Book Review: The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 has only just finished in movie theatres in my local area. I happened to go and see it twice having been a big fan of the original.

Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner left quite an impression on me at around the age of 12 back in 1985, 3 years after the movie was released.

And so it was with some trepidation I stepped into Denis Villeneuve’s sequel.  After all, what’s a Blade Runner movie without Scott and the sardonic somewhat eccentric Rutger Hauer as Batty?

The movie takes place 30 years after the original ( hence the rather imaginative title) and the sad world we saw in 2019 has just gotten worse. Leviathan-like synthetic farms cover great swaths of the landscape. There’s no lush tomato plants or mangoes growing in these greenhouses. Just grubs and algae! Outside of Los Angeles, the rest of this corner of the United States looks like a gigantic rubbish tip with a few scavenger settlements here and there. The city itself has become, if you can imagine it, even more dense, even more dark and more oppressive.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be too far fetched thinking that in another 50 or so years our world might look similar to the world Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve have created.

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How about that! K9 makes an appearance!

Twice I finished the movie undecided as to what I really thought. The second time I enjoyed Blade Runner 2049 a great deal more and I got a lot more out of it and having read the book The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049, I understood more clearly why this was the case. As Michael Green the screenwriter articulates, “the first film was about quantity of life. How much do I have left? This film is about quality of life. How do I live my life? How do I make it meaningful?” Well put and spot on Mike.

And so, for nearly 3 hours (really guys it could have used some editing), Ryan Gosling as the replicant known as K struggles with his existence and the burden of his work which involves taking out earlier generation replicants.

The story is a little too convoluted in some respects but it manages to be more or less a very worthwhile sequel and that is high praise indeed given the almost flawless masterpiece that is Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

But what is the book like? Like many movie art books it’s a little thin on information but one expects that. It is after all an art book not a Making Of. But given that, there are some wonderful insights to be learnt within it’s impressive hardback cover.

I particularly liked the page dedicated to the process known as a Baseline that Ryan Gosling’s character has to go through seemingly at the end of each day of operations. Using scrambled text from Nabokov’s book Pale Fire, the company responsible for reconditioning replicants dictates some weird and slightly unsettling prose in an effort to assess and control the emotional quality of their new generation, thus far obedient replicants.

Here is an example: a blood black nothingness began to spin began to spin let’s move onto system system feel that in your body the system have they let you feel heartbreak interlinked within cells interlinked did you buy a present for the person you love within cells interlinked why don’t you say that three times within cells interlinked…

Sinister corporation indeed!

It’s bizarre and unsettling and even as the viewer I felt uncomfortable watching poor K having to go through this. As the movie goes on, one really does empathize with his predicament.

Ryan Gosling seems to go from one completely different movie to another with seemingly no regard  to whether or not the film will have any box office success. I respect that. I also see now that he is quite intelligent in the way he approaches his roles. In the few paragraphs devoted to the process of the Baseline, Ryan Gosling eloquently summarises how this scene helped him to understand his character and beyond that,  in RG’s own articulate words,  “it also provided insight into the state of mind of those who would force this burden upon him.”

Interesting insight into the character indeed.

Beyond character development, the book also does a very adequate job of presenting the design elements of this impressive movie. From urban to natural, although heavily tortured, landscapes, the book gives a wonderful overview of the detail involved in building the world of Blade Runner 2049.

To Villeneuve’s credit, much of the world seems to have been created in real life using stunning physical models and real world locations such as the Inota power plant in Budapest. And then there’s wonderfully crafted locations like an irradiated Las Vegas courtesy of the incredible Syd Mead who was responsible for the futurist design of the original movie.

There is a largish chapter on Wallace’s office building and the quite stunning lighting therein, some nice side notes on the old Blade Runner blaster, a double page devoted to the hologram advertisements that cover the cityscape and of course incredible concept artwork.

For any fan of the movie or movie making in general, this book is a real gem.

One of our favourite parts of the book explains a small device known as the Memory Orb, which was inspired by old analogue cameras and looks like a chunky lens with several different styles. The quarantined and enigmatic Doctor Stelline uses this contraption to create the wonderful memories that comfort the replicants in their brutal existence.

There’s a great deal more to go into and we really enjoyed Mariette’s costume designing as it harkens back to one of our favourite replicants Pris, in fact the costuming in general was top notch, but we won’t spoil everything by giving up the entire contents of this wonderful art book. Denis Villeneuve has done an outstanding job of crafting and styling the movie, the characters, and the world they inhabit and the book does credit to showing the enormity of the project he, his crew and cast undertook.

Was the movie as stylistic as the original? In some ways it surpasses it, particularly in the grandness of the scale in Blade Runner 2049. This is seen nowhere more fully than when K find the belaguered Rick Deckard, now a hermit, living in an abandoned and irradiated Las Vegas.

One has to keep in mind too that this is a world 30 years in the future and things change. Ridley Scott’s vision feels rightly antiquated but also slightly more stylized with a great deal more emphasis on detail. For example, there is a major difference in stylistic detail one can see in Deckard’s original apartment compared to K’s more spartan apartment. I wish they spent a bit of time on his apartment in the art book, oh well!

But then we see this dystopic future becomes more and more brutal, less stylistic and more functional ( I mean everyone’s eating grubs and algae for heaven’s sake! So much for noodles!). So we can see the impact upon the way people must live in their environment and it ain’t pretty or stylish!

We are still going to tip our hats in favour of Ridley Scott’s original, but Blade Runner 2049 is an exceptional sequel and The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 is a very worthy keepsake!

If you’re a fan of the movie, get yourself a copy today. Thanks to Titan Books for a review copy.

2 Replies to “Book Review: The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049”

    1. Hi Ghost. I have been reviewing for a few years now both games and popular culture items online and on radio so I have slowly established relationships with various companies. Thank you for your comment.

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