Blade Runner 2049: a review of sorts

[spoiler alert — if you don’t want to read about this movie before seeing it, go away now!]

Ryan Gosling & Harrison Ford

In 1982, Ridley Scott directed what would, for me, become the most memorable movie of all time and yet, because of my age when it was released, and being wholly absorbed in Star Wars for my childhood years, it took until 1987 until I saw a shaky recorded-from-TV copy of the movie on VHS. I immediately fell in love with the ambience, the dirty, dysfunctional near-future we thought the 1980s was going to turn into. I fell in love with the way it was not like most other movies of its time: it was linear, the plot wasn’t too deep and it felt like you had walked into a story that was already well under way.

Then I discovered that it was based on the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick. I had already read a couple of his by this time and so when I picked up a paperback of the novel, I read it quite literally in 12 hours cover to cover — and wondered how anyone had scraped Blade Runner out of it. As it turns out, author Paul Sammon documented just that in his book “Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner“, a book I highly recommend if you have any interest in the original movie.

So now fast forward 35 years from 1982 and here we are in 2017 with the sequel, a follow on from the original movie, “Blade Runner: 2049”. I was going to write a review; a play by play if you will, but then I realized there were already 100,000 of these published and another would bring nothing new to the table. So I decided I would instead just meander on some of thoughts having seen the movie just the one time through.

35 years is an absurd amount of time from one movie to the next and I was totally skeptical that this movie would ever actually be made. At first it sounded as though Ridley Scott was simply planning to do a remake (as is the fashion). Would make sense as computer and film technology has moved on exponentially since the early 1980s and there is a whole new generation who have never heard of the original. But it is the “work with what we have” attitude that made the original movie so clever and compelling. Redoing that same movie would just ruin it.

Ridley Scott & Harrison Ford

When the previews and teasers came out and I saw that (a) Harrison Ford would still be involved, (b) it was not a remake but a new story and (c) that they were not going to try to crowbar an aging Ford into the lead (I am still cranky that they killed off Han Solo as weakly and flippantly as they did). These things gave me some faith in the project and my skepticism waned some.

But not entirely. And now that I have seen the new movie, I have very mixed feelings about it. I’ve spent decades thinking about the what-ifs, and what-if-nots regarding the original. How did it really end (let’s not get into the whole debate about the various edits and versions of the movie itself) and where did the story go from that point?

It’s a pleasure of imagination to leave some of these questions unanswered; it gives fuel to the mind and makes great talking points among like-minded friends. Having someone come along and say “this is what actually did happen…” takes away that uncertainty and starts to force you into accepting a new canon. (Movies, books and comics have loved the whole canon-thing a while now. And there have been countless attempts to reboot, retcon and do-over some of those franchises). The new movie captured the original dystopian, post-cyberpunk feeling. The gloom and despondency, the general negativity that the world has become a place where people just exist unless they are rich enough to get off-world and go elsewhere. It scored 100% for me on the atmosphere and ambience.

The music was a homage to Vangelis’ original 1980s synthesizer-heavy work. I’ve listened to the soundtrack in isolation. It’s nice; but it’s not epic. The main theme and some of the incidental music is emotive but it could have been better. I’d give the music 80%. The sound design, that’s to say, the effects, backgrounds and ‘ambience’ of sound was, in the movie theater at least, 100% and the bassy suspense notes used at various dramatic moments reminded me of the music of Lord of the Rings.

The special effects, were the best part of the movie for me: 100%. I love a world I can feel like I could walk into for real. The mixture of old familiar items like ring-binders on the police desks and wall heaters in the Police Department made it looked lived-in, like the set designers were paying attention (they don’t always). I know I will watch the movie over and over at home and pick out more and more details from the backgrounds and scenery.

Now comes the problem: the set up and feeling of this movie were perfect, the depth and immersiveness were perfect; the premise was perfect. The story sucked beyond belief. The characters did not show any development over the duration of the movie and Harrison Ford’s Deckard was reduced to bumbling bit-part player. There were hints at a “middle story” (sort of backstory between the movies) but to me that would have been more interesting had they focused on that part more than the part they did. Overall it just felt pedestrian and lazy. So I’d have to give the plot and storytelling no more than 60%.

But, I can hear you saying, the original movie had a pretty wooden plot too. It bore little to no resemblance of Dick’s novel and we go through the emotions with the replicants a whole lot more than we do with the main characters; ironic if you know the plot. But there was enough in the original movie to make it instantly re-watchable. There were enough loose ends and questions to make you want to know what was going on, and why; this sequel doesn’t leave you with that feeling.

You should still watch this movie, over and over and over. I don’t think there is enough meat left on the bone for them to wheel out Harrison Ford (or Ridley Scott for that matter) and make another movie. But, like Star Wars, there’s enough depth in the world the movie created for there to be spin offs if the producers feel like it.

My Uncle Norman

Every now and then I do Google searches for various members of my family, friends, old neighbors etc. with a certain curiosity for what – if anything – turns up. The only member of my extended family I know had any brush with fame and glory was my Uncle Norman; my mother’s second-eldest brother. As a child I remember him as a confident, boisterous man always joking around and performing magic tricks at a moment’s notice.

What he was always known for in our house, was that he had played for Arsenal Football Club in the early 1950s. It was learning this fact from my mother that inspired me to become an Arsenal fan as a young boy.

Arsenal Football Club 1949-50 team photograph with my Uncle Normal sitting front right.

So I was quite surprised to see, when I searched for him by name today, that an article in The Lancashire Telegraph, newspaper had done a story about him in 2015. It would seem my cousin Jim was who they got the story from. Here is the article  in full,

The remarkable Darwen man who became a wartime rear gunner, a magician and played for Arsenal

AT THE age of 18, Norman Smith was the rear gunner on RAF bombing raids over Germany – five years later he was a gunner of a different kind, playing wing half for Arsenal.

Norman, who belonged to the Magic Circle and also had a talent for golf, snooker and darts, came from Darwen and his nephew Jim Smith has told the story of the man who will always be his hero.

Born in 1925, he was one of eight children brought up in a two up, two down home in Garnett Street, where his siblings Tom – who was a glider pilot in WWII – Jim, Peter, Connie, Mona, Winnie and Sylvia all slept top to tail.

Norman, third from right front row with his Sudell Road School football team in 1939

He attended Lower Chapel primary school, before moving on to Sudell Road, where his football skills helped the school team win the Daily Despatch Schoolboys Football competition for the north, in 1939. Leaving school at the age of 14, he started work as a trainee mechanic at India Mill, before signing up for the RAF in 1943.

 

Family often later asked why he chose to be a rear gunner – ‘tail end charlie’ being the most vulnerable post on a Lancaster Bomber – he would simply reply that it was the only position left. He joined 101 Squadron, a special duties squadron, based in Lincoln, fitted with an ‘airborne cigar’, a highly secret radio system which disrupted enemy fighters’ transmissions.

Norman flew 30 missions, bombing munitions factories, as far away as Poland, marshalling yards, oil refineries and cities – but it was the crew’s 18th operation to Russelsheim to target the Opel Motor Works on August 12, 1944, which was their closest shave. Flying Lancaster N2 (Nan Squared), as their own aircraft Lancaster L (Love) was not serviceable, they had just dropped their payload when an enemy fighter appeared and the plane was shaken by a series of dull thumps. They had been hit and the starboard outer engine was on fire. The pilot Ron Holmes, who became a well known artist after the war, wrote about his experience: “We were a choice target, now lit up in the night sky like a flaming comet and if we did not get this fire out, we’d had it.”

In the rear, Norman reported his turret was useless and that, totally soaked in petrol, his eyes were badly smarting. Working together, nerves at breaking point, establishing their position and their course home, the Lancaster made it across the channel in the darkness and with fuel low, pilot Ron landed it safely at RAF Woodbridge. He was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, but aware that it had been a team effort, he chopped his ribbon into eight, a piece for each to wear on their later, annual reunions.

101 Squadron later supported the D-Day landings in Normandy by flying overhead and jamming the Nazi’s radio communications, After the war Norman joined Darwen FC in the Lancashire Combination, but was spotted by an Arsenal scout and moved to Highbury in 1948, for a fee believed to be £500.

 

He was at Arsenal for the FA Cup win in 1950, but two years later moved to Barnsley, where he became captain, and met his wife Adele, before joining Shrewsbury as player/coach in 1959.

Norman’s diving header, the winner for Barnsley against West Ham in 1957, was acclaimed as the most spectacular goal of the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he finally hung up his boots – he suffered several serious injuries – he became an insurance salesman, while also building his magic act. But one little girl who watched his show later told her mum: “He was very good, but he can’t be a real magician, because he’s the man who calls at my grandma’s every Friday tea-time to collect her insurance money.”

The 13th Hour

About to embark on my third night-shift. having started this job (same company, different department) on Sunday evening. Three thirteen-hour shift really do feel as long as they sound. The idea of 4-day-weekends sold me on the idea in the first place (well, that and getting out of the team I was previously assigned to, and in the process keeping a few grams of sanity intact; not to mention a slight pay increase for the trauma of sitting in Brunswick overnight while the clock is going around like it’s been submerged in cold molasses….

But, as the saying goes, it could be worse. And it could. Much worse.

All Points: A Journey of Sound

 

I love a good concept album: everything from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, to ELO’s “Eldorado”.  A concept album is an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. They were really popular in the 1970s as progressive rock bands began to run with the idea of making a whole album follow a narrative theme. Kraftwerk, the legendary Düsseldorf electronic music pioneers built their careers on the concept album right from the beginning with “Autobahn”.

So imagine my delight when, back in 2012, I discovered that one of my favorite music collectives, The Tunguska Electronic Music Society, had started a series of concept albums built around a compelling theme. The TEMS collected is a free creative group of free persons who compose free music for free people out of Russia.

The name of the collective, Tunguska, if you didn’t already know, comes from the name of a river in central Russia where, in 1908, a huge explosion (thought to be a meteorite) flattened an area of forest the size of a small European country.

The series is ongoing, and is called “Point:___” where each album represents stopping off at a different point along the Tunguska River. The music on these albums is not directly themed on any given location but the collection as a whole fits the concept well.

The music itself is described as “melodious instrumental and electronic music.” — and the best part about everything that TEMS members record and collect, is that it is free music. Free as in liberated, without censorship or restraint, and free as in given away under a Creative Commons license, which means you can share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format, for any purpose, even commercially.

There are nine albums in this series (so far) ranging from the first in 2012 up to one just released in 2017. Check them out, if you like electronic music, instrumental background music or just something not distracting for working or studying, this might be the thing for you.

Why do I support these people with such enthusiasm? Firstly, as a creative person I appreciate when people put their hearts into something with this level of quality for no commercial gain whatsoever. Secondly, it’s just good. The have many many other albums on different themes and tempos, some upbeat dance music, some very lowkey chill out music.

Put out to dry

Recently we bought a dehydrator for our kitchen. The price of beef-jerky (of which I eat a lot as a sugar-free, low-carb, high-protein snack) is quite ridiculous and the idea of being able to make my own, with my own flavorings and spices, sounded very appealing.

Of course a dehydrator is for more than just making jerky, so we’ve begun to experiment with other things too:

  • banana leather; yes you read that correctly! Take bananas, peel and de-string them (that’s imporant, those fibers are nasty), and blend into puree. Spread on the fruit-tray and dehydrate for about 5-6 hours. The result is a leathery, pure banana extract which can be eaten like a fruit-rollup. Dried fruit retains all its goodness and without the water content the flavors are enhanced.
  • dried pineapple: just what it says it is. The trick seems to be giving it a very long time to process to get as much moisture out as possible. Same can be said for most other large fruit: plums, apricots, apples etc.
  • home-made paprika/cayenne: this has been my favorite project so far. Take a bunch of peppers of choice: jalapenos, serranos, anaheims, whatever you like, de-vein and remove as many seeds as you can (remember it’s the veins, seeds and stems which contain the most capsaicin). It’s important you slit them, to dry them right out. Then dehydrate on medium heat for at least 10 hours, more wouldn’t hurt. You want the peppers to be crumbly dry, papery and show no signs of moisture. Then you can grind them up in a coffee-grinder and voila, you have some of the best paprika/cayenne you’ll ever use!
  • Dry out some onions and tomatoes in similar fashion, and grind them to a powder and add them to the pepper and you have a wicked good meat rub!