Blade Runner 2049 (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)2017 (January 16, 2018)
Studio(s)Alcon Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Scott Free (Warner Bros.)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C-
Set thirty years after the events of Ridley Scott’s original science fiction masterpiece, Blade Runner 2049 is driven by Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a new-model LAPD replicant tasked with tracking down and “retiring” older models of his own kind. In the years after 2019, it seems, the original replicants rebelled, causing the Tyrell Corporation to go bankrupt. It was purchased by the Wallace Corporation, whose founder, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), saved the world from famine when Earth’s biosphere collapsed. Wallace redesigned Tyrell’s replicants to make them more compliant and has used them to colonize nine planets Off-World. In order to take humanity farther, however, Wallace needs a way to manufacture his replicants much faster – he needs them to reproduce naturally. So when one of Officer K’s investigations uncovers the remains of an early-model female replicant who appears to have given birth before she died, Wallace will stop at nothing to obtain this secret. But K uncovers a deeper mystery too. If he can solve it, it might be the key to unlocking his own memories – memories he’s long believed to be implanted, but which might actually be real.
Blade Runner 2049 was written by Hampton Fancher (with Michael Green), co-writer (along with David Peoples) of the screenplay for Scott’s original film. This makes a real difference, as it means the new narrative is a deep logical and thematic extension of the 1982 film. When Scott chose to direct Alien: Covenant instead of returning to this world in 2049, Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, and most notably Arrival) was chosen to take his place. A fan of the original Blade Runner, Villeneuve was daunted by the challenge of making a sequel, but was encouraged by the script and by the fact that actor Harrison Ford had agreed to reprise the role of Deckard, and did not want to leave that challenge to another filmmaker who might not give the project the proper respect. Villeneuve subsequently made a series of smart choices, not the least of which was the selection of cinematographer Roger Deakins to expand upon the look of one of the most striking films ever made. Deakins was more than equal to this task, delivering visuals worthy of the Blade Runner legacy. (If there’s any justice, Deakins’ work here should earn him an Oscar.)
Villeneuve’s sequel is a bit overlong, but its strengths more than make up for it. Gosling delivers one of his most nuanced and restrained performances yet, and Leto’s quirky method approach is perfectly matched to his character here. The supporting cast shines too, including Robin Wright, Sylvia Heoks, Mackenzie Davis, Dave Bautista, and Ana de Armas as K’s holographic companion, who becomes one of the film’s most interesting characters. I’ll say nothing of Ford, the joys of whose performance you should simply discover on your own. All of this is matched by a magnificent production design effort that expands upon the world of Los Angeles 2019 (and that includes the returning talent of original film designer Syd Mead) and a score by composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch that functions as the film’s own sonic “ghost in the machine,” laying in heavy but hopeful synthetic textures while also honoring Vangelis’ original compositions. In short, Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a minor cinematic miracle.
As confirmed by Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec at 3.4K (Open Gate) resolution using ARRI Alexa XT and Mini cameras, with Zeiss Master Prime lenses. Also per Deakins, the post-production workflow was done at 3.4K. Visual effects were rendered in 3.4K (some at 4K). The film’s Digital Intermediate and color timing were finished at 4K. [Editor’s Note: Our friend Petr “Harmy” Harmáček, who some of you may know for his fine Star Wars Despecialized efforts, worked on the visual effects for Blade Runner 2049 at UPP in Europe and confirmed to us that they were done in full native 4K resolution. Chris McLaughlin, CG supervisor at the project’s VFX lead Double Negative, says they delivered their VFX at 3.4K.] The result is presented here in the 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Image clarity is excellent overall, with remarkable texturing and fine detail, both notable given the film’s dense atmospherics (which include almost the persistent use of smoke, fog, rain, snow, and/or smog). The presentation’s HDR10 high dynamic range adds a gorgeous luminosity to the brightest areas of the picture – think neon signage, holo-projections, and display screens – and lends a richly-nuanced quality to the color palette. That palette is often quite bleak, which makes Deakins’ artful use of coloring all the more striking when it appears, such as in the film’s Las Vegas sequences. Simply put, this is a stunning 4K image – perhaps not quite reference quality as compared to the very best 4K imagery (captured at even higher 6K or 8K resolution), but certainly it’s reference quality for this film. There are those who will bemoan the film’s sub-4K image capture, but given the aforementioned use of atmospherics, capture at higher resolutions would not have resulted in an appreciable difference in image resolution, thus Deakins and Villeneuve’s choice of 3.4K. In the end, the image you’re seeing here, particularly with HDR, is essentially a better-than-theatrical experience. It does not disappoint.
Primary audio on the Ultra HD is available in English Dolby Atmos (a mix that is 7.1 TrueHD compatible). Additional audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Descriptive Audio, and French and Latin Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. The Atmos mix features extraordinary clarity, dynamics, and atmospheric immersion. From the very first moments of the film, as Officer K soars high over the California solar fields, there’s a ominous, rhythmic quality to the soundtrack. The sound of his Spinner’s passage has real bite. Upon his return to LAPD headquarters, there’s an oppressive sonic tension to his baseline test (this film’s equivalent of the Voight-Kampff), which takes place in a tiny white cell – you can hear the tonal quality of the space all around you. The bass channel provides a heavy foundation for the mix, while the height channels fill in overhead constantly with cues both subtle and lively. Even something as simple as the sound of falling rain, as K and Joi interact on the rooftop of their apartment block, impresses here. This is a magnificent soundscape and a phenomenal Dolby Atmos experience. Note that optional subtitles on the UHD are available in English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), French, and Latin Spanish for those who need them.
Warner’s Ultra HD package includes the film alone on 4K, as well as a Blu-ray disc with the film in 1080p. The Blu-ray also offers a limited number of bonus features (all in 1080p), as follows:
- Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049 (21:55)
- To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049 (17:15)
- Prologue – 2022: Black Out (15:45)
- Prologue – 2036: Nexus Dawn (6:31)
- Prologue – 2048: Nowhere to Run (5:49)
- Blade Runner 101 – Blade Runners (1:33)
- Blade Runner 101 – The Replicant Evolution (2:07)
- Blade Runner 101 – The Rise of Wallace Corp (1:50)
- Blade Runner 101 – Welcome to 2049 (2:04)
- Blade Runner 101 – Jois (2:21)
- Blade Runner 101 – Within the Skies: Spinners, Pilotfish, and Barracudas (1:23)
The Prologues are quite good, particularly the animated piece directed by Shinichirō Watanabe (of Cowboy Bebop fame), though the live action pieces by Ridley Scott’s son Luke are interesting too. But while the two main documentary featurettes are solid, they’re not nearly comprehensive enough for those fans who will certainly want a much deeper dive into this production. The rest of this material is of the EPK promotional variety. Sadly, there are no trailers for the film, nor are there any galleries of production artwork, or anything at all to do with the film’s score. All told, these extras are disappointing. Note that the BD disc opens with a promo for the Blade Runner: Revelations Daydream VR experience and there’s a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy code for the film included in the packaging on a paper insert.
Against all odds, Denis Villeneuve has crafted a truly worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner. This is not quite a masterpiece, nor can it be called a “perfect” film like the original, but 2049’s conceptual, visual, and character additions to this world are significant and feel completely organic and true to that compelling earlier narrative. Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a deeply cinematic experience, a film that dazzles the senses even as it challenges the intellect. It’s also a remarkable 4K Ultra HD experience that’s not to be missed.
- Bill Hunt
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