Much more than a replicant...
It doesn’t make quite the same impact at home as on the cinema screen, but Denis Villeneuve’s belated follow-up to Ridley Scott’s seminal Blade Runner remains a thing of mesmerising beauty
The world of the film feels not just futuristic but genuinely lived in
Blade Runner 2049 Dir Denis Villeneuve, US 2017 Sony Pictures, £14.99 (Blu-ray)
Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade
Runner has continued to intrigue and engage audiences since its release; after an initially mixed reception, the dystopian neo-noir is now considered one of the most influential films of all time. With the passing years and release of more alternative cuts, the film raised more questions than it answered, making fans eager for a sequel; and almost two decades after it went into development,
Blade Runner 2049 finally arrived last year. In the current climate of reboots and sequels there was concerned speculation about which direction the new film would take, but DenisVilleneuve thankfully put these concerns to rest: Blade Runner 2049 was not only an impressive follow-up to
Blade Runner, it also one of the best sequels ever made.
Now released on Blu-ray, the film is an absolute feast for the eyes – although if you didn’t see it in the cinema you won’t get the full benefit of its impeccable visual effects and breathtaking cinematography. As with Scott’s groundbreaking original, the production design ofVilleneuve’s film helps to believably establish the world of the film as not only futuristic, but also as a place that feels genuinely lived in. There are occasional callbacks to the first Blade Runner in terms of sound effects, musical cues, familiar items and graphics, as well as oddly clunky technology, but these connections are so subtle that they do not interfere with the viewing experience and instead feel like natural parts of the film’s world. It is also through this thoughtful and measured balancing of old and new that Villeneuve manages to make
Blade Runner 2049 entirely his own film, even as he builds on the foundations laid by Scott 36 years ago and extends that film’s philosophical and existential questions into new areas.
The film’s pacing might feel slow to some, but while it takes its time to dwell on details, it never meanders in terms of its narrative. The story (I’ll avoid spoilers, just in case!) serves as a natural, yet deeply intriguing, extension of the original; so, fans of the first film will probably take to this one, while the uninitiated may find this as meandering, dull and inconclusive as many found Blade Runner when it was originally released.
While the film’s marketing may have led some moviegoers to believe that Harrison Ford would be a significant screen presence, Ford is merely a supporting character compared to Ryan Gosling’s K, who is the undisputed main character. Utilising his knack for expertly portraying externally stoic but internally chaotic characters, as in 2011’s Drive, Gosling delivers a career-best performance as the young Blade Runner, portraying. K as a multi-faceted and deeply compelling character. The supporting cast also play their parts well; like Ford, Jared Leto doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but he still manages to become a menacing presence, while the various associates of the main characters are all clearly distinguishable and all serve a specific purpose. In conclusion, Blade Runner
2049 is not onlyVilleneuve’s best work to date, it is also a cinematic triumph that reminds us not just how rich the science fiction genre is, but also of the possibilities of the medium of film in general.
Blade Runner Dir Ridley Scott, US 1982 Warner, £34.99 (4K special edition)
Fanboys and fangirls undoubtedly dream of special editions like this: a four-disc package on Bluray and 4K Ultra HD of Ridley Scott’s now seminal dystopian Sci-fi classic Blade Runner in all of its contentious incarnations. Disc 1 contains Scott’s 2007 Final Cut. Disc 2 contains the Original Theatrical and International Theatrical Cut of 1982 and the Director’s Cut of 1992. Disc 3 is replete with a rare Workprint FeatureVersion, the lengthy documentary Dangerous Days as well as 12 featurettes and an HD still gallery containing
the gory action skips the ancient Egypt locale. Now we’re in a strange timeless London with 1970s record players, Lovecraftian motor cars and an asylum that’s straight out ofVictorian England. The threat’s different too. Shuffling dead blokes wrapped in bandages are replaced by a mystical ancient force set to resurrect a beautiful Egyptian queen. Sadly, this evil force spilled over into real life, in what’s known as Hammer’s ‘cursed’ production. Peter Cushing left the set three days into filming, when his beloved wife died. Then, precisely a month later, the director died of a heart attack (after a week-long bout of hiccups, which the crew all laughed at). A crew member even died in a motorbike crash during filming; even creepier when the film features a scene where a body is found trapped under a motorbike. Bad vibes aside though, the film itself is really quite a treat.
The brutality continues that same year with Demons
of the Mind, a bizarre, almost arthouse tale of incest, murder and the power of psychology (it’s a thematic forerunner to Cronenberg’s The Brood). An hour into this, I barely had a clue what was going on – but the plot solidifies in the last 30 minutes... including a winceinducing throat stabbing with a set of keys. Finally, we have Fear in
the Night, from 1972, which is the only one in this batch you could play at your kid’s birthday party this weekend. Opting for mystery over gore, this boy’s-school shocker follows a mentally fragile young wife facing Joan Collins and a one-armed attacker. Peter Cushing’s appearance is brief but wonderfully sinister, and rather sad too. Fans of Motorway Services (they do exist) might get a kick out of a strangely lengthy scene set in Toddington Services on the M1. Fans of vintage vinyl (they certainly exist) will also enjoy the twirling racks of budget Marble Arch records too. over 1,000 archival images. Disc 4 is dedicated to the 2007 Final Cut on 4K Ultra HD. A 100-page booklet ‘The Art of Blade Runner’ completes the package.
One thing to note about the 4K version is the stunning sound. Vangelis’s mesmerising music has never been such a treat for the ears, its huge synth swathes and detonations of majestic electronic brass indispensible in a film which for so much of its running time plays like a silent movie with musical accompaniment. If you’ve got the kit, it will blow you away.
Another detail to note is how grainy some of the original stock remains, almost giving the sense that Scott was at the time actually using the limitations of the medium for painterly effect up on the screen; an interplay between dusty mote-filled light and shade that the exposure of 4K almost strips away. Where it comes into its own is in the depth of field revealed within those vast, clogged Los Angeles streets, not only down and dirty at rain-soaked ground level, but especially in the vertiginous skyscraper climax when Deckard tries to evade Roy’s relentless pursuit, and of course in that jaw-dropping opening where Scott unfurls the city’s dense futuristic nightmare before us, lit up by massive spumes of industrial flame. Nick Cirkovic
Wartime Chronicles Dir Keith Barnfather, UK 1987 Reeltime Pictures, £14.99 (DVD)
Wartime was one of the unofficial Doctor Who spin-off videos from Reeltime Pictures, along with Downtime, the Mindgame
Trilogy and Daemos Rising. It’s distinctive for appearing while
Doctor Who was still on the air, in 1987; the others were all from the “wilderness years” following 1989.
Warrant Officer (formerly Sergeant) John Benton (John Levene) is heading to UNIT headquarters when his jeep breaks down, very near a garden and ruin where he used to play as a boy – and where his brother Chris had died falling from the ruin. It was an accident, but Benton always felt guilt for his brother’s death. Wandering through the garden, Benton
has flashbacks: playing with his brother, his brother’s death, and confrontations with his father (Michael Wisher), a rigid and uncaring military man who never had any time for him. Benton faces his demons, and emerges stronger.
It’s a half-hour film, a one-idea piece, but emotionally quite powerful. Levene, who returned to the role having given up acting 10 years earlier, acquits himself well.
The other offerings on the first DVD are a series of mini-features, mostly with poor sound quality, discussing Doctor Who fan films before Wartime Chronicles – which, from the brief clips shown, appear to have displayed a lot more imagination and ingenuity than some of the later more “professional” spin-offs. There’s also the obligatory “behind-thescenes” film, where someone with a spare camera films the filming of the film; but there’s only so much rehearsal, retakes and banter between actors and crew – often out of focus, with poor sound and from the wrong angle – that you can take before it becomes very repetitive and very tedious.
The second DVD has ReUNITed, a history of UNIT, and an overlong convention panel of Jon Pertwee and the UNIT team. A pleasantenough curiosity, but probably for longtime devotees only. David V Barrett
House Dir Nobuhiko Obayashi, Japan 1977 Eureka Entertainment, £16.99 (Blu-ray)
Blimey, where does one start with
House? Perhaps it’s best to begin by explaining that – title and haunted house premise aside – it has nothing to do with the 1980s US comedy-horror franchise. Now, under normal circumstances I have a real problem with comedyhorror films. They’re never funny enough, they’re never horrifying enough, and unless they get it absolutely spot on, each element undercuts the other. In the whole history of cinema the only film I can think of that made me laugh out loud and frightened the wits out of me is John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London. Over 100 years of movies and only once has the horror-comedy been done right. That’s how hard it is. However, House (originally released in Japan under the title
Hausu) is most unlike any horror film you’ve ever seen; in fact it’s also unlike any comedy you’ve ever seen.
Seven schoolgirls (deep breath: Angel, Melody, Fantasy, Kung-fu, Mac, Prof and Sweetie) decide to spend part of the summer vacation with Angel’s auntie at her isolated (of course) house in the countryside. Amid all sorts of supernatural weirdness, the girls find themselves unable to leave and start disappearing, one by one. Is the seemingly kind and gentle Auntie actually a killer? Or is the house itself responsible?
It’s difficult to convey just how strange this film is but, since it’s my responsibility as a reviewer to try, and despite the fact that it really does have to be seen to be believed, I shall have a go. House is one of the most bizarre films I have seen: it’s not only the things that happen but also the array of visual techniques used to present them. There are musical sequences, animation, shonky special effects, very good special effects, split screen, breaking of the fourth wall and all manner of editing tricks. The Japanese love of popular culture is reflected in the imagery and style, which encompasses at least four or five different genres. The tone lurches from playful to sentimental to cynical to brutal at the drop of a hat. All of which leaves the viewer dazzled, confused, annoyed and at times thoroughly entertained. But its enormous verve and imagination is also its weakness; because the film never settles down, it can get a little wearing. It’s a bit like watching The Banana Splits or The
Monkees, remade by Takashi Miike, for an hour and a half which, given that those shows only ran for 30 minutes, is probably asking too much.
This Blu-ray release, part of the excellent Masters of Cinema collection by Eureka, presents a transfer which renders the film looking better than it has done for years, which is crucial because of its reliance on visuals – as opposed to plot or dialogue – to tell the story. There are plenty of extras too, which help shed some light on the genesis of this extraordinary, singular piece of cinema. Daniel King