Blade Runner 2049 impresses in 4K

Warner Bros. Pictures

I missed Blade Runner 2049 when it hit theaters. I really wanted to see it on the big screen and in 3D, but the fates never allowed for that to happen. At some point I read that the film’s cinematographer Roger Deakins had stated that he preferred the film not be viewed in 3D due to the glasses making the image darker and altering the color palette. So what more perfect opportunity now then to see the movie on a big-ish screen in the highest resolution currently possible?

Blade Runner 2049 is, of course, the long-awaited sequel to the 1982 cult classic Blade Runner, a film that no one ever thought would get a sequel considering it was never a box office hit and only developed its classic status over time thanks to home video. And it seems the new film is destined to follow that same path as it too was not a box office hit earning just $92 million domestically against a $150 million budget (with a worldwide gross of $259 million). It was a brave undertaking considering the cost and the uncertainty of how the film would be received, and it split audiences evenly by those who felt it was an artistic triumph or an unnecessary follow-up.

Our critic Jeremy Fogelman reviewed the film upon its theatrical release, giving the film three out of three stars. In that review, he said enjoyment of the film wasn’t dependent on having seen the original, but I tend to disagree just a bit because you need a little backstory on the characters of Deckard, played by Harrison Ford in the original and sequel, and Rachel (Sean Young). You kind of need to know they basically fled Los Angeles together at the end of the original, and the film always left us wondering if Deckard was a replicant.

In the sequel, we meet K (Ryan Gosling), a new version of replicant that has a human-like life span built into his programming, unlike the previous replicants. K, like Deckard, is a Blade Runner, a cop whose job it is to “retire” the older replicants that still roam Los Angeles. And even though he works with the police department, he’s still figuratively spat upon by the humans he works with because of the history of the often faulty and dangerous earlier models. But as K is sent to retire another replicant (played by Dave Bautista) he becomes embroiled in a mystery surrounding what appears to be a birth from human/replicant intercourse. Which, of course, brings K into contact with Deckard, content to live out his days in the ruins of what was once Las Vegas. It also presents us with the mystery of the child and leads up to believe K is that child. But is he?

Blade Runner 2049 poses a lot of questions about what it means to be human, showing us many human-like devices in the film that seem to have more humanity than the actual people around them. That not only includes K, but his “girlfriend,” a holographic projection known as Joi. She is initially confined to his apartment by the projection device, but he gives her another device that allows her to leave the apartment and even travel with him. Joi’s first reaction to experiencing rain is very emotional (and that is thanks in part to the lovely performance from Ana de Armas). Director Denis Villeneuve and his writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green really give us a lot to think about.

And while we’re thinking, Villeneuve is also blowing our minds with some incredible visuals courtesy of production designer Dennis Gassner. I can imagine how impressive all of this must have looked on a giant screen, but the 4K presentation is pretty spectacular as well. The 4K presentation frames the film at 2.40:1, even though Deakins supervised the “taller” IMAX presentation which gave Gassner’s stunning visuals more room to breathe. It’s puzzling why Warners opted for the non-IMAX version but perhaps that was Deakins’ decision as he supervised the 4K transfer as well. The decision, however, does not take away from the incredible detail captured by Villeneuve, from the lines on the actors’ faces to the smallest detail in K’s apartment (and keep in mind that a lot of what is on screen was physical sets and miniatures, not excessive CGI). The Blu-ray image also looks fine but if you’ve upgraded to a 4K TV, this is the disk you’ll want to be spinning to show off to your friends.

The audio options include a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a Dolby Atmos track, which is the way the film was mixed and the preferred option for the 4K and Blu-ray disks. The audio surrounds you with music and sound effects, giving you the feeling that K’s vehicle is flying over your head, or experiencing the rumble of explosions and crashes, or just being immersed in the sounds of the city. It is a spectacular track and the 4K disk gives the film all the space it needs to look and sound a breathtaking as one would expect.

The 4K is packaged with the Blu-ray disk which also includes the film and the bonus material.

  • Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049 (21:55) – takes us behind the scenes with a look at the pre-production and filming process in this newly imagined world of the film, with input from the cast and creative folks behind the camera.
  • To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049 (17:15) – Villeneuve discusses his casting process and how he basically scoured the world to find his collection of actresses including Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis, and Carla Juri. He also reveals that Gosling was always the first choice for the role of K, from the time the script was written to the time his name was pitched for the role.
  • Prologues – Three short films that were created to bridge the events of the original and the sequel. 2022: Black Out (15:45) is done in the style of anime and tells the story of “the Blackout” that is reference throughout the film. 2036: Nexus Dawn (6:31), directed by Ridley Scott’s son Luke, shows how Niander Wallace (Jared Leto, reprising his role from the film), was able to arm-twist his way into getting back into the replicant production business. 2048: Nowhere to Run (5:49) tells the story of how Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista, also reprising his movie role) got from Los Angeles to the farm where K finds him at the beginning of the movie. Each can be viewed separately or with the Play All function.
  • Blade Runner 101 (11:22) – A series of short (and very short) featurettes covering the various aspects of the Blade Runner universe. Can be viewed individually or with the Play All option.

The 4K and Blu-ray versions come with a code to add the film to your digital library via Movies Anywhere or Vudu, with the Vudu digital version also available in UHD.

Blade Runner 2049 may not be to everyone’s tastes but it may eventually become as highly regarded as the original is today. For that alone, this is a worth addition to your video library. For 4K enthusiasts, this is a must have disk, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment generously provided Hotchka with a 4K/Blu-ray version of the film for reviewing purposes.

Warner Bros. Pictures

 

 

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