Film director James Cameron gives the lie to the modern assertion that the bigger the film budget, the worse the storytelling. Most other big budget movies confirm or suggest that this is all too true, however
I watched Blade Runner 2049 last week. It was immediately obvious why the film underperformed at the box office. A convoluted and confusing plot is only part of the reason. The pace was self-indulgently slow. A hard to understand plot plus sloth-like pacing asks too much of an audience. Throw in the problems with character, character arc and the fact that the original Blade Runner pre-dates most Millennials, and you begin to see why this film lost its investors’ money. Perhaps Blade Runner 2049 will become a cult sleeper, like the original, and like many other great film that as we all know include the likes of The Shawshank Redemption. Fingers crossed.
In the original Blade Runner, the central character was Deckard (Harrison Ford). Deckard was human. The central character in Blade Runner 2049 is ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling). K is an android (or so we are led to believe, unless we are being led to believe otherwise). K has superhuman strength and can run through walls. He lacks human vulnerability. Audiences don’t relate to androids as well as they do humans because they are humans. James Cameron adduced his understanding of this with ‘The Terminator’. The bad guy (the Terminator) is a machine. The good guys (Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese) are humans. ‘Pretty simple math, huh Bob?’ (name that movie and email me with its name).
This is one of the problems with the fascinating and wonderfully ambitious ‘Ex Machina’. The machine, Ava, (played by Alicia Vikander) wins. The idea here is that by winning and escaping, the android Ava has passed its Turing test with flying colours: the premise of the film. But in doing so, it leaves the audience behind trapped in the building with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). Not good.
Like so many films, Blade Runner 2049 didn’t attach its audiences to humans onscreen they could empathise with. Indeed, the humans in the film (Deckard aside) were either evil or callous. Even K’s love interest (Joi, played by Ana de Armas) is software; this further diminishes the emotional weight of the film. Joi should have been a living, breathing, bleeding, scared human.
Just like the rest of us.
Plot stall plagued the film, as did causal plausibility. Deckard’s daughter by Rachael in the original Blade Runner was annexed from the theatre of action by her unexplained and needless condition. And Rachael was portrayed as an android in the original film; so how could she have a daughter?
If I’m missing something, then the film make that something clear. That is another reason for the film’s : scripts I am sent for assessment need to be comprehensible in that way an audience will buy-into the film the screenplay proposes.
Plot complexity is of course fine, but the world of the story must be easy to relate to if that’s the case. ‘Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels’ is an example of a film with a plot that obvious at a glance; but the world of that film was familiar to so many of us who have kicked around London and other big cities.
None of us have been to the world of Blade Runner, however; the film therefore needed to work harder than a film set in a familiar environment to draw us in with characters we can relate and care about, and a plot that is easier to understand – and which makes more sense (adducing ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ to argue against this assertion doesn't work because that film breaks all the rules to create a cultural oddity – a freak of film-making that is so different that its stands alone successfully. Nice try though).
Yes, the android/human blur in both Blade Runner films is, of course, all about exploring the materialist’s assertion that the mind is an emergent property of the brain: at base, we’re all biochemical marvels. Perhaps philosophising (if such an assertion can be classed as philosophy – in fact, surely, it’s neuroscience and or evolutionary biology) is better left to other areas of creative endeavour – or academia. When big budget films try to dwell on the human condition, they all too often fail at the crucial levels of story, plot and structure.