On Blade Runner 2049

Spoilers ahead, obviously. Although I don’t go into much detail.

We saw it in the Rio in Dalston, because all the Hackney Picturehouse showings were full (or at least just had a couple of separated seats left). Which makes me surprised to read these stories about it not doing very well on opening weekend. And weirdly, from the balcony. I don’t know when I was last in a cinema with a balcony. I mean, the Rio, obviously, though probably not since Harry Potter 8; but I hadn’t been in the balcony before, and I don’t think I even realised that it had one.

But to the film of the moment. I tried to lower my expectations, I really did. But I’d read that Guardian review, which was so unbelievably glowing. I listened to Mitch Benn hoping they wouldn’t fuck it up and believed that they hadn’t.


OK, they haven’t fucked it up. But I’m going to have to break ranks with all the legions of of newspaper reviewers who love it to death & back (honestly, I can hardly find a bad, or even a mixed, review), and nearly everyone else.

Because I didn’t enjoy it all that much. I spent a lot of the time (of which there is a lot) saying, “What the fuck is going on here? Why did they do that?” The former is fine, as long as it becomes clear over time, which it generally did. The latter less so: understanding characters’ motivations is fundamental to understanding and enjoying a work of fiction.

But much worse than those: I spent some of the time bored.

The main reason for that is that it’s paced like an 80s movie. Which is to say, much more slowly than we are used to today.

I should have expected that, I suppose. The original Blade Runner moves slowly even by 80s standards. That’s part of its visual and storytelling style. So it’s reasonable that a sequel, even one thirty years later, should follow suit. But they could have picked the pace up a bit.

The reviews all describe it as “thought-provoking” or similar and it’s true that the questions of what it means to be human or to be artificial are in there. But to my mind there’s not enough of that. Which in a way is linked to another problem: world-building.

It’s paced like an 80s movie

As before the world is very visually striking. What we have is the world of Blade Runner with thirty years of technological advancements. Like the film, the pace of advancement has been slow, but I suppose that’s not surprising, given how damaged the world is.

But slowly or quickly, technology advances in parallel with a conversation about that technology. What’s missing here is any in-world debate about the legal and ethical status of replicants. Certainly there’s a nod to the idea that the casual use of “skin-job” is insulting and shouldn’t be used. But it never seemed that insulting anyway — indeed I think it’s only the voiceover version of the original that tells us it is an insult. Deckard likens it to the n-word. (He does so using that word, which, rightly, would not happen today.)

In a more realistic world there would be a debate about replicants. There would be rights groups campaigning against using them as slaves, and even for them to be given full citizenship status. And from others there would be discrimination against them, abuse of them. That could all be going on in the background of this society — and the debate is not what the film is about — but I think a small acknowledgement that the debate existed would at least hint at a richer society.

Technology advances in parallel with
a conversation about that technology.

That all applies to the original too, of course, but now it’s much more common for the replicants to be living among humans on Earth, so the conversation would be that much more active.

And speaking of that commonality of the replicants on Earth, one question you might ask is, are there any humans actually left on Earth? Because only two characters appear to be unambiguously human.

One is K’s boss in the LAPD, Lt Joshi, who could unknowingly be a replicant, though nothing suggests that. The other, Ana Stelline, who creates the memories that are implanted in replicants. She lives in isolation because of sensitivity to the environment, and the implication is that only a human can provide the memories. But since not all of the memories are actually hers, all that needs is gift for imaginative imagery. And, now that we know that replicants are fully-biological beings who can reproduce (whether only with each other or also with humans is unknown), then anything is possible.

The situation appears to be that anyone with the money and without any disqualifying problem has left Earth. “A new life awaits you in the offworld colonies,” after all. I always suspected that the colonies would consist of grinding hardship based on subsistence farming, but I suppose the idea is you have replicant slaves to do the work.

There are no robots in these films.

The Earth that we see is incredibly empty. The original’s LA streets were packed with people, but now it seems sparsely populated at best. Empty highways — because of course nobody’s driving cars anymore. But the air is empty too. Mostly there’s only ever one car flying at a time. All those giant buildings might be filled with people, but you don’t get any sense of them being there.

San Diego is a literal dump, and Las Vegas a nuclear wasteland. Apart from the still-standing casino hotel, of course. A million bottles of whisky and you choose Johnnie Walker Black Label? Come on. (That brand is owned by Diageo, though, which is the first of the big neon advertising signs you see.)

I don’t know, I wonder if it was just my expectation of something more striking, more startling. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t hate it, or even dislike it. I was just disappointed by it. Yet I think I want to see it again.

I loved the music, by the way, though it was perhaps a bit overwhelming in places.

I think I want to see it again.

And as a last thought: I still see people talking about the replicants being ‘robots’ or ‘androids.’ If it wasn’t clear from the first film, where they bled what seemed to be blood, it is powerfully obvious now: there are no robots in these films. The replicants are fully biological. They are probably more like clones, genetically engineered for enhanced strength and stamina.

The original book had androids (the clue was in the title); but not these films.

Swim, Test, Shop, Film, Sleep

Yesterday I kind of wilfully skipped a day. At some point in the evening I realised I wasn’t going to write a post, so I just said, “Fine: that’s allowed.”

Today I started by going for a swim. After my new regime of exercise last summer, I got out of the habit once I started a new contract. So it was good to get back to it. (Which is not to say I haven’t swum or gone to the gym in all that time, but it’s been a few weeks at the moment.)

After that I took a HackerRank test for a new job opportunity. It’s a site that does programming tests. This one was, I suspect, a disaster. I hate doing that kind of thing: you’ve got a timer running, and the problem you’re trying to solve is unlike anything you’d have to do professionally… Anyway, suffice to say, it didn’t go terribly well.

This evening was all about falling asleep in front of the telly. We tried to watch 20,000 Days On Earth, the film about Nick Cave from a few years back. I got it a few Christmases or birthdays ago, but hadn’t got round to watching it till now. I enjoyed what I saw of it, but there was definite falling asleep on the sofa and missing chunks. Oh well, it’s a DVD: we can always go back.

Oh yes: there was also a trip to Westfield, the time-void where hours go to die.

Looking Back and Forward

My recent and forthcoming live music experiences all involve bands of my youth that have reformed and are touring their old material.1 Wallowing in nostalgia, some might call it.

But there’s nothing inherently wrong with bands getting back together. It can be problematic if you are the band that tours as the Dead Kennedys, of course. There’s a whole saga there that I won’t go into, but if Jello Biafra’s not involved, and in fact is actively against it, then it’s not the Dead Kennedys.

Indeed, in his song “Buy My Snake Oil” Jello suggested that a way for old punks to make money off their history would be to

Give in
Ride the punk nostalgia wave
For all it’s worth
Recycle the name of my old band
For a big reunion tour
Sing all those hits from the “good ol’ days”
‘Bout how bad the good ol’ days were

Which is a fair criticism of old bands doing their thing in modern days, I guess. But I see two arguments to counter it, from a gig-goer’s point of view.


The first was made by my friend Andrew, around the time that the Sex Pistols reformed and toured. This would have been in 1996.

“I missed them first time round,” he said when I challenged him about it. “This is unfinished business for me.”

Which was a good point, and kind of made me regret playing the purist and not going.

In 1993 I had investigated going to see the reunited Velvet Underground. But I really didn’t want to see them at an all-seated venue. Partly because I’d had a bad experience seeing Lou Reed a year or so before (despite having had a very good experience with him a year or two before that).

I recall that I phoned the venue — Earl’s Court, I think — and found that it did have some standing room. But those tickets were sold out. So I didn’t go. Regretted that, too. So I’m talking the chance to see bands like the Rezillos, or The Beat and The Selecter, that I missed first time around.

OK, But What is it Really?

The second point about the “punk nostalgia wave” (or any similar accusation of nostalgia) is: that is not what it is.

Because here’s the thing: it isn’t nostalgia if you’re carrying on with something that was always there.

Nostalgia (noun): a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past

according to Cambridge.

But this isn’t that. Because while those bands’ heydays might have been in the past, their music has remained available and frequently-played. You can’t be nostalgic for an album you listened to last week, or last night.

And a live performance always happens in the present.

This train of thought was kicked off for me a couple of years back when there was an article in the Guardian, prior to The Force Awakens coming out. I can’t find it now,2 but it claimed that “nostalgia” was part of the cause of the excitement for the new film.

And I thought, no. Well, maybe for some people. But for many of us, if not most of us, Star Wars never went away. We’ve watched it, talked about it, read theories about it, and so on. It has been part of our lives.

Or take Doctor Who. Sure, there were the wilderness years before 2005, but The Doctor never really went away. The Tardis and Daleks are burned into Britain’s cultural memory, and I think they always will be.

Now if I were to see an episode of, say, Marine Boy: that would be nostalgic. I remember it fondly from my childhood, and have never seen it since. I’ve never even seen it in colour, because those were the days of black & white televisions.3

But I can’t be nostalgic for punk bands or Star Wars or Doctor Who, because they never went away. The sense of warmth and shared experience they bring: that’s not nostalgia, it’s something else. Familiarity, at worst. Or better: community.

  1. Or a mixture of old and new, as with The Rezillos. []
  2. This is why you should always save links, folks. []
  3. God, I really come from another time, don’t I? []

Oscar Action

Went to see Hidden Figures tonight. I absolutely loved it. It’s a feelgood movie about space, computers1 and civil rights. What’s not to like?

And yesterday we saw Moonlight, which is strange and interesting, and while I enjoyed it, I don’t think I got as much out of it as some did. But I spent a couple of hours this morning reading reviews of it, whch I don’t do with every film, so there’s that.

And a couple of weeks ago we saw La La Land. Which is a bit of pointless froth, but is fun enough.

Anyway, that means that on the day before the Oscars I’ve seen three of the nominated films. I don’t think this has ever happened before.

In fact I might never have seen that many Oscar-nominated films in any year at all.

  1. Original and modern meanings. []
Also on:


You’ll have noticed, I’m sure, that after my [brief](http://devilgate.org/blog/2015/06/23/the-phantom-menace/) comments on the [three](http://devilgate.org/blog/2015/10/28/attack-of-the-clowns-or-send-in-the-clones/) Star Wars [prequels](http://devilgate.org/blog/2015/12/16/revenge-of-the-prequels/) late last year, I didn’t come back and say what I thought of the sequel. Which was, after all, the main reason I watched the prequels in the first place.

That was lax of me, but in honour of the DVD of The Force Awakens having arrived, here we go now. I won’t go into much detail, though: many pixels, and hours of podcasts, have been generated discussing this movie, and the internet doesn’t need mine at this late stage. But I’ll just quote what I wrote privately after seeing it the first time:

> Star Wars: The Force Awakens: I loved every moment, every frame from the scroll onwards. No, before that: from the logo appearing on screen.
> Hell, I think “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” comes first.
> Anyway, this is a _flawless_ movie. OK, exaggeration: but it is a wonderful, masterful piece of work.

The other thing I thought was, “Move over Empire: there’s a new best Star Wars film.”

Revenge of the Prequels

Well, this is more like it. It’s far from perfect, but Revenge of the Sith is far and away the best of the three prequels.

And that is largely because it has a story that mostly makes sense, and isn’t too confusing. Sure, there are still plot holes, and flaws in the motivation; but overall it holds together pretty well.

Still not as well as any of the original trilogy, of course.

The biggest point that doesn’t work for me is that we don’t see why Anakin has any connection with Palpatine. He goes over to the latter far too easily. I don’t so much mean his falling to the Dark Side; that was on the cards at least since he murdered the Sandpeople in Clones. I mean the fact that Palpatine was suddenly asking him to spy on the Jedi Council, while the Council were equally-suddenly talking about his closeness to Palpatine. We had seen none of this.

I’ve been reading a lot about all this lately, and I gather that much is made clearer in the ancillary material: novels, comics, the Clone Wars series that was made around the same time. But even if that is so, it means the movies fail. A movie has to be able to stand on its own. You can’t expect the viewer to have read around the subject or watched spinoff series. You can just barely rely on them having seen the immediately-prior films.

Compare and contrast the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example. You can watch The Avengers without having seen any of the prior films. Or enjoy Agents of SHIELD without having seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for example. If you _have_ seen the related material then it enhances the whole. But any element can stand without the others.

The love story between Anakin and Padmé remains unconvincing, and Padmé’s death… well, I had gained the impression that she had died in childbirth, which seemed implausible in such a technologically-advanced society. In fact she died of a broken heart, or just gave up the ghost, or something. Which would be more plausible (if still not very) had she not just given birth. It seems more likely that a new mother would tend to fight for life to protect her babies. She died because the plot needed her to, in the end. If, as a creator, you have to do that kind of thing, you should at least find a more convincing way to do it.

Anyway, now I’ve seen all of the Star Wars movies, and I’m ready for The Force Awakens. Which is good, because I’ll be seeing it in about 30 hours.

Attack of the Clowns, or: Send in the Clones

Some time in 2002, as I suppose it must have been, I was driving through Hackney with my then-small son in the car, when he said, “Dad, I saw a clown.”

OK, I thought, someone probably dressed up for a kids’ party. It was a Saturday, as I recall. “Oh, yeah, where?” I glanced around, but couldn’t see any white faces or red noses.

“On a bus shelter.”

“A clown? On a bus shelter?”

“Yes. A clown. You know, from Star Wars.”

I guess I must have been able to give some explanation of what “clone” means, to a five-year-old. But it wasn’t till last weekend that we finally saw the relevant movie.

And as before… it wasn’t as bad as I’ve been led to believe. Keeping your expectations low always helps.

It wasn’t great, it’s true. In particular I wasn’t convinced by Anakin and Padmé falling in love. Anakin, yes, but Padmé, really, no.

I had a hard time working out what the sides were in the big battle. The clones end up fighting on the side of the Republic? I didn’t expect that.

And this bothers me: if you are an assemblage of planets joined together in common cause by treaty, and some of those planets decide they want to leave — going to war over it should be the furthest thing from your mind. It would be like if a country wanted to leave the EU, and the rest of the EU formed a vast army to force them to stay in it. That’s not the action of a peaceful democratic entity.

It’s also insane. Even if you win and make the would-be-leavers stay, you’ve now got a load of people — whole worlds — who are actively hostile to the grouping they are within. That can’t be healthy.

Now, if a subset leaves peacefully, and then war developed later on, that would be more believeable. After all, we acknowledge the EU’s effect of helping to keep Europe peaceful these past seventy years. It’s one of the reasons I am strongly against the idea of Britain leaving.

But most importantly of all: you can’t say “federation starships” and mean the bad guys. I know they were talking about the Trade Federation, but “federation starshipmeans something in SF, and to hear it used here was really jarring. Did Lucas have beef with Roddenberry, or something?

Yoda fighting was fun. He’s so tiny.

And I’ve booked a work outing to see Episode VII on the 17th of December, the day it opens.

The Phantom Menace

Just who (or what) is the menacing phantom?

Following on from my On things never seen post, yesterday was Father's Day, and we watched The Phantom Menace.

It is not as bad – not nearly as bad – as nearly everyone makes out.

It starts badly, oddly enough. Not just the dull scroll about the Trade Federation, but then you have the Japanese-sounding guys in charge of the blockade and invasion, who are voiced by people who seemingly can't act. Their dialogue is frankly embarrassing.

But much of it is fine. Sure, there are holes in the logic, places where it doesn't exactly make sense; but what film doesn't have instances like that?

Even – and I realise I'm committing a kind of geek sacrilege as I write this – even Jar-Jar Binks isn't that annoying. Could the plot have worked without him, or with him not being a comedic figure? Of course. But having him as he is, does no harm.

But hey: I liked Wesley Crusher, too.

And that's about as much as I'm going to say about it for now.

On things never seen

There’s a programme on Radio 4 from time to time (and it has made the transition to TV) called I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. In it Marcus Brigstocke gets a guest to try things that they have never tired before. Conversation ensues, and it can be amusing.

Anyway, the title clearly derives from how unlikely it is that anyone (of a certain generation or three, at least) will not have seen it.

In case you’re worrying, I saw the original — back when it was just called Star Wars, without the Episode IV: A New Hope subtitle — in the cinema (probably second run, not first, but still). And the second and third, of course.

But then there was the prequel trilogy. To be honest, when The Phantom Menace came out, I don’t think I was all that interested. I had known from early on that Lucas had planned the original as part of the middle trilogy of three. But by the time the prequels started, it had been so long that it just didn’t seem very important, you know?

And more importantly, in 1999 when it came out, I had a small child. We weren’t going to many films that weren’t aimed at like two-year olds. And after that, there was always something more interesting, more pressing to see…

I mislead you slightly, here. I did, in fact, see The Phantom Menace, after a fashion: on a shonky old VHS, with a three-year old sweetly chattering on the sofa next to me throughout. It hardly counts. And I definitely haven’t seen the others.

And I know everyone says, “Don’t bother, don’t waste your time, they’re terrible;” but they can only say that because they’ve seen them. And now — now there’s a new one coming down the line. Episode VII, The Force Awakens is due out in December, and I’ll certainly want to see it. Of course, it will follow on from Return of the Jedi, and it probably won’t matter if you haven’t seen episodes I-III; but it just wouldn’t feel right to not see them.

So I intend to watch the prequel trilogy. I was going to start today — the fourth of May be with you, and all that — but events got in the way. Still, over the next few weeks I’ll watch all three, and report back here.

Wish me luck.