Audiovisual and Assorted Thoughts on Blade Runner 2049

This is a casual collection of significant or intriguing audiovisual relationships from Blade Runner 2049, since I found the artistic direction of this film to be quite moving, and noteworthy. This is by no means a complete list, or even review. Just assorted thoughts. Please feel free to leave some of your own in the comments.

There are SPOILERS AHEAD! Of the whole movie. They are not subtle or ambiguous.

I loved this movie. I thought it depicted a very natural progression from the original Blade Runner without encroaching upon or violating its 35-years-past identity. I was, however, disappointed by the soundtrack. There were ample moments in the original during which I felt like standing back and appreciating the floating ambient music – quite literally, because often the most elegant sounds accompanied scenes from afar, of the city  of Los Angeles and “cars” traveling over it. That same effect was echoed in 2049, but the sound was so deafening and amusical, I found I really missed the original melodic style. The typical thumping textures from Hans Zimmer were far too heavy-handed for what used to be so stunningly placid. The music did trend back towards the original nearing the end, with the more expected lush synths during Luv’s drowning or K’s death.

There was some interesting stuff going on in Niander Wallace’s “temple”, which I thought housed most of the more aesthetically captivating scenes. I was struck by some kind of loose audiovisual relationship between the amorphous ambient music and the shifting light. Similarly: one of the strangest moments in the original, for me, was the sudden introduction of middle eastern hand percussion amidst the Blade Runner-branded synths. I only understood their addition when, a minute or two later, a character that was just shown was referred to as “the Egyptian”. Intentional or not, I found a distinct parallel to that with the throat singing instrumentation in the “temple” – suggesting, I guess, some kind of ancient mystery to juxtapose the futurist setting.

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The sound design, between garish assertions of “the BRAAM sound,” was usually very elegant. A subtle ambient hum that was often present in quiet rooms, in a lovely flourish, was finally attached to Rick Deckard’s jukebox. There seemed to be a lot more ambient radio-speak going on in 2049, to no particular effect except to catch it up to speed with the media inundation that we’ve grown to expect. My notes have failed me here, but I think there was a bit of an unsubtle easter egg when K was listening to a recording in the “car”, which felt like a pretty straightforward nod to Deckard reviewing the replicant interview in his own “car” in the original. In the same vein, I thought it was a nice touch to  unveil the dead woman as Rachael with just her voice, in a clip from the first time she met Deckard. That kind of subtlety in emotionally hard-hitting moments set the tone of the whole plot: only marginally tied to the original, and only in a way that appeals to those who might feel gratified by the maintenance of a legacy.

Obviously the Elvis/casino fight scene was an audio-visual extravaganza, but I specifically liked it for bringing back the sort of neon retro-futurism that characterized the first film. The somehow upbeat, yet bleak chaos; the familiarity of LA and Chinatown with a twist; the elegance in the grime; the classic in the future. I missed this a little in the more overtly apocalyptic landscape of 2049, but I can accept that after thirty years, a place has changed. The stuttering blasts of sound and the alternating negative audio and visual were equal parts violent and artsy in exactly the same proportions one might expect after letting the original marinate for a few decades.

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A few loose ends regarding continuity that I just have to mention: I loved the recurring visual motif of swirling snow that was so captivating and surprisingly touching in the original. 2049 harnessed it very well – especially in allowing it to permeate the emotional punchline of the entire film, enveloping Ana Stelline in the dream lab. I was also blown away, when watching the original, that their idea of street fashion in 2019 was a lot of transparent outerwear – which is exactly what happened in 2017. The biggest trend of the summer. Of course, costume designers capitalized on that with Joi’s clear yellow raincoat that she wears throughout the film, which I was delighted to see.

Overall, not regardless of audiovisual but definitely widening my lens, I thought Blade Runner 2049 showed an exceptional amount of restraint in its storytelling, and used every one of its 163 minutes very graciously.

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