I think like everyone who first heard the news that a sequel was in the works to Blade Runner (1982) I was naturally very cautious. There have been a slew of sequels/reboots etc recently of modern classics made so long after the original that it becomes too much to even consider how a new film could follow on from a much-loved film. Then I saw Arrival (2016) directed by Denis Villeneuve which I found to be one of the best piece of science fiction in a long time to be seen on film. None of the standard flashy techniques or effects, everything paired down, to help inform the tone, that sees a female linguist fight to make first contact with visiting aliens. Wanting to use words not violence that is usually associated with the genre in the past, shoot first, ask questions later. On learning that the Villeneuve would be at the helm this film, alongside Ridley Scott as producer, it was a massive reassurance that the not so long-awaited/muted sequel to the 1982 classic would be in very safe hands.
Honestly it’s been a while since I’ve seen Blade Runner, the final-cut seen as Scott’s definitive vision of the film. The lingering images from the film meant its something special, which is going to be hard surpass. Last night, a month since Blade Runner 2049 (2017) was first released, yes I know it’s a long time coming and I’m glad I’ve finally seen what in short is a worthy sequel without trying to outdo the original, which would have been wrong to even try. As I’ve mentioned before in countless reviews, the trailer can really affect a film before you go and sit down to watch it. Here the marketing team have put edited together a misleading piece that allowed me to be blown away by the full 2 and 1/2 hours film. Wanting to focus on Harrison Ford‘s role in the film.
I could never forget the opening sequence of the original, the all-encompassing eye and the burst of flame that reflect within. The never-ending model miniature city-scape and flying cars that zoom across, its a future that we fear but want to explore to see whats in the depth. Film noir had met the future with all the bleakness you can have wanted. A film that is both hard to really top or even live up to. I feel that Villeneuve has definitely lived up to the challenge bring his own sensibility for the serious, insightful whilst maintaining the look, the legacy and the concepts.
Anyway enough of the build up, time to look in more detail at the film. I already knew from a few vague descriptions of the film that Ryan Gosling played a replicant working as a blade runner who we see on his latest mission touching down in a vast farming facility, ready to capture his next rogue replicant. There’s no pretense as to whether or not he’s a replicant unlike the original which had you guessing until the end the true identity of Rick Deckard until we get the unicorn at the films close. There’s less ambiguity at this point, we know who we are dealing with and following as he uncovers a new case that has the potential to change the balance of power in this dystopia. A skeleton of a former replicant is found with some surprising marks that are found during examination.
With K we see more into the Blade runner life, not just the found em and kill em aspect which we had before. Instead the life of a replicant, the regimented de-briefs/recalibrations which are scarily effective as Gosling just loses himself to this role. It’s quite intense to watch, the repetition and testing that goes on to ensure he’s inline and ready to function to the best of his programming. Very much the slave to his master, yet free to enjoy his time off. Spending most of that with his holographic Joi (Ana de Armas) who confined to the projector. It was the first reminder of another science fiction characters – the first of many reference – as I found in Arrival. The Doctor (Robert Picardo) or Emergency Medical Hologram/E.M.H. in Star Trek: Voyager whose confined to the holographic emitters in sick bay, a prisoner of his own programming and limitations. Until much like Joi they are given their freedom – a mobile Emitter or it’s Blade Runner equivalent. Carried by the program or the end-user. The E.M.H. character was exploring his sentience, whilst Joi was just discovering her new found freedom outside the apartment. We get under the skin, well the zeros and ones of how she perceives the world around her. Later touched in a a sex scene that reminded me of a very similar scene in Her (2013), technology connecting with another, via a biological host. Again this is explored more sensually from Joi’s perspective which made the scene more engaging to watch.
K’s investigation takes in some familiar places and faces (not Ford just yet) which again really gives the film stronger foundation that just being in the same universe, we meet old characters and others who reminds us of the original along with other little nods. If only briefly they contexualise what happened in the prologue which explains the 10 day blackout when most files from that time were erased. It doesn’t leave any detail out and woven nicely into the script without seeming forced. However on reflection that opening of the film, tried too hard in places to replicate the original tone that was then original, maybe this is more out of uniformity for the film. The world itself is very much the one I’ve visited before, relying on model miniatures to create as much of it as possible, allowing you to engage with the physical in this possible future which we maybe nearer too than we care to admit. Not only does it rain but it snow constantly too.
Turning to the Tyrell organisation, now under the weird control of Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who sends his favorite replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) out to hunt down. We see so little of Wallace that I didn’t feel his presence in the film, Leto is again having a lot of fun with the role. Whilst Hoeks has a meaty role that makes her mark on the film. The henchmen of the piece, nothing stops her from getting what she wants, showing us that you don’t need to male, butch with scars to get the job done, you can be incredible feminine in appearance and still make your presence known, much like K’s boss Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) whose more fierce than Deckard’s predecessor.
Looking back at this very rich piece of science fiction that gracefully nods and acknowledges the original, it doesn’t try to repeat the past plot, instead it builds and expands with ease into this world that I wasn’t expecting to find. When Ford finally makes his first appearrence, which is for about 20 minutes or so of the film it feels natural, all the build up to find him. He doesn’t try to own the film or take it away from Gosling whose in complete control. The trailer wanted us to meet him early on, without knowing why. K’s investigation is a slow burner that had me glued in silence to the screen. I had returned to a world I had once explored with awe that has been expanded, getting our fingers deeper into this world. I do however miss Vangelis ‘s inspiring soundtrack, we do have Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer who do a more than respectable job in his strange absence. My only fear is that if ever there was another sequel, which again leaves me uncertain, I would hope that Villeneuve is somewhere within its production. I would also ask that this sequel would be allowed to breathe before anything happened, to find a place and be appreciated for what it is and has achieved.
I have to admit that I’ve avoided Cowboys & Aliens (2011) for years, not wanting to see it thinking that it was a silly combination of the two – Cowboys and Aliens, how can that work and be worth my time. So as I made a point to avoid this film. The more I have read and explored the genre, I have finally seen and actually really enjoyed this blend of two of my favorite genres; Western and Science Fiction, I never thought how fun it could be. I had been put off also by a trailer which suggested that Daniel Craig‘s character had been possessed by an alien, uncontrollable, causing destruction wherever he went. I guess that’s the art of marketing when it works well, to suggest something else from the same material.
So suspicions allayed and defences down I was actually looking forward to the blend, seeing what happens when genre’s collide. I knew that it worked when Westerns are combined with comedy and to an extent – Musicals. If your going to bring Science fiction into the West it has to be good. Going down the route of alien abduction we find Jake Lonergan (Craig) is dazed and confused, no memory of who he is or where he is, with the addition of a chunky bit of out of the world kit on his wrist. Soon surrounded by men who know he’s vulnerable, get a taste of what this bracelet can do, blasting them off the face of the earth. More power than any Winchester Rifle could ever pack. Setting the tone for the film, its going to loud, bombastic and not taking either genre too seriously. Craig’s playing the stranger that rides into town, a stranger even to himself, and the town he’s about to enter.
Getting into town we meet almost everyone who we are going to be spending our time with in the film. Paying particular attention to the cattleman’s trigger happy son Percy Dolarhyde (Paul Dano) who takes his father position in the town to his head, thinking he can get away with almost anything. Not the usual role for Dano who we see arrested a few scenes later. Moving then to the cattle drive which is has stopped for the night this is the first time that we see the aliens presence really felt in the film. A series of explosions that leave all but one dead. It’s a mad scene of confusion that leaves everyone bewilders us, we haven’t seen the aliens, just understanding that they are here and not about to leave.
It’s only when they get to town the following night do we see the space-ships flying low, abducting half the town, looking as if they are pulled away on some metallic hooks that could have easily harpooned them. At this point I thought they would not be coming back. It’s another mad scene that both amazes and confuses everyone. Over in a flash before you can even comprehend what has happened. It’s just plain madness that leaves the townspeople both defencless and bewildered, having witnessed something that could have easily come out of a H.G. Wells novel. The nearest comparison I can draw is to The Valley of Gwangi (1969), an obscure Ray Harryhausen film that pits dinosaurs and other monsters against cowboys. Not his best effort but still fun to watch.
50 years later with more sophisticated special effects more has been achieved, I don’t even question them. I’m more concerned with how people from the 19th century would react with futurist technology, I’m thinking in terms of anthropology, how these people unfamiliar with technology that is far more advanced than even the steam train or the telegraph system that helped the development of the Western world. Here they are seeing technology far beyond their comprehension. But they aren’t really thinking about that, it’s the human cost, the loss of life that preoccupied them, the most they have to hand is a round or more of bullets.
We learn more about Lonergan when he teams up with Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who after a disagreement see the advantage he gives him and the posse that travels the open country, meeting up with Lonergans old gang, who have moved on since his disappearance, reminiscent of the leadership fight in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). We are starting to piece together who Lonergan really is, his past and how he lost his memory. A journey that leads him to only female in the film – Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) who herself is abducted by the aliens who we have still yet to meet. When we are out in the open country, the camera remains as close to the ground as possible, we are staying in the Wild West and the cinematographic conventions, its the aliens have to share that space and world, only leaving to fly around once.
It’s only when we meet the Apache do things get really interesting, For now these two sides, the white settlers and the Apache have to come together to fight, stronger together, using White leadership and tactics, there’s some sort of meeting of the minds. When it comes to the survival of humanity it’s a different story, not the a war of colours and politics that we usually find in the genre. It makes for an interesting change, it’s messy, gory and fun. Clearly the filmmakers are having fun here, pitting alien against man; white and red. This is what science fiction does – ask question, what if, how could etc. One is playing out here, how would two opposing sides in America’s West survive and alien invasion?
The finale is female led, Ella is the real hero, with Lonergan’s help as he rescue’s the abducted townspeople. I found it refreshing for a woman to save the day in the Wild West, placed in a position of power, she can talk to both White and Apache. She is superior and otherworldly, quite literally, unlike those she could just watch on as see them being killed/harvested by the aliens. Could Lonergan and the others have really come together without the otherworldly intervention that saves the day? Now I can’t see why I put off seeing this film for so long, its a great fun film to watch if you want to see cowboys and aliens fight each other. It’s not meant to go down as a classic, just to entertain which it does, the actors take it more seriously than we do, steeped in the history of the genre we are seeing something literally out of this world happening. Just kicking myself for not watching it earlier.
If I’m honest I had mixed thoughts when it came to Elstree 1976 (2015) a little known documentary about some of the extra’s from Star Wars (1977). Instead of all the docs that had gone before focusing on the stars, the director and the origins of the film that in themselves have all taken on legendary status. But what about those bit parts which in the Star Wars universe have all become remembered, anything that’s vaguely relates to the franchise is worth sharing, selling or talking about. My reservations for this doc I think came from what could really be discovered that hadn’t already been said or discussed about the history of the film.
As soon as I got started I knew this was going to be different, unique even. Thankfully made in cooperation with Lucas Film that gave this doc more authority allowing it to be more credible, instead of just talking to the extra’s, we have recreations of the film sets, the costumes are brought out if only briefly. All these elements are important in telling the Star Wars story, without them it wouldn’t be authentic to the audience, false and not worth telling. You could say the untold story is more exciting as we have only had glimpses, If you look away from the hard-core fan-base your knowledge is not so sharp beyond the credited actors in the film.
Beginning with introductions that link the extras directly to their action figures, a strong link to the film that no average person can claim to having. Through the figures that helped to provide George Lucas with his fortune and ensuring the next two installments would be possible. The idea of action figures being tied into a film had tried and failed in the past, as history of the film tells us, for Lucas holding onto the rights to the toys was a very clever move. Becoming collectibles over time, practically anything that appeared in the three films has great value (if in great condition and in the original packaging). Ten figures to ten actors faces, all playing varying parts in the franchise’s first film.
Beyond opening comments of having their own action figures they talk very little about Star Wars. We learn of their childhoods, youth and early acting careers none of them as spectacular as Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher who all had more success. These 10 actors have stayed in obscurity more or less. David Prowse the actor behind the helmet of Darth Vader has one of the more familiar stories, an ex body builder who turned to acting after being told he’d never be successful – because of his feet. I forgot he had a small part in A Clockwork Orange (1971). To lesser known actors such as Pam Rose who was in the Cantina as Leesub Sirlin before going onto other extra parts late 1970s and early 1980’s. Whilst others have made a career out of being an extra like Derek Lyons with more than 80 credits to his name, that’s a lot for an extra.
During the main body of the film – the making of Star Wars we gained an insight to what film was like. From the tacky costumes, the 100’s of storm troopers to prosethetics and meeting the quietly spoken George Lucas who got one of them a cup of tea. How some of them ate lunch with Hamill. I learned how some of these extras took on speaking roles such as the storm trooper who waved Obi Wan, Luke Skywalker and co through, with “the droids they were looking for”. All these and more moments that are looked over in favor of the Fisher/Harrson affair, or the quotes about the awful script. What also makes this film stand apart is the gifs, that show us those blink and you’ll miss them moments in the films where the extra’s can be found. Weird at first, you soon get used to what it going on. Really bringing to life those moments that we in the audience wouldn’t care about.
All this before moving onto post Star Wars life, some it opened the doors to steady work as an extra, for others little came of it. Yet the power of that film alone, ignoring Empire and Jedi we have a film that changed so many lives for those who worked on it. Leading to the present the culture that has been created by this little b-movie science fiction film of good vs. evil- the convention circuit that some warming to it, whilst others have shied away from it. Prowse talking about honestly how he has made a career out of Star Wars and fair play to him, there’s money to be made.
I see this short documentary as a nice little insight into those much forgotten actors who brought to life the characters who are just as celebrated, Greedo, Boba Fett and all the X-Wing fighters, the list is endless really. To see the faces behind the make-up and costumes, and their lives which brought all of that to the screen. It won’t be as exciting without an all star documentary, however its something more special, shinning a light on the overlooked actors who did gave their time and effort to bring Star Wars to life.