Blade Runner 2049 by Benjamin Wallfisch & Hans Zimmer

Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner is certainly regarded as one of the very best Science Fiction films that have ever been shot. I think it was ahead of its time and the film still looks great. Ridley Scott has always had a great eye for detail and Blade Runner has aged very well. However, the film was not a big success at all. As a matter of fact, it bombed at the box office and the huge fan base this film has now developed slowly. I think I already mentioned in the past that box office success is by no means an indicator for quality. It is a common misconception that a film must be very good just because it made a lot of money at the box office. Neither is it correct to say that a financial failure is a bad film. Let’s face it, there are some outstanding films which were not necessarily a financial success. I must admit that I wasn’t that keen on Mr. Scott’s film either when I watched it for the first time many years ago. I had to watch it three times to fully warm up to it and very recently, before I went to see Blade Runner 2049, I revisited Ridley Scott’s film and I still very much enjoy it.

The film itself is not that complicated at all. Yet, Ridley Scott’s approach is simply fascinating. The cinematography and the editing are superb and on top of that you get one of the most groundbreaking scores in film history. I am really fond of Vangelis’ score and I still listen to it regularly. Fans of the score will realize right away that quite a big part of the music Vangelis had written was not used in the final film. A couple of years ago, a three disc set had been released. It featured the original album, unreleased music from the picture and material which Vangelis wrote for the Blade Runner anniversary.

For years it had been debated as to when a Blade Runner sequel would be released and who was to direct it. For some time, it had been rumored that Ridley Scott himself was going to direct, but in the end he served as executive producer and Denis Villeneuve, one of the most sought-after directors working today, was set to direct the picture. Given the director‘s most recent success, the film was certainly highly anticipated by many. 

Let’s take a closer look at the film – A few days ago, I went to the theater to watch Blade Runner 2049. When I left the theater, I had very mixed feelings about the project. I had come across several rave reviews on the internet. Many people called it a masterpiece on every level. Those statements certainly also made me curious. Truth be told, I seem to be one of the very few people that believe that this is not a masterpiece at all. The first twenty minutes of the picture are rather interesting. Ryan Gosling is introduced as the new Blade Runner as we get to see him on his first assignment. I sort of felt that after the interesting beginning, the quality of the film deteriorated a lot.

The most important aspect of any film is the story. You need to tell the story in an interesting way. You could take a very good screenplay and still ruin the film. It is all a matter of timing. A film is like a puzzle. The best actors in the world cannot turn a mediocre film into a good one. Many films have a story which at first strikes you as simple and you still think it is a great movie because the story was told so well. Cinematographers, composers, editors and everybody else involved need to work closely with the director to help him carry out his vision.

Several people might argue that the story of this film is more interesting and complex than Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. However, as far as I am concerned, the film is rather uninteresting. Only when Harrison Ford is introduced, does the film become more appealing and the story seems to evolve. I think Ryan Gosling was a rather good choice for the project and Harrison Ford’s involvement certainly added some quality and nostalgia as well. The cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins is absolutely stunning to say the least. Some of the images are phenomenal and Deakins once again proved that he is indeed some of the very best the business has to offer. As far as Denis Villeneuve is concerned, I think he is a very talented director. Prisoners might still be my very favorite of his films. Maybe my opinion of his Blade Runner vision will change drastically after I have seen the film a second time. After all, I felt the same way about the original Blade Runner. It is not unusual at all that a film is better received after you have given it another chance. Many times, a film is surrounded by a huge hype that ultimately results in disappointment. Let’s wait and see what happens. I will certainly give it another shot. That is for sure.

Usually Jóhann Jóhannsson is the composer of choice for director Denis Villeneuve. However, this time Mr. Jóhannsson left the project. I don’t know what really happened behind the scenes here. It had been reported that he was to receive support by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. A few days later, it had been announced that Mr. Jóhannsson was no longer involved and that Wallfisch and Zimmer would take over.

Reportedly, Hans Zimmer supported Wallfisch when he had some time off from his busy tour schedule. I am sure he gave Mr. Wallfisch lots of feedback and he might have written some material and or listened to several cues while he was on tour. I don’t really know how big Mr. Zimmer’s influence was and how much music he actually contributed.

Basically Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer did not write a very thematic score. There are a few motives. Yet, the main focus seems to have been on creating a synth soundscape to help tell the story. This certainly worked pretty well. For the final scenes of the film, Wallfisch used Vangelis’ “Tears In Rain” and added some synth sounds to the cue. This was a particularly nice idea since he not only paid homage to Vangelis but he provided a big moment of nostalgia.

In some ways, the sound is rather close to Vangelis’ score. “2049” starts off with a nice percussion hit and a simple motif and a very effective synth sound that accompanies the opening scene of the movie. It works nicely when it is put up against the picture. Some cues really transcend the images. Yet, some of them, for instance, “Sapper’s Tree” merely create tension.

When I listened to the album without having seen the film, I did not quite know what to make of it. I felt that some pieces were very effective whereas several others felt “uninteresting”. Having experienced the film, I concluded that a thematic approach might not have worked at all. I felt that the synth soundscape was quite appropriate for this film. It is hard to tell if a different score would have worked. Given the time constraints, I think Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer did a really good job here and some cues, especially in the third act of the film, work wonderfully with the picture. Cues like “Sea Wall” and “Blade Runner” are two ten-minute-cues that are actually quite impressive in terms of sound and they create a really nice musical atmosphere. Those two cues are by far my favorite ones. “Sea Wall” starts off in a powerful way and some sounds are really strong and expressive. It gets really intense, especially towards the end when the music accompanies some of the film’s climactic scenes.

No matter if the listener can warm up to this score right away or not. It is further proof of Benjamin Wallfisch’s ability to write music for several genres. He and Hans Zimmer created a dense soundscape for this picture.

Fans of orchestral and or thematic music are not likely to enjoy this album right away. Those of you that are attracted to synthetic scores with really interesting sounds will probably be very keen on this album presentation. At first, I was not that impressed with the album myself. I needed to watch the final film to see how the music would work with the images. Having seen the film definitely helped to appreciate the musical vision of Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer. The 90-minute-album certainly does not feature multiple highlights. Yet, there is still very effective and attractive music to be discovered.