The latest extension of the long arm of science fiction author Phillip K Dick is yellow, overlong and bereft of melody until its closing moments.
It offers a dusty soothing hand to our digitally fevered brows.
There is no instant gratification in this conjuration. We must wait long in the dark, captivated by strangely familiar images of a now impossible future, for a payoff to questions raised over 30 years ago.
It’s worth the wait. Technically and artistically superior to the original, 2049 reaches down deep into Hollywood’s debased Pinocchio territory and finds only the solemn reality of lowered expectations. Our hero of the future, K, is a little wooden boy who seeks a heart (soul) and has a Jiminy Cricket advisor projected as a beautiful girl with an outfit for every occasion.
As a Corporate slave the best he can aspire to is to become a sweaty ’Joe’ heading Off World where the air is, presumably, of a cleaner variety. No one delivers onscreen stillness and quiet attention better than Ryan Gosling. His calm air seems to unnerve the actor Harrison Ford who, reprising his role as bounty hunter Rick Deckard, delivers the only off-key performance in the entire picture.
The yellow? It’s everywhere – the colour of hermetic magic irradiates the sky, permeates the villain’s lair and illuminates the pleasing form of K’s projected conscience beneath a transparent piss-coloured rain cloak. Like the Red Shoes and Mean Streets (both violently red) 2049 utilises colour as a stealth weapon to confirm our basic unease at the oily, plastic nature of modern reality.
Overlong? Just slightly – the breath stealing action set-pieces would play more effectively if they arrived a little more frequently but Director Villeneuve is determined to make us wait. I applaud his stubborn nerve.
And the lack of melody? This raises the spectre of ‘tuneless’ Hollywood allied to the modern film director’s hysterical fear of silence or melody, but Villeneuve’s ears are as alert as his eye. He could have reprised the elegant and romantic Vangelis themes from Blade Runner throughout the entire picture. His refusal to do so until the closing moments once again displays both character and nerve.
He does utilise the world weary voice of Frank Sinatra who urges the wooden boy to ‘‘Set em’ up Joe’’ via a Reprised holographic performance, while the inspired choice of a piece by British composer Coates for K’s ‘ringtone’ (which frequently interrupts the glacial narrative) reveals the considered depth of Villeneuve’s anti-melodic approach to the material. Coates, who composed the theme for Desert Island Discs, was a defiant melody maker back in the 1950’s when post-war Classical music turned its back on populism and became a glass bead game for intellectuals. His unintended contribution to 2049, along with the digitally fractured Columbia logo at the beginning, is one of many subtle gestures which will satisfy repeat viewers of this low key masterpiece. I will be joining them.
We’re all ‘Joes’ now.
Phil would be proud.