Altered Carbon – Message vs Medium

This post is going to be all over the place, apologies in advance.

I finished Altered Carbon this weekend.  Solid series and recommended, though there are caveats.  There will be some spoilers, but I’ll advise.


I want to start here because I think Lost hit a social nerve for those interested in TV + serial + mystery + fantasy/sci-fi.  Seasons 1, 2, and 4 were solid high points for me and if you ignore seasons 3 & 6, it could be seen as the “bar” for others to achieve.

What really sets this one apart from other series is that the characters each had their own motivations, mutliple layers of depth, and each moved the story forward through their consistent actions (minus Kate).  That’s just good storytelling.  Furhter helping is that it was set in a giant web of complex stories and rules, which each episode exposed a bit more – then waited an entire week for people to discuss and digest.

Sci-fi books are similar, in that it takes time to read them – time to digest what is on the page.  This part is important.

Ghost in the Shell

The manga is awesome.  The animated movie is foundational to pretty much every sci-fi movie of the past 20 years.  The core concepts of “what is the human soul” still has no answer, and we’re ~20 years from that being a reality.  It’s near-mandatory in order to watch Altered Carbon, and understand what’s going on.

Message & Medium

Some may be familiar with the saying that the “message is the medium”, a statement I think is even more relevant today.  The message is the story, the what.  The medium is the mechanism to tell the story, the how.  I could write an article on global warming, with factual references and logical thought – or I could put a 140 character tweet blaming it on the chinese government.  Apparently the latter has as much weight as the former.

Altered Carbon is a sci-fi film noir.  This means that it’s heavy on flashbacks, emotional relationships doomed for failure, confrontation, and a complex story line.  There are plenty of tropes in this place, but AltC does a solid job of not using that as a crutch.

My gripe with Netflix and the proliferation of binge watching is that the medium is subverted.  Altered Carbon is 10 episodes, and to digest the amount of message in these episodes takes time.  Hard to do when one episode ends and the next automatically starts after 5 seconds.  It means there are pieces that you barely have time to grasp and I found myself rewinding to key dialogue where I thought I saw something important.  In fact, I ended up watching the entire series with close captions to force me to pay more attention to details.

If you do end up watching it, I suggest you don’t watch more than 2 episodes back to back for that reason.

Netflix Series

It would seem to me that Netflix has a framework to series.  They are 8-10 long.  They has a pilot / intro that throws everything at the wall with little depth.  They have an entire episode dedicated to a flashback.  The penultimate episode is the best.  The last 15 minutes of the series are meant to set up the next one.  Most conflicts will end with a fight.

I dislike this formula.  I know why it exists – it has math to prove that it works.  I still dislike it.  Altered Carbon suffers for it.  It should have been cut by 2 episodes and the last episode was all exposition.  Ugh.

Series Overall

The concept is solid.  People are immortal due to technology keeping their “soul” intact, and they can interchange their physical bodies.  Any body.  It makes people, as we in 2018 understand the concept, be disposable.  There’s one scene in particular that I thought crossed a line, without enough forewarning.  Given the characters engaged, they also didn’t act as expected, which should have been righteous fury.

The series does a passable job explaining how these stacks were found, and of course it’s a mysterious extinct civilization.  Enough to say “there are reasons”, and enough to say “we’ll get to this later”.  It’s a bit too much like the Hyperion Cantos.  Could be better, and may be better in the books.

The concept of immortality & absolute power is not only hinted, but explicitly drawn upon.  Religious tones are throughout but not adequately explored except through fear.  It’s a simple fact that all life descends towards chaos over time – it requires energy and effort to apply order.  How those systems conflict with each other is a core concept of this series and it does an ok job at it.

The main plot point takes a detour, but a good one.  The world at hand has depth and complexity.  It shows potential for a Neuromancer type of sub-plot… in creating a heck of a monster.   There are some very good questions that come from this but there’s not enough depth by the end of it.  It is smart in that they avoid the Deus Ex Machina trope, but they don’t close that loop at the end of the series.

There are red herrings all over the place.  The reveal of the real bad guy isn’t obvious, even if you go back in previous episodes.  That part is well written.  The final reveal is exposition, and much too long.  The last 15 minutes are cringeworthy and wholley designed to set up a next series.

I do recommend the series, if only so we can get more complex sci-fi in front of people’s eyes.  There are hiccups, and the target audience is wider than a sci-fi crowd so there’s some dilution in complex ideas.  I’ll be posting more on the ideas presented within, over the next few weeks.


Reileen’s character arc is broken, or perhaps not exposed sufficiently.  Her methods make absolutely no sense given her stated goals.  It’s clear from the start that Tak protects himself from attachments, as much for him as for others.  Reileen is pure evil, revolting.  She is also underdevlopped given that she is by far the most powerful person in the entire story.

Oumou is so greasy that it is not possible to feel any pity for her fall from grace.  Her attempt at redemption makes no sense given the lack of development.

Ortega makes some smart moves most of the time, and is our tie to humanity.  She makes a near fatal mistake that would be out of character if not for the fact that she was abandoned by all her support team before that point.

Tak is an odd one.  There’s a lot of depth and complexity here.  He’s very smart and has heightened senses.. but rarely uses them.  He’s trained to take advantage of people, but doesn’t.  His main driver is love for people, but it’s one he actively avoids.  It’s weird.  Like if you watched Batman solve a crime but only as Bruce Wayne.

Lizzie is a problem, or the solution.  What her arc brought to the table was omnipotence.  It wasn’t explored, but it wasn’t closed either.  Either she is removed from the story line moving forward, or people realize that she’s the next step of human evolution.




Altered Carbon – Ep 1

I had not watched this series, and only had a tangential understanding of the plot from the non-stop Netflix trailers.  Duke and Copper mentioned I should take a closer look, so I popped it on while I was running on the treadmill.  As with most series, the first episode (usually a pilot on TV) needs to establish the main characters, the overall plot, and provide a reason to watch episode 2.  I think the first episode does a good job of this

Tangent to start.  Dark City is 20 years old.  You should watch it, because there’s nary a bad scene in this entire film.  Just avoid the voice over part before the title card… the director’s cut avoids this.  Watching this, you can see how tropes can improve a story.  Very much in the vein of “show don’t tell”, Dark City explores what it really means to be human, and what makes up reality if memories are all we have.

Back to Altered Carbon (AltC).  10 episodes, each 1 hour long.  Pushed like nuts by Netflix (to me at least, based on my habits I guess), then fell to the side when Cloverfield came out, then mute.  Maybe they expect me to binge?  I dunno, but the timelines for new releases are much too short.

The general plot assumption is that people’s identities can be stored in disks, that can be implanted in new bodies (sleeves) to essentially live forever.  How new bodies are acquired is an interesting question, in particular the one provided to the main character.  Looking forward to that.  The main character comes back to life after 250 years (more on this) in order to find the murderer of one of the richest people on earth.  There’s a lot of hints at a complex backstory to this character, and I will say that there’s some depth to it.

What works:

  • Joel Kinnaman as Kovacs does a serviceable job.  He is not a plot device, which is nice to see.  He has his own code of ethics, and methods.  He goes on a hell of a bender, knowing that his options are limited.  Most importantly, his decision making is consistent and rational.
  • The flashbacks to a previous sleeve work in the concept of character development and plot exposition.  There’s another arc that’s started.
  • James Purefoy is always an effective heel, or at least presents himself as one.  There’s an elitism to him that works really well here.
  • The main plot generally follows logical steps.  The scene at the end in the hotel works given the setting.  The opening shot is a bit of “ghost in the shell”, but we go back to tropes and water being a birth channel.  It’s a setting and is not abused.
  • There are fundamental rules to the universe that are consistently applied.  There’s no magic ghost that makes things happen because.  There’s also some religious bits in here relating to immortality that resonate well.
  • The art style works, and the VFX/sound work too.  Again, the art has a purpose relating to the classes.  Someone thought this through.
  • By the end of the episode, it feels like there was some minor closure on items, and that you’re about to step in the deep end of the pool.

What doesn’t work:

  • There are some logical/science issues that don’t really jive.  Kovacs already had multiple bodies before his recent death 250 years ago.  I can barely recognize the world 25 years ago.  It doesn’t make sense to have such a dramatic lack of societal progress after a quarter century.  This is a writing trope from the golden age of sci-fi, and will require some further explanation.
  • Where do the bodies come from?  Is it a financial thing to be immortal, because Kovac’s body is over the top quality to be left for scraps.  I don’t get this.
  • The religious tones are seen in the first 10 minutes, then dropped moving forward, which is a shame.  The concept of immortality is a great opportunity – see Hyperion Cantos for a great example.
  • If the main character is not a cop, then the cops in a series are dumb.  The main cop (Ortega by Martha Higareda) is written like a teenager in an adult’s world.  Her partner does a much better job.  Kovacs is essentially teaching them, which is dumb.  This works in Demolition Man, since cops have not seen a murder in 100 years, but it doesn’t work here.  For an example of a well developed cop, see Shi Qiang in Three Body Problem.
  • The kitchen sink is thrown at Kovacs when it comes to absorbing society, and he goes all in on a hell of a drug/booze bender.  It is a lot for a viewer to absorb, and Kovacs himself has trouble with it.  It’s bad in that I lost sense of the episode for nearly 10 minutes.  It’s good because when Kovacs comes out of it, he wants nothing to do with it, instead wanting to stick with simple/archaic entertainment.  Cutting this down a bit would have let other themes grow.


This first episode shows some promise; characters appear to have more than one dimension, and there are multiple plot points that are opened up, with a central mystery to drive the story.  It isn’t binge-worthy, mostly because it throws so much at the screen that I can’t digest it all in time, and the foreshadowing to the next episode isn’t all that strong.

Cloverfield Paradox

Murph is watching old movies, I’m watching weird ones.  It so happens to be a genre I rather enjoy – speculative sci-fi.  That is, sci-fi that is just a shade off reality today and in the realm of possible.

Cloverfield Paradox is certainly in that genre, but it suffers for it.


So just for a second, pretend like this has nothing to do with the Cloverfield universe and is instead just a sci-fi movie.  That makes it a lot easier to watch, since you’re not trying to find links (of which there’s solely one, and it makes the movie worse for it).

Actually, let’s first start with the word paradox.  A set of arguments that appear to be conflicting, yet work together.  The chicken and the egg, going back in time and killing your parents… that sort of thing.  It forces some critical thinking and challenges our perception.  There is no paradox in this film, other than a catchy phrase to talk about inter-dimensional travel that has no set of rules to be followed.

The premise is simple enough.  The world is running out of energy, nearing the brink of war, and countries pile together to send a science ship in orbit to build a particle accelerator to generate large amounts of power.  Convoluted perhaps, but workable.

From that point forward, the entire movie is predicated on sci-fi tropes.

  • multi-national crew that all speak and there are no language barriers (except Zhang Ziyi who can’t).
  • The scientist that no one trusts, with poor plot twist
  • The one dimensional commander who sacrifices himself to save the crew
  • The doctor who’s also a faith practitioner, and won’t perform medical procedures
  • The angry russian
  • The drunk/happy irishman
  • The giant catastrophic event that triggers the film is fixed with a simple solution
  • A group of scientists, hand selected and trained to think logically, make illogical/emotional decisions without justification
  • Random computer errors that kill people
  • Chekov’s gun

Don’t get me wrong, I can live with few tropes in a story.  Not everything has to be 100% original for it to work.  Europa Report is a good example of a small(er) budget sci-fi film that works, despite some of the tropes.  In the best of cases, tropes are vehicles used to expose or familiarize the audience with a concept to make the story go faster.  If you see someone with a cowboy hat in a spaceship… you get an idea of their background.  In the worst of cases, tropes are used to make the story progress.

The bright part of all this is that there are some really good actors/actresses in this film.  The lead part of Ava (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) has multiple dimensions and is generally relateable.  Aside from one decision point that lacks adequate background, she does an admirable job of keeping the story grounded.  The rest of the cast does their part, given the limited character development.

The art is solid, the CG top notch.  The filming style is straight from the 90s, of running sideways down the same corridor, endlessly.  The foreshadowing shots are over the top.  I was waiting for the mustache twirl.

After thinking about it a bit more, there’s certainly a director’s cut of this film somewhere.  There are bits of the story that simply do not make a lick of sense.  Things randomly decide to “phase between worlds” when the plot needs them to.  Oh, someone needs to get hurt?  Let’s phase a body part away.  Oh we need to show something is lost?  Let’s phase it into a body part.  And what’s with any of the scenes on Earth?  They serve zero purpose.  Cutting all of that out, then adding in more space station scenes should have been priority #1.

The thing about JJ Abram’s and his fascination with the mystery box is that someone needs to know what that mystery is.  The joy of the gifts at Christmas is as much imagining what’s inside, as it is in opening them.  And you can’t have a mystery movie if no one is in on the mystery (for reference, see seasons 3+ of Lost).  And that’s the largest problem here – the mystery remains a complete mystery by the end.  There are zero answers given for anything other than “MAGIC OF DIMENSIONAL TRAVEL!”.

I like sci-fi movies for their potential.  The ideas and concepts often work as warnings or guidance to society.  Pandorum is a great example.  Cargo is neat too.  They both have flaws, and tropes, but they succeed at telling a consistent story.  Cloverfield Paradox comes close… very close, but never truly delivers on that promise.  I really hope some aspiring writer pays attention here – this is what happens when an idea is not fully fleshed out, and the editor is absent.  A rough draft, which is really too bad.  I so wanted this to work!

And spoilers here.

The only rational explanation of the final shot of the film (again, a sci-fi horror trope) is that this films tore holes in all dimensions.  In that Cloverfield 1 was in dimension A, and Cloverfield Paradox took place in dimensions B and C.  There are a dozen other questions after that statement.

Last Jedi

We’re a couple months in now, so why not.

I like the movie.  More than I expected to.  The new characters had some level of depth to them, and most everyone had an arc.  There were instances of the dumb throughout, but on the whole it was a nice way to start fresh.


Rey is the crux of it all, practically a McGuffin in fact.  I like that she’s not a Mary Sue, that she’s able to make her own decisions and move forward.  I really like that she’s a nobody, as that string of who her parents were was frustrating from the previous film.  It (and the closing shot) portend to a true re-awakening of the force.  The battle scene with Snoke’s guards with Kylo Ren at her back was great to watch.  Very well filmed.

Kylo Ren is the story catalyst.  There’s certainly an arc, but it isn’t about growth.  It’s like peeling an onion and seeing the various depths.  On the surface he’s a spoiled child, then you see that he’s an abused child, then angry, then scared, the confused.  Doubt about truth seems to motivate him, and the lack of control he shows is amazing.  Sure, it looks like a tantrum but given the circumstances, every single one of his actions becomes justified.  Especially that crater in the ground scene.

Luke is a bit wishy washy to me.  He failed himself and Kylo, gotcha.  His guilt outweighs his reason.  There is no clear link between the Jedi code he so despises versus his actions.  The Yoda scene was expository, but required to push the story forward.  I truly do not understand how he can be portrayed as both incredibly strong and so incredibly weak willed a the same time.

Finn & Rose.  I understand the purpose of their arc, I just don’t see the point.  It could have been solved with any other plot device, like say a spy on their ship.  The entire gambling casino portion felt like a Lucas special-edition throwback.  You’re telling me that they felt more for the horses than they did for the child slaves?  Finn’s need for redemption and purpose is rather clear.  Rose has a little bit of it, but she’s used a bit too much as a plot device to move things forward.  Benicio del Toro’s character is the best part of the movie.

Poe Dameron.  Neat that you get to see the heroes fail, and the impacts of those decisions.  You’d think he’d learn from that but instead every story driver causes him to rebel even more.  Holdo is such an astoundingly poor leader it’s amazing that she doesn’t die from a papercut.  She causes 3/4 of the movie to occur by not acting when she should have.  Finn and Rose would not have left.  There would be no mutiny.  There’d be no final battle.  Poe learns something at the end but it actually goes against his character arc in the film.

Leia.  Or should I just call her space god?  Apparently she learned to control the force, and to a degree that we have never seen anywhere else.  She uses powers the Emperor didn’t have access to.

DJ.  The purpose of this movie was to show shades of grey.  He was a clear marker for that.  His intro was weak but his scenes were worth it.


New order still being around?  Sure.  We’re talking hundreds of planets.  Getting rid of one won’t stop them.  Getting rid of Snoke… that may change things.  Not sure how only Kylo and Hux are the only 2 people running the show mind you.

Being able to detect movement in hyperspace?  This doesn’t work as a plot device.  See, the order could have just ordered more ships to jump in ahead of the rebels and closed the trap.  It also took around 40 years between Rogue One (where the breadcrumbs start) and this movie for this tech to show up.  It also doesn’t justify Holdo.  Would have been easier to put a spy or some other mechanism.  Feels a bit too much like that Star Trek episode where warp speed destroys the universe… then no one talks about it ever again.

The Holdo arc.  Why would the leader of a couple hundred rebels not tell them what is going on.  She can clearly see the mutiny coming.  She even loses more people because of it.  And at what point did she tell Finn and Rose this secret?  You know, so that they could then DJ the secret, who would then sell that secret to the order?  The only explanation for all this secrecy is having a spy on-board.  See previous plot point.  Also not quite understanding why she would not have gone to hyperspeed immediately after releasing the final shuttle.  She was going to die anyways.

Snoke being nutso.  That part was pretty cool.  Extremely strong in the force.  Focused on a particular target.  That he was oblivious to Kylo using in his room was a bit weird, but it ended up working out.  He was a great plot device and does a great job explaining why there are no old people in the new order.

The casino scene could have been entirely cut and replaced with them walking into a Cantina looking for a criminal.  Same with the Moz scene.

Luke’s planet was neat.  The caretakers were a good touch.  I understand the technical reason for Porgs, though they are bit too much like Tribbles for my tastes.  The light/dark portion was well done.  Seems a stretch that no one knows of a planet strong in the force, but then again everyone is dead.

Luke’s force projection across the galaxy was like Superman turning back time.  He could have easily done this on the actual planet.  His death was ok, though poorly explained.  He certainly didn’t atone for anything.  Just acted as a delay to help with the escape.  There seem to missing some scenes explaining his personal closure after that scene with Yoda.  Also, is he now a force ghost too?

The last shot was a weird one.  The point of episodes 4, 5 & 6 (and 7) have been about the scarcity of force users.  Episode 1 did a really poor job explaining how the Jedi (or Sith) found new recruits.  Maybe everyone is force attuned and doesn’t know it?  It sets up some interesting possibilities.  In particular that there are no force teachers left in the universe.


I will say that the film is well shot, the images are well constructed with some interesting colors/contrasts.  I wanted more out of the music.

The writing seems like it was edited multiple times by multiple sources.  There are great flashes of brilliance (Kylo) and then it suffers from the dumb (Finn & Rose).  I do like that it throws a lot away and tried to start fresh.  Hats off to that.

The editing is rough.  There are missing scenes that would have helped move this along better, and there are scenes present that serve no purpose.  We didn’t need another space cantina casino showing us aliens.  We didn’t need a perfectly preserved impenetrable ice planet base that happened to have a very large exit in the back.  Also notice how they didn’t shoot from space, even though there were shields, shields that weren’t there since they used a battering ram?





I would think most people who read this blog are fans of The Twilight Zone. All the various iterations.  In igloo-ville we also received The Outer Limits during the 90s.  Psychological, horror, sci-fi…mostly standalone episodes.  All of them acting as parables or warnings for what could happen. It’s either in the now, or about 15 minutes from now, making the best of those episodes very poignant.

Looking back at them now, without the social context of the time, it’s hard to fully appreciate what they had going for them.  The best of them certainly do.  It’s a Good Life may be the most recognizable.

The real joy of these is that they are not brain dead stories, or pure entertainment.  They engage your brain matter and feel like they are talking to you.  Compare to say, Game of Thrones or Lost.  Both excellent but the viewer is not an agent.  Rod Sterling talked to us.

Black Mirror is as close as we can get to that feeling today.  Disclaimer – I have a soft spot for English writing.  Proper English.  First season ran in 2011 and woo is that episode a doozy.  Season 3 and 4 have been picked up by Netflix and each have 6 episodes. I’m only a few into season 4 now.  USS Callister was solid with a good premise.  Crocodile was like a mini-psychological thriller.  Hang the DJ is what happens when Tinder goes on steroids (and the most uplifting of the bunch).  Arkangel though – that’s a Phillip K Dick short story.

The foundation is solid – an anxious single mother who worries about her kid.  She loses sight and ends up putting a tracker on the daughter.  But the tracker does more… it gives a health check, let’s her see what her daughter sees and can filter “bad things”.  I’ve read enough sci-fi to see where this is going.

Sure enough, it follows the proper notes, with the necessary social commentary. As a parent, I could relate with the steps taken to “protect” the kids.  It hits a special note where there’s a clear psychological impact of permanent helicopter parenting and you really hope the mother learns a lesson.

Of course she does until her teenager lies about where she is for one night.  And what teen has not done that? The draw to snoop on her kid is too much, and then it’s a massive descent into invasion of privacy.

Side note – since I work in IT, in particular user-facing IT, I’ve been very exposed to the concept of privacy and network connectivity.  In that privacy doesn’t really exist.  If people knew what Facebook on a smartphone actually collected… or maybe if they cared…

Back on track.  The 1 hour episode felt more like a mini-movie.  There was some rather solid points to be made about a nanny-state (within a family), in particular when the individual being spied on is not aware of it.  The hurtful part was that the mother deemed watching her kid better than talking to her kid.  Like the data collection only ever needed to be one way and from one source.  (A bit like getting your news from a single source without any dialogue).

The best part is the feeling of not being comfortable watching the episode.  It hits really close to home.  I am really enjoying this series.  People should take a watch.

Stranger Things – Season 2

Finished it late last night.  Thoughts included.  Slight spoilers.

  • Bob (Sean Astin) is really an interesting character.  I think he’s the dad most geeks would have wanted.  There’s a particular scene that is 80s horror trope, and you see it a mile away, and it really drives home the theme of this season.
  • Joyce and Hopper seems forced.  Joyce finally moves away from hysterical to driven, and goes deep into mom-mode.
  • Hopper spends an entire episode making horrible decisions.  Narratively required, but not justified.  There were other methods to reach the same end point, this was a poor writing decision.
  • Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve triangle doesn’t work as well as it should.  Jonathan and Nancy clearly have better chemistry.  It’s forced and corny, but you can see it underneath.
  • Nancy provides too much exposition and little character growth.  Until the last 5 minutes of the series.  Seems a tad wasted.
  • Jonathan does a serviceable job and surrogate dad, big brother.  He moves further away from self-doubt.
  • Steve.  My man.  If they made a series just about Steve, I’d watch it.  He is the star of every scene, and continues to bring a level of realism/grounding to the surreal events.  His character arc is just amazing, coming to terms with the mortality of his fame, his role in the big picture, his openness with Dustin.
  • Dustin has highs and lows.  There’s some good growth here, and he’s that trash talking kid everyone got along with.  His buddy comedy with Steve is the backbone of the tail of the season.
  • Luke is great.  The rage he felt in the former is replaced with trying to protect people in the second.  His relationship with Max is believable, full of the same hurdles all teens go through.
  • Max is interesting but takes a bit too long to develop, then just seems to stall.  Everyone seems to have a role, but hers goes away too quickly.
  • Billy is something else.  Our version of the upside down monster.  There’s just enough there to realize that he has his own demons, and that he’s riding a knife’s edge to keep sane.  Borderline psychopath.  Some solid potential.
  • Mike.  He’s there at the start and there at the end.  More of a lost puppy than anything of real value.  He’s the heart of it all, certainly, but that’s about it.  His dislike for Max seems forced… he’s a team leader but rarely acts like it.
  • Will.  I won’t spoil it but he needs a character arc that makes sense for the next season.  He’s only there for exposition and story purposes.  Well, minus the first 3 episodes, where there’s potential.
  • The supporting cast is top notch.  Paul Reiser goes against type and delivers.  Kali (8) hits the right note for someone who had to grow up alone and is full of anger.  Her posse isn’t too bright, minus Funshine (Kai Greene).
  • Eleven has 2 solid episodes of growth.  The 2nd one feels forced, and teaches her the difference between killing and being a killer.  Her relationship with Hopper works, from her perspective at least.  She’s a bit too much the “golden gun” for the overall arc, as most of the other characters provide minimal value (‘cept Steve, that boss!)

The overall horror arc has bits that work, others that don’t.  The start is more John Hughes, and the middle gets into Steven King land.  Overall, I’m certainly satisfied but it does less than the first season.  The main issue is that we know 6 of the main characters in many situations (Mike, Dustin, Luke, Eleven, Nancy and Steve), and how they act here isn’t exactly new… and when they don’t stay in character it’s jarring.

It is still binge-worthy. It still makes you want to see what comes next.  It’s still one of the better series that we have available.  And any series that has a Mindflayer as a main villain, I’m in.

Blade Runner 2049

Related from Isey

Spoilers ahead.

Seriously.  King Kong dies at the end, Superman comes back from the dead, Maggie shot Mr Burns.

I watch the original Blade Runner every month or so.  It’s the director’s cut most often, the voice over junk is really quite poor.  It may be my favorite all-time movie, and I am vividly aware that it is niche/cult in nature.  That said, you cannot help but watch it today and realize how much influence it has had on the sci-fi genre over the past 35 years.  I mean, the Matrix would not exist.

Further, I’ve read pretty much every book from Phillip K Dick.  He clearly had an episode during his life where he went off the deep end.  He stayed sane enough to try and tell some stories.  VALIS… jeez.  Good luck with that.

I’ve watched most of Ridley Scott’s films and frankly, he’s had some really bad writers in the past few years.  Denis Villeneuve is an incredibly strong pickup to helm a complicated story.  Arrival is clear indication of that.

Blade Runner 2049 runs for 2:45.  I was in a cinema with full bore sound and reclining chairs.  It felt like a 30 minute TV episode.  It has incredibly drawn out scenes where nothing happens.  I don’t think a word is even spoken until 10 minutes in, as every step taken is deliberate.  In a world of Transformers explosions and a complete absence of character growth or story pacing, this is abnormal and hard on the senses.  We’ve been trained to expect a certain pace in sci-fi.  BR2049 bucks that trend, at nearly every corner.

The movie’s sound, art, pacing, direction, acting… all of it jives with the nervous confusion of the first one.  The director of photography deserves an award here… it’s on Mad Max level of quality.  It does not feel like a sequel, just like the Two Towers was not a sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring.  That is a masterful achievement after such a long period of time.

High level plot.  It’s 35 years after the first one.  The previous robots are all supposedly dead.  Tyrell is bankrupt.  Wallace bought him out and designed perfectly subjected robots instead, with unlimited lifespans.  Oh, that can’t be bad, right?

Agent K (Gosling) tracks down the remnants of old models that have fun.  Finds one.  Blurb about witnessing a miracle.  Turns out Rachel (secretary from first movie) had a kid with Deckard, something that was thought impossible.  Repercussions ensue.

The movie deals with a caste system, what it means to be “human”, what it means to live a lie, what the Turing test actually entails, and how the line between AI and humanity is much thinner than anyone accounts for.

We typically define life through four main criteria.  Eating (or metabolizing), Growth/Adaptation, Survival, and Reproduction.  Replicants, in the movie universe, only have the first 3.  When the prospect of Reproduction shows up… things get interesting.

K and his AI companion Joi have an neat relationship.  It starts off really simple, just to add some “life” to his apartment.  It clearly grows over time, with Joi seeming to evolve to meet K’s personal needs.  She is a clear enabler of his fantasies – and this is taken to the literal extent.  Her death, and following alternate virtual ad presentation, using the same keywords, makes K doubt what was actually real.  Same for me.  She clearly passed the Turing test, but was she an isolated and unique representation, or simply a tool that self-adapted?

Deckard gives up his child to protect it.  I know I missed some key parts in this story, as his involvement seems somewhat aloof considering he’s the genesis of it all.  His scene with robo-Rachel is even more confusing.

The Replicant hidden alliance wants to protect the child.  For some long-term purpose that isn’t quite clear.  Wallace (Jared Leto) wants to have her in order to provide pro-creation to all his replicants, and sends Luv (Hoeks) to do whatever is necessary to get that info.  Wallace has twinged of mania, but the end goal in the context of the entire movie, actually puts him in a grey light.  If all replicants could procreate, and all replicants can go through the character growth of K (and Rachel, and Sapper, and…) then that would be a hell of a story to see.  The base premise that Wallace would somehow have controls over these replicants is laid to waste by the end of the film.  I am either missing some underlying message, or this is a lost opportunity.

When you finally figure out who the child actually is… things just click together like a Sherlock mystery.  The clues are rather evident.   There is a lot of show rather than tell, which is good.

The end result, similar to the original movie, is that by the end of the film (and for most of it too) you are left wondering who is human and by what definition.  You can see the start of a civil war, one that can dramatically swing in one party’s favor depending on that child.  There are a whole lot of “what ifs” that remain unanswered.

Good movies tell a story with interesting character choices and growth.  Great movies tell it for multiple characters and then make you question how that impacts you.  It isn’t a perfect movie, but it certainly is a great one.  And one that I will need to watch multiple times a year.