Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Blade Runner 2049

“Happy Death Day” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Boobs! Boobs everywhere.

Normally that would just be an attention grabber, but in the case of “Blade Runner 2049,” it’s straight reportage. There’s a good amount of boobage throughout this movie, seen on everyone and everything from statues in the desert, to giant neon advertisements for a holographic A.I. companion named Joi (Ana de Armas), to a newly created replicant (Sallie Harmsen), to a “real girl” named Mariette (Mackenzie Davis) who is used by the movie’s protagonist K (Ryan Gosling) as a way to have sex with his own personalized holographic version of Joi. No sex is shown, but the build up to it has to be one of the most fascinating seduction scenes I’ve ever seen. Joi can provide K with all of the emotional companionship and intellectual stimulation that he needs, but being a hologram, she can’t stimulate him in the way he enjoys the most—until she finds a pretty clever work around.

But, as “Showgirls” taught us oh so many years ago, boobs aren’t everything. A movie’s characters, plot, and story have to be good as well. At that, “Blade Runner 2049” also delivers.

The movie opens with some text about the creation of new replicants (synthetic humans) by a man named Niander Wallace (played with a calm menace by Jared Leto). Wallace took over the replicant business from the defunct Tyrell Corporation. His goal is to create as many replicants as possible with the goal that they can one day breed the same way as humans and colonize planets all over the galaxy. Police lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) has other plans. As head of the Blade Runners, she is tasked with the eradication of the old model replicants who have open-ended life spans. When she sees evidence that a child might have been born to a replicant, she assigns K, who himself is a new-version replicant, to deal with the situation and erase all evidence.

This provides a fascinating character journey for K. Even though he is a replicant, he’s implanted with memories to make him seem more human. This doesn’t fool most people though, since slurs like “skinner” and “skin job” are hurled at him and he is shunned by people around him. His investigation into the miracle of a replicant producing a child leads him on a journey of self-discovery and prompts him to ask questions about his own existence. Gosling and director Denis Villeneuve convey K’s torment pretty clearly. When the usually stone-faced K (who barely even reacts when his flying car is shot at) gets upset when he finds out a certain memory of his is a real one, his confusion and frustration break through the surface in an agonizing way.

Clocking in at two hours and 43 minutes (with the last ten minutes being the end credits), the movie is long but it never spins its wheels. I am constantly amazed at how many 90 minute movies are so thinly plotted and boring that they barely have a story to tell, yet so many two and a half to three hour movies move along so swiftly. The reason is that those stories—like that of “Blade Runner 2049”—constantly unfold. There is always a new development to further the plot, with revelations being made that lead to new places to go and new characters to meet. Two standouts are Lennie James as Mister Cotton, who runs a sweatshop staffed by orphan children, and of course, the main Blade Runner himself, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford, reprising his role from the 1982 original movie). It takes a while to get to Deckard, but the wait is well worth it.

In addition to all of these good things, “Blade Runner 2049” is an audio-visual splendor. Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins very wisely and maturely take the time to show us the futuristic hellscape in this dreary, dystopian world. However, my reaction is one of awe and wonder rather than of disgust and revulsion. I wouldn’t want to live in this world—or even visit it—but the artistry behind it is mesmerizing. I never knew that crowded cities, junk yards, and radioactive deserts could be so beautiful in such a melancholy way.

Underpinning the wonder of the visuals is the score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. They use synthesizers and minor keys to create a dissonant, multi-layered score that perfectly evokes the emotions expressed by the images on screen. Much like visiting such a dark and dreary world, I don’t think I’d rush out to buy this score to listen to over and over again, but as incidental music it is an absolutely brilliant masterpiece.

If there is one criticism that can be launched at “Blade Runner 2049,” it’s the pacing—but only in parts. As much as I love the music and visuals in this movie, there are parts that felt a bit sluggish. Some shots that aren’t particularly striking, like simple close ups of an actor, linger on for a bit too long. But I’m willing to put up with that when I am having such an incredible visionary experience. Buy it on Amazon: Blade Runner 2049 (BD) [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

Happy Death Day

Is it too much to ask that a little thought and creativity be put into a movie so that it’s not a soulless, formulaic, derivative mess? If you’re watching “Happy Death Day” (note: Don’t!) then the only answer a thinking person will come up with is yes—apparently it is too much to ask.

“Happy Death Day” is a murder mystery by way of “Groundhog Day.” The incredibly unlikeable protagonist, named Tree (Jessica Rothe), gets murdered on her birthday and wakes up again and again to the same day. She eventually figures out that the goal is to stop her murder so she can make it to the day after her birthday. Why the universe would see any redeeming qualities in such an awful, stuck up person to give her a chance to live is beyond me. At least Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” was funny and charming and a character to root for because we come to care about him. All I can say about Tree is that it’s entertaining watch her die in various ways.

A note on that, and pretty much the only credit I can give the movie in terms of originality: Each time she dies, the scars from the death blows carry over when she wakes up. So, if she is stabbed to death the next morning she wakes up with a pain where she was stabbed and there is a scar where she got wounded—internally, of course. Outwardly, things look fine. Can’t have the star of the show walk around with scars all over her body, can we? Though that would have certainly made for a much more macabre, unsettling horror movie. Just think of the consequences of having external scars after death by explosion.

Everything else in this movie is uninspired and unimaginative. No matter where she goes or what she does, the killer always has access to her. As ridiculous as that is when watching various days transpire, it’s even more ridiculous after the reveal at the end. Also, she always wakes up at the same time and in the same room. There are some mornings when she exits the room more quickly than the previous morning, but the events she witnesses while walking outside (sprinklers going off, a fraternity pledge fainting) always happen at the same time as she’s walking by—regardless of her timing in exiting the room. For example, wouldn’t she miss the sprinklers entirely if she left the room with enough time to get past them before they go off? A little thought and creativity into a detail like this—and the ramifications—would have made the movie more interesting to watch.

More interesting, but not better. There is still the issue of Tree being an awful person who I don’t care about, nor do I grow to like, and the story itself, which gets more and more putrescent as it hobbles along. Without giving away too much, I have to tackle the reveal of the killer, which comes in two parts. The first part is lame and a major letdown in terms of character and story. However, I still like it more than the second part, which while less of a letdown is insulting and implausible. Why? I’ll start you off with this: Think about some of the ways Tree was killed and think about the strength required and the body type of the killer, then think about who the killer is revealed to be. It makes no sense at all. Skip it.

More New Releases: “The Snowman,” starring Michael Fassbender as a detective with the unfortunate name of Harry Hole, who investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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