known for his role in Attack The Block; Daisy Ridley, a newcomer who may be playing Obi-Wan Kenobi’s descendant; Adam Driver, from the HBO series Girls, is rumored to be playing the villain; Oscar Isaac, who won a lot of acclaim for his recent role in the film Inside Llewyn Davis; Andy Serkis, who is known by genre fans everywhere for his groundbreaking mo-cap work as Gollum in The Lord Of the Rings trilogy, the title character in the King  Cast 2Kong remake and Caesar in the recent Planet Of The Apes films; Domhall Gleeson, recognized by fans for playing Bill Weasley in the latter Harry Potter films, and legendary actor Max von Sydow. It would be fun if von Sydow played a similar scene-chewing role as he did as Ming in Flash Gordon. However, it’s more likely he may play a diplomat, perhaps the leader of the New Republic, or maybe a clandestine villain ala Palpatine.

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Well, we can breathe a sigh of relief that Star Wars Episode VII director J.J. Abrams hasn’t picked anyone cringeworthy like Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christensen. In fact, some of these picks like von Sydow, Isaac and Serkis are quite inspired. Whether or not one is thrilled with these choices, the fact remains that a feeling of excitement is palpable among Star Wars fans now that a new Star Wars film is going to be a reality. Announcing the cast now just whets our appetites for next year.

Annette DeForrester