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Blade Runner 2049
  • Composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
  • Epic / 2017 / 94m

Long in the making, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal Blade Runner has finally arrived.  When the project was first mooted, two things were taken as given: that Harrison Ford wouldn’t be involved, and that it would likely end up being terrible.  Neither of those things has come to pass: Ford has now revisited most of the roles that made him famous and in the hands of Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 has become one of the best-reviewed films of the year.  Ryan Gosling stars as a replicant sent by the LAPD to “retire” a child apparently born to a female replicant.

The Vangelis score to the original film has become the stuff of legend, not just because of its quality but probably also because of the various difficulties that have existed over the years in actually finding the proper score on album.  It’s undoubtedly his most impressive film score, perfect for its film, and I imagine he was probably sought out for the sequel but turned the opportunity down (at least, I would hope he was sought out).  Villeneuve’s usual composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was slated to score the film instead but, as has been widely publicised, that didn’t work out and so you-know-who came aboard instead.

Wallfisch and Zimmer

The official take is that Jóhannsson departed because Villeneuve wanted something closer to Vangelis than he was delivering.  I was never that upset when Zimmer came on board, to be honest: in some ways it feels like a project he would treat with absolute relish, following in the footsteps of one of the composers who has had such an influence on his career.  Scoring took place mostly while Zimmer was busy on his concert tour, so credit is shared with Benjamin Wallfisch, and Zimmer himself has said that he had a mostly supervisory role and it was Wallfisch who did much of the heavy lifting.

Regardless, we have what we have, and that’s a score that is clearly very intent on paying considerable homage to – and staying within the same sound world as – Vangelis’s original, down to the equipment used, to such an extent that at times it feels like a bit of a cut-and-paste job.  To misquote Eric Morecambe, all the right sounds are there – just not in the right order.  But the problem is clear right from the opening track: yes, the sound is there, but the soul is missing.  It comes across as just another abrasive synth score – it’s like the backing track from Vangelis’s opening cue, but somebody forgot to add in what should be up front and central.

There are some highlights, and these come when the score gets closest to the original: “Mesa” (a title which sounds like the opening two syllables of a Jar Jar Binks quote) shimmers with beauty, “Joi” lives up to its name, and late on “Tears in the Rain” is… well, you know what “Tears in the Rain” is (it’s absolutely outstanding).  Three tracks – nine minutes, out of 94.  To be fair, there are four other good tracks (another 14 minutes) but they’re by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley (separately, I should be clear) and don’t sit entirely comfortably in the middle of all the noirish synths.

The rest of the time, there are some interesting textures – the sampled deep male choir is a nice little touch, the occasional piano adds the only real feeling of humanity – but I can’t find much to praise.  The first half of the album is just frankly rather dull – so little ever seems to happen, it’s just these noodlings around Vangelis.  Unfortunately, the second half is sometimes downright unpleasant, starting in “Hijack” and reaching its (anti) zenith in “Sea Wall”, with grimy, unpleasantly abrasive action sounds that are so aurally offensive, they could be by Junkie XL.  (In fairness, there’s some much more interesting material in the first half of the lengthy “Sea Wall”.)

Perhaps if Zimmer had had the time he no doubt would have loved to have had to throw everything of himself into this, we’d have got something special: it really does seem like the perfect sort of film for a completely turned-on, creative Hans Zimmer to immerse himself into.  (With Wallfisch, it’s harder to say: his good work to date – much more so before he moved to Hollywood, I have to say – have been when he’s got to write elegant orchestral music – so he always seemed a bit of a leftfield choice to be the main support act – or perhaps the leading player – in this.)  I suppose we’ll never know for sure if it was just the circumstances and the timing that led to the missed opportunity, but it really is a missed opportunity: it’s like listening to fragments of a dream popping up occasionally in a nightmare, the bits and pieces of the original score being used so half-heartedly and mixed up into very disappointing standard 2017 film music action tropes.  I’ve never been convinced that the original Blade Runner score works quite as well outside the film as within it, but it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest electronic film scores (quite possibly the best of the lot) – there’s far less going on in this rather bland follow-up.

Imitation without much inspiration | |

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  1. ghostof82 (Reply) on Sunday 8 October, 2017 at 20:52

    The weird thing is, is that this seems to be what the director wanted, and the score in the film seems to fit the general sound design.

    So who are we to argue? It does seem odd because Villeneuve went the other way with Arrival, in which the music was a huge integral part of the experience. Doubly odd because the Vangelis score served the same function in Blade Runner (indeed, listen to the temo track on BR workprint version and its clear that film would not have worked so well with an orchestral score). Vangelis really gave BR its soul, its emotion.

    The weird thing is, Blade runner 2049 works fine regardless of its score. I do wish we might hear Johansson’s score some day but likely not. But in anycase, the Zimmer score here functions as sound design and ambience and is passable in the film.

    Unfortunately, as music… Well, I’ve listened to it a few times now and I’ve made my peace with it. ‘Mesa’ in particular is just beautiful. Some of the ambience is nice and it does sound vaguely Blade Runner (no doubt that is the Yamaha CS80). Missed opportunity, but the film otherwise is a masterpiece, one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen. .

  2. Lu-Hiep Phan (Reply) on Sunday 8 October, 2017 at 20:57

    I’ve been very disappointed with Zimmer’s recent efforts. Especially this one. All electronics with zero finesse in application. The last electronic score to make a good impression on me was the critically maligned Chappie. Mean while, Hans is touring the world ironically showcasing his melodically driven theme with an organic/orchestral backing.

  3. Kilar (Reply) on Monday 9 October, 2017 at 07:38

    I personally find the BR2049 music distracting as hell. I think it’s the first time when I literally thought “Just shuddup and let me watch the movie”.

  4. DWM Merrick (Reply) on Wednesday 11 October, 2017 at 00:06

    I’ve read most of your reviews and never have I agreed more than with this one.
    Blade Runner has an iconic score and it seems as though Wallfisch and Zimmer were embarrassed to use Vangelis’ themes for Blade Runner 2049, save for directorial direction to use ‘Tears in Rain’.

    Fleeting moments are hinting at quality in ‘Mesa’, the opening crawl and ‘Wallace’ with the eerie choir.

    But it just wasn’t enough, never have I been so disappointed in a film score, being a huge fan of the original.

  5. Johnny (Reply) on Thursday 12 October, 2017 at 23:23

    Finally a music review and opinion with sound logic. You hit the mark. People are talking, unfortunately, supported by uncritical (read paid) movie reviews which in recent years really hit a new bottom, that the movie was a masterpiece and the soundtrack was “perfect”, “brilliant”, “fantastic”, best for last – “experimental”? What happened to the world? Are we living some futuristic dementia?

    In the movie, the music was at moments too loud and unnecessary, something did not expect to experience. The soundtrack as such is typical generic ambient noise, sold for music or melody, already heard in recent films, boringly dreadful like pretentious Muzak. According to the director, he “needed to go back to something closer to Vangelis”, yet the soundtrack is not even closely similar to Vangelis score for “Blade Runner” (1982), nevertheless few short homages to the first score. Vangelis composition has melody, inspiration, you can feel it’s a unique human (soul) creation, yet this is ambient noise-part time melody without a single memorable composition made by an average composer, or even less, a computer. Obviously, the people who worked on this movie wrongly use Vangelis name, due to his influence on the movie and quality of the score, for promotion. I really do not want to offend anyone – but this hype for generic ambient noise – it is stupid and needs to stop.

    • SD (Reply) on Thursday 31 December, 2020 at 22:30

      I suppose all the people who went to watch it and gave it a glowing review are all ‘paid shills’, too? Revisionist nonsense.

  6. jyg (Reply) on Tuesday 7 November, 2017 at 23:40

    While viewing the the sequel, the soundtrack was excellent, exhilarating, a perfect match for the film. I was in a theater where it was loud, pounding through my chest. It’s effect on me was only rivaled by the moment the genetic record of the bones in the ossuary produced Rachel’s voice. On it’s own, however, the soundtrack is a frustrating jumble of esoteric, haunting tracks that do not suffice as an album of music in their own right nor do they bring me back to specific scenes. The soundtrack of the original movie did both, if for anything because each scene connected with a distinct musical theme and perhaps more importantly the full tracks expanded on what was offered in the film.

    The Sinatra and Presley tracks really feel out of place. It worked with the visuals in the film, but it does not feel as seamless as “One More Kiss” does as a sort of respite in the original. Part of it is that these tracks themselves are too different from everything else in the film, particularly minutes of sub-bass electronics. “One More Kiss” has a haunting quality of its own that helps it to stand between tracks likes “Main Title” and “Blade Runner’s Blues”. I just don’t feel that connectivity for 2049. Even while watching the movie, I felt the casino music was intended to enhance the frenetic nature of the chase and gun fire, rather than fit in to the other all musical structure.

    I was really looking forward to having a new selection of music I could listen to while working, with a similar experience that the original offered. I don’t imagine that’ll be the case. But after all this, I must admit, I’ve only seen the sequel once, compared to the over two dozen times I’ve seen the original. Perhaps I’m biased…

  7. Rory (Reply) on Wednesday 16 October, 2019 at 08:30

    Your review of Dunkirk pretty much sums up my opinion of this one. I think it succeeds brilliantly in the film, and it’s there I am content to let it stay.

  8. SD (Reply) on Thursday 31 December, 2020 at 22:27

    I couldn’t really disagree more with this review. Much like the film itself, BR2049’s score builds on the original and stamps it’s own identity on the universe. I’m struggling to think how anyone can think cut and paste when they hear how visceral the sequel often sounds in comparison to the original; whereas the original often sounded ‘elegant’, BR2049 sounds far more ‘urban’ and atonal, which perfectly fits the tone of the film and the completely degraded biosphere that is ever present on screen.

    I was actually quite disappointed to hear Johan wasn’t being used, because he was such a unique talent, but this score ended up being far superior than I’d ever imagined. I’ve never had a cinematic experience where I’ve felt so much weight from the sound design, to the point where I could physically feel it. Completely immersive and an unforgettable cinematic experience, as well as an incredible film in its own right.

  9. Terry Macdonald (Reply) on Monday 1 February, 2021 at 15:31

    This is one of the very few reviews of Zimmer’s effort that hit the nail on the head….the almost total lack of soul, feeling or finesse in what is clearly a hack job done for the money. Listening to the soundtrack on its own is a deadening experience, and all I could think during the whole thing was….where are the tunes? The memorable melodies? There wasn’t one instance where the “music” brought a particular scene to mind.
    “Muzak” is an apt description of Zimmer’s effort. It sounds exactly like what it is….the sounds of Vangelis’ masterpiece, but without the soul.
    A pastiche, and a very poor one at that.

  10. David Rees (Reply) on Friday 7 May, 2021 at 00:13

    It sounded horrid in the film; loud, unsubtle, distracting, and so intensely abrasive that instead of injecting emotion it veritably sucked it out of each major moment.

    We *know*, for example, that the visit to the furnace is a big moment in the movie. We don’t need the score to sledgehammer us with it at levels dialled to 11 such that, when the actual emotional pivot point arrives we’re simply exhausted and want the movie to shut up.

    Unfortunately, it sounds no better in the soundtrack release. The one standout track apart from Tears in Rain, Mesa, is used literally once in the movie — in one of many protracted establishing shots that serve no purpose except to make the film even slower than it already is. It appears again in the end credits. But it is a genuine and frustrating moment of musical majesty. You hear it and wonder, baffled, how no one realised that therein lay the musical hook of an entire movie.

    I’m not sure it’s possible or fair to blame Zimmer for this. From what he’s said he clearly holds the original in enormous reverence, and Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire arguably paved the way single-handed for his own early sound to be accepted. There is no way he would want to do a hack job on this. But the man had literally a month to get things done, so it’s no real surprise that he resorted to Inception-style blaring and booming to get it done. And, my god, he had a lot of screen time to fill given how overstretched and self-indulgent the movie itself is.

    The end result is a frustrating, and frankly almost entirely unlistenable, score.

    PS For what it’s worth, there were clips on YouTube that purported to be from Johannsson’s score. They were truly awful and considerably worse than what we ended up with. If they were the genuine article, Johannsson seemed to be going in the direction of atonal ambient drone music.