Monday 12 August 2019

Blade Runner 2049: Or Why Has Deckard Become Tannhauser & Why Is The Venusberg Empty?

I want to take you back to 1982. A young(er) Wotan is wondering the mean streets one, hot, summer evening. A bit like Travis Bickle, but without the homicidal tendencies. It's the big city, but the bad end of town. I'm going to my favourite flea pit cinema. This was before the dreaded multiplexes had really taken off, Although Odeon cinemas, and their like, had long started to split up their theatres to smaller multi-screens. If you wanted to see a film on a full-sized, old fashioned screen, in general, you had to go to flea pits, These didn't have the money to alter their interiors and break up the screen size, with the consequence of allowing one  to see films as they should be: on really giant screens, This evening I'm on my way see a film that is being liberally panned by critics. They really, really hate it:

Said Roger Ebert: "He (Ridley Scott) seems more concerned with creating his film worlds than populating them with plausible characters, and that's the trouble this time. "Blade Runner" is a stunningly interesting visual achievement, but a failure as a story."

Said the New York Times "And it's also a mess, at least as far as its narrative is concerned. Almost nothing is explained coherently, and the plot has great lapses, from the changeable nature of one key character to the frequent disappearances of another. The story lurches along awkwardly, helped not at all by some ponderous stabs at developing Deckard's character. As an old-fashioned detective cruising his way through the space age, Deckard is both tedious and outre."

Indeed, perhaps the reviews are best summed up by Harrison Ford who, when asked to summarise the film in an interview at the time said sarcastically, "It's a film about whether you can have a meaningful relationship with your toaster."

But I had seen the trailer and some scenes on Barry Norman's "Film Night" (he hated it too) and liked its film noir looks, Plus, I liked P.K. Dick and his book upon which the film was, loosely, based. 117 minutes later and I thought I had seen a masterpiece of modern cinema. It took nearly a decade for professional reviewers to agree. And as long for the film to start to turn a profit.

So, here we are nearly 40 years later and along comes a sequel. And this time critics love it, falling over themselves to tell us how great it. But here is the rub, its not good. It's boring, overlong, unimaginative. It contains little logical consistency with the film that proceeded it,. It's derivative, but oddly of many other films and works of art. It's tedious and shallow and while presenting the same visual universe, it manages to make that universe look dull. And worse, it is a misogynistic, sexist mess.

It has taken me two sittings to get through this movie - and it is a "movie". I fell asleep two hours into its nearly 3 hours running time the first time. And yes, before you say anything, I watched it on the "big screen".

It's 30 years after the events of the original. The Tyrel Corporation has gone bankrupt, not after its founder was murdered in the original, but after a mass revolt of Nexus 8's - or something - caused all replicants to be banned everywhere - or something. Thus Tyrel is no longer the most powerful corporation on the planet. That corporation is now the Wallace Corporation, named after its founder, Lucifer, the Demiurge, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, sorry, I mean Niander Wallace. Wallace's company has become so powerful because it managed to bioengineer grubs as a food source - or something. It has also started "manufacturing" Replicants again. Not too sure why this was allowed so soon after the mass revolt of the Nexus 8s but hell, why not - or something.

Wallace is a Bond villain, but a really boring one. He is also Lucifer. We know this because he is the god of the replicants - given that he creates them. But unlike their orginal god, Tyrel, his replicants are flawed. They cannot reproduce. Did I forget to mention? It seems that Tyrel had managed to engineer his replicants to reproduce - maybe. Actually, perhaps this makes Wallace more like the gnostic Demiurge? A flawed god, who thinks he is the great creator but only of flawed creations?

These new Replicants are not only allowed on off-world colonies, per the first film but are now also enslaved and work on earth. Not too sure why, as they carry the exact same "risk to humanity" as the early Nexus 6s. More so perhaps as they have had their limited 4-year lifespan removed and yet still have the risk of developing their own emotions.

Blade Runner's still exist though, mainly tracking down those remaining Nexus 8s - or something. They too are replicants, like the "hero" of this film, Ryan Gosling's "K" (As an aside, in an uninteresting, misogynistic, and persistent, side story K has a romantic involvement with this world's version of Siri.). During one retirement of a rogue replicant, he discovers that Deckard and Rachel, of the first film, went off and had a baby replicant - born by biological means. The rest of the movie involves him trying to track down Deckard and this child.  "Dramatic tension" - apparently - is increased as he is being followed by Wallaces personal killing machine, henchwoman, a replicant named: Jaws, Odd Job, I mean "Luv" so that he might capture the child, dissect it and work out how to make his own replicants "self-replicating". Que, maniacal laughter while stroking the white, furry, cat upon his lap (No! He doesn't. Although, he does have a standard bond villain physical "flaw". In this case, he is blind. One is convinced that perhaps in director Denis Villeneuve's world view a flawed being can only make flawed creations? Given his treatment of women, nothing would surprise).

It takes K two hours of the film's running time to track down Deckard, after. a long chapter which seems to involve him wondering into the orphanage from Dickens' Olver Twist but being run by Fagan and visualised following repeated viewing of Mad Max 3. Indeed, I was very surprised when  Tina Turner didn't make a guest appearance singing "We don't need another hero. 

Deckard is living in the Venusberg, as conceived by Richard Wagner - or at least as often visualised by opera directors - in his work Tannhauser. Or in this case a decaying Las Vegas, But Venus is long gone. Indeed, all the gods have gone. Or if they are present, they are flawed, broken, represented as failing holograms of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. Venus may still exist in this world but as a giant, naked, commercial hologram, stalking the streets of LA. offering any lonely man a "good time". You see, in Roy Batty's famous final monologue (in which perhaps he finally comes to terms with his own mortality, the importance of others lives and why living may be worthwhile after all) he notes "I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate." The reference to "Tannhauser gate" has fascinated fans of this film for decades, even spawning a popular fan site based upon it. It seems to be the Denis Villeneuve  nod to this while helping him plod through his discussion of gods and religion

Final Act. Blade Runner 1982 orginal.

And here we have the two greatest "sins" of this movie - its misogyny and its shallow "investigation" of religion and "god". The orginal Blade Runner was an investigation and discussion of several things: misogyny, sexual exploitation, religion, racism and death. Death was its overriding theme and one that makes sense given that Ridley Scott, developed and made this movie so soon after the early death of his brother. But it also looked critically upon sexual exploitation, (watch closely the scenes between Deckard and "exotic dancer" replicant Zorah), misogyny (this time look at Pris's scenes with Sebastian, especially the last one with Roy), racism (Deckard's disgust and criticism is most obvious in the theatrical releases voice-over). And of course, the inevitability and "waste" of death and perhaps both coming to terms with it and the way it should help us value life. (the entire film, but especially the last act).

But how does Denis Villeneuve address these themes?  Well apart from the death or impotence of god - and the commercialisation of religion - he doesn't. Tyrel is dead, a poor god anyway in the orginal film, his successor is a bigger failure, unable to even design his creations to reproduce. The gods are in their heavens but clearly, just ordinary beings like ourselves,  Humans that we have projected to god-like status: Elvis and Munroe's holograms in Vagas. But even these are dying; broken down and hardly functional. Otherwise, we have commercialised our gods. They are reduced to prostitution on the streets of LA (giant naked, female hologram offering a "good time"). It's all, just,  so clunky. But worse, is Denis Villeneuve's treatment of women in this movie.

There are only four types of women in this movie: sex workers, subservient housewives,  and cold-hearted killers - or at least women that ask men to kill for them. And of course, the latter are the "bad guys" over whom the male lead must conquer.  There is only one exception, the human involved in producing memories given to replicants. But even she too is a female stereotype: weak and sick, confined to an artificial world because to enter the harsh, real-world would kill her. A poor delicate flower, good at heart, living in an artificial fantasy world.

 "What are little girls made of? What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice. And everything nice. That's what little girls are made of."

 Perhaps the perfect movie for societies determined to strip women of control of their own bodies? An interesting notion for a movie about a female replicant who gives birth even though that should be impossible.