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BLADE RUNNER 2049
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD, DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 164 Minutes
Release Date: January 16, 2018

Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Film ****

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner went from being a somewhat misunderstood release in 1982 to become one of the most cherished and beloved science fiction films of all time. This was due in large part to Scott being able to rework several elements into a couple of newer versions after not being satisfied with the initial theatrical cut (just to clarify, The Final Cut is the definitive version to watch if you’ve never seen the film). And it has always held a place in cinematic history as one of the most beautifully realized pieces of visionary filmmaking that has ever existed.

For years, the very idea of a sequel seemed both impossible and unnecessary. One of the most awesome aspects of the film was the notion that it left a few questions unanswered, which ended up making the whole experience all the more potent. The idea of a follow up trying to answer said questions, instead of leaving the viewer to make up their own answers to the mystery, just seemed like a pointless endeavor.

However, 35 years later we have been given the gift of a film that has placed itself on the very short list of greatest sequels in movie history in the form of Blade Runner 2049. It achieves such a merit because it excels at doing the very thing a notable sequel should do, and so much of the time fails to do. And that is to expand upon the story established in the previous story in deeper and richer ways, instead of simply doing a rehash of what we’ve already seen.

Ridley Scott isn’t in the director’s chair this time (though is a key producer), and that seemed worrisome at first. After all who better than Scott, who fought long and hard for the singular vision he laid out in the original, to expand this universe even further? The answer is the very director who was properly given the reins, Denis Villeneuve, a bold filmmaker whose had one of the best track records of any director in recent memory following Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival and now the film that is now his purest masterpiece to date.

The story picks up precisely 30 years after the events of the original film. Replicants, bio-engineered humans, are still considered something of a problem, especially older models who are now in short supply. The Tyrell Corporation, which oversaw the initial creation of replicants, went under, only to have its remains acquired by industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who went on to create a newer and more advanced model.

The police still employs “blade runner” units, who are assigned to hunt down older model replicants and “retire” them. The top cop in this unit is K (a downright perfect Ryan Gosling), and a new twist that is indicated right from the get-go is that K is a replicant himself. The opening scene details his tracking and retiring of a fellow replicant, who calls him out for killing his own kind, which will serve as a rich and thoroughly gripping journey/arc for our lead character.

Another riveting story element is K’s struggle and desire for some sort of human connection. And the only source of this comes in the form of Joi (Ana De Armas), his live-in girlfriend who ironically enough is an artifical hologram but is so real in appearance to the point that K has trouble acknowledging that she’s anything but. I wouldn’t ever expect one of the stronger love stories I’ve seen in years to emerge from such a relationship, but that’s exactly what we have here!

The main crust of the story comes into play when it is discovered that a replicant who has long been deceased may have died during child birth. And if replicants can indeed reproduce, then that changes the game completely. K’s superiors order to track down the child and retire he or she, but he convinces himself to follow a different path.

That path leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), ex-blade runner whose now living in exile. If you’ve seen the first film, you will recall that Deckard fell in love with a replicant named Rachel, and the two ran off together. The remains discovered are believed to be her, leading K to believe that only Deckard knows of this child’s whereabouts.

The journey and mystery we experience right along with K is one of the many rich and rewarding aspects of this film. The added bonus of this magnificently realized visionary world as the backdrop only enhances the experience to fantastic effect. The original movie was renowned for the fully realized futuristic view of Los Angeles, and this follow up takes that aspect several notches higher, resulting in some of the most astounding visual imagery to ever grace a single movie.

Another fantastic aspect here is Harrison Ford’s performance. Lately in his career, he seems to not help himself from mailing a performance in (that was even true with his recent return as Han Solo). With this film, though, Ford reminds us why he became one of our finest actors with a tremendously solid return to form. As a lover of the first movie, it’s a sheer delight that he didn’t go the lazy paycheck route with this character. When you add in the fact that Deckard doesn’t enter the picture until about halfway through this nearly three hour movie, and also isn’t in it that much, it makes his performance even more impressive.

The same has to be said of Jared Leto, who only has a few scenes but offers a remarkably chilling presence nonetheless. Leto is an acquired taste, and he wasn’t exactly a memorable Joker, but his work here is nothing short of remarkable. A key sequence between him and Ford is hands down one of the best and most effective scenes of any film in recent memory.

In the realm of both sequels and visionary cinema, Blade Runner 2049 is a pure watershed achievement. Though it is a sequel, it works exceedingly well as its own self contained movie which is also a very rare achievement. It’s been a long time since visual effects and masterful storytelling have blended so seamlessly perfect, and we will be lucky to see such a blending for a long time. This is far and away the very best film of 2017!

Video ****

Once I was able to acquire accessibility to 4K, my very first thought was how happy I was to be able to experience this movie in 4K glory. It goes without saying that this release from Warner serves as a perfect reason to obtain a 4K TV and player. The constant visual marvel is enhanced even more so beautifully in the 4K picture, bringing this elaborate visionary environment to absolute vivid life. Detail and color appearance pop right off the screen right from opening frame and dazzle the senses for the entire 2 hour and 44 minute run time. The standard Blu-ray provides an equally fantastic picture quality. I really can’t see any other release, 4K or otherwise, surpassing the sheer quality of this for the remainder of the year!

Audio ****

Equal marks for the rousing sound quality, which is offered in both Dolby Atmos and DTS HD mixes. Matching the one of a kind visuals for the film is mind blowing sound of the film, providing superb audio kicks at just about every turn. Hans Zimmer’s music score will sting your ear drums in the absolute best way imaginable, while dialogue delivery is in pitch perfect form throughout. A fully immersive universe is made even more so by this sock-knocking piece of HD sound! Another surefire best of the year release in this category, as well!

Features ***

The extras, all located on the regular Blu-ray disc, include some very nice featurettes, starting with a six part documentary, “Blade Runner 101”, which covers all ground of the film from characters, production design, effects, flying vehicle models and so forth. This is followed up by two additional featurettes; “Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049“ and “To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049“. Also included are three short prologues to the film that are worth checking out; an anime titled “2022: Black Out”, “2036: Nexus Dawn” and “2048: Nowhere to Run”.

Summary:

Blade Runner 2049 is a firm reminder that, with the right care and dedication of craft, a sequel can turn out to be a masterful piece of work, even to a cherished film like Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece. Denis Villeneuve has crafted an equally masterful piece of sci-fi that is a technical marvel for the ages and a remarkably story driven spectacle. And as far as 4K Blu-rays are concerned, this is an absolute must have release!

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