As the new year is well on the way, it’s time to look back at some of the best genre movies that came out of 2017. The team takes a look at the best action, horror, fantasy, and all-around blockbusters to grace the big (and small) screen this year.
Join Brendan Frye, Phil Brown, Brendan Quinn, Jordan Biordi, and Lisa Mior as they dive in head first to bring you CGMagazines top 5 genre movies of 2017, as well as their personal best movies of 2017.
Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!
So, here we are. After literally decades of rumours and false starts, Blade Runner is now a franchise. In a world of IP driven blockbuster sequels, this film makes sense. Mad Max, Star Wars, Star Trek, It, Evil Dead, even Saw, all your old genre movie favourites that sunk their teeth deep enough into the cultural zeitgeist to leave marks have returned.
It only makes sense that happens for BladeRunner as well. After all, Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic created a dark and brooding future aesthetic that essentially defined how all sci-fi urban future worlds were designed from then on (whether it was copying the Blade Runner world or deliberately running counter to it). The thing is that the longest lasting impression and influence of Blade Runner was always the aesthetic. The actual content of the film was frequently forgotten in favour of the glorious visuals. Now that we have Blade Runner 2049 beautifully recapturing not just the look, but also the tone, themes, cynicism, and slow brooding pace of the original—and I’ve got a feeling that there’s going to be some backlash.
The thing about Blade Runner is that it emerged a sci-fi masterpiece as much by accident as design. Sure, the rainy, polluted, overpopulated, multicultural, and advertisement-clogged cityscapes of the film were deliberately conceived and resonated deeply. But even then, part of the reason the film was almost exclusively set at night was so that the lush green California hills peeking out behind the vast sets remained invisible (as well as to help conceal the lines on all the model effects). The smoke was similarly there to make things bigger and hide flaws. It added to the future noir feel, but was all as much pragmatically planned as artistically conceived. It just ended up being perfect.
Likewise, all of the actors perform with an oddly quiet detachment that suits the thematic emphasis on urban disconnection, yet was as much a result of Ridley Scott never talking to his actors about performance and doing endless takes for the sake of technical perfection as anything planned (the exception to the rule being Rutger Hauer, who unsurprisingly gave the best and liveliest performance). The hypnotically slow pacing and curiously opaque mysteries of the plot were partially by design and partially because Scott didn’t really care about the mechanics of storytelling at the time. That all added to the art house friendly ambiguity of the movie—just by accident.
Of course these days people view everything in Blade Runner as deliberate artistic choices, and fair enough, it all adds to the film’s appeal (along with the never ending releases of fresh “director’s cuts” even truer to Ridley Scott’s vision, whatever that means). Well, that’s true for those who have actually engaged with Blade Runner anyways. This is one of those films that everyone knows because it’s been so prominent in the cultural zeitgeist for so long. However, more people have seen stills and clips and even the poster for Blade Runner than the actual movie and the sci-fi aesthetic is so beautifully conceived and executed that you can understand the influence and impact of the movie through osmosis without actually seeing it.
Obviously, we’re still talking about one of the most infamous cult movies of all time here. So some people have seen Blade Runner and do love it. A vast amount even. Not enough to make the sequel into the blockbuster success Warner Brothers is banking on, however, the company likely realizes that and took the risk because of another similar recent success for the studio: Mad Max: Fury Road. That was another iconic 80’s sci-fi flick given a decades late sequel and it ended up being more successful than any previous Mad Max movie. It was a bold and ambitious director-driven vision filled with ideas, but it was also essentially a two-hour long action sequence with a few breaks. Viewers who didn’t really know the original films could dive in no problem because Miller doesn’t retain continuity and puts the pedal to the goddamn metal to ensure every second of the flick entertains regardless of the higher ambitions he infused into the film. It could win over new audiences and I’ve encountered plenty of people who adored Fury Road, but didn’t appreciate The Road Warrior when they went back to it because it felt slow in comparison (which is insane, but that’s the topic of another essay). That won’t happen with Blade Runner 2049.
I love the Blade Runner sequel. I think that Denis Villeneuve and his team achieved the impossible by making a 2 hour and 45 minute existential sci-fi noir with astounding visuals. He nailed the Blade Runner aesthetic in ways that lead to beautiful posters and trailers to get butts in seats. Yet, once those butts are in seats what unfolds isn’t exactly popcorn-friendly. It’s depressing and ambiguous and slow and confusing and demands audience engagement to appreciate the filmmakers’ intensions. You know, like Blade Runner. Those who worship at the altar of the ground-breaking 1982 future noir will likely see all that, love it, and watch it many times until they kinda sorta but not really understand what’s going on. Those who come in excited by this super cool and dark looking Ryan Gosling blockbuster with a familiar title might be bored to tears and leave alienated and upset. That makes sense. That happened when the first Blade Runner came out. However, it won’t lead to immediate financial success on the scale Warner Brothers hopes after spending $150 million on the budget and likely almost as much on marketing. Sure, this thing could live on and bring in plenty of bucks in future years as the cult grows. That happened last time. It just might not be enough to make it a success in 2017 and that’s all the studio cares about.
So I’m very curious how people will react to Blade Runner 2049 when as it spools out to the masses. I’ve got a feeling many will hate the movie. It might even lead to an online backlash of nerds turning their backs on the original Blade Runner (that’s already happened on a small scale amongst film critics). It’ll be interesting to watch all that play out. I have no idea how it will go, because the thing is that Blade Runner’s reputation has always been complicated. It’s a cult movie that influenced so many future projects that it’s become a revered classic. Yet, both it and Villeneuve’s new sequel don’t play nice or pander for mass success. They are weird and dark movies for weird and dark people. You just wouldn’t necessarily guess that from all the toys, tattoos, and t-shirts.
This week, Brendan, Phil, and Lisa welcome Kohji Nagata from Bunz Podcast network. Kohji joins in some retro reminiscing in celebration of the release of the SNES Classic.
Phill kicks it off with a rundown of Halloween movies to check out around Toronto, including the traditional, holiday Saw movie. Next on the docket: Hollywood news. Hugh Hefner is getting a biopic, and the cast of theFast and the Furious franchise are twitter feuding again.
The crew takes a look at Blade Runner 2049. Phil talks about whether or not this new iteration of a beloved title lives up to its predecessor.
Finally, Brendan talks about his time with the SNES Classic. He and the crew talk about some of the beloved titles available, Star Fox 2, and what they would have liked to see.
Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!
The Blade Runner sequel has been a long time coming and despite understandable concerns that the pioneering cyberpunk masterpiece would be impossible to follow up, the results are undeniably impressive. What we have in Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel made by people who understand what makes the original film special on all levels. Somehow Denis Villeneuve and his team have delivered a Blade Runner sequel not just as beautifully crafted as the original, but also just as evocatively (and at times frustratingly) complex. This is a thoughtful film about the nature of consciousness, creation, and existence that just happens to have been produced on a massive blockbuster scale. It’s a minor miracle of a movie that should please fans of hard sci-fi, if not necessarily the popcorn munching broad blockbuster audience.
In keeping with this unexpectedly thoughtful release, the studio has also made unexpectedly restrictive demands about maintaining a level of secrecy about the plot. Despite the fact that the studio gave away the biggest possible spoiler by announcing Harrison Ford’s involvement before production even began (he doesn’t even show up until two hours into the movie), it’s a reasonable enough request to honour. Blade Runner 2049 does boast a fairly labyrinthine plot (especially compared to the rather sparse story of the original film) with some pleasantly thoughtful surprises. So I’ll play the game. The basics are that we re-enter the Blade Runner world 35 years after the original story. Things have gotten worse. Food can no longer even be grown on this polluted earth, so much of the population has left the planet. Those that remain are stuck eating the synthetic food created by a new dominate corporation run by a creepy Jared Leto. He also created a new breed of more obedient replicant, which has taken up an even larger portion of the population. Ryan Gosling plays one such replicant, he’s also a Blade Runner primarily assigned to kill off the few remaining old models left. The opening scene sees him take out his latest such assignment (Dave Bautista) and that leads him into a larger mystery no one could have anticipated.
That should be vague enough. Not that plot summaries would particularly spoil this cinematic experience. Sure there’s a twisty-turny noirish detective story to explore. But the film isn’t so much about plot mechanics as brainy thematics. Building on the previous Blade Runner’s exploration of a disconnected artificial world and the nature of consciousness and life within a cyborg, Blade Runner 2049 slowly spirals out into a variety of pointed questions and images. New forms of holographic intelligence create new strata of artificial life. Leto’s CEO is even more overtly a god figure than Tyrell from last time (and hardly a benevolent one). The polluted and discarded world raises all sorts of questions about where our own may go. The use of women characters in the film further explores the commodification, objectification, and dismissal of that half of the species as teased out by the first movie. Basically, Villeneuve and his team have gone out of their way to explore every nook and cranny of the critical analysis spooned onto Blade Runner in the decades since it’s release and update n’ explore them all. The movie is filled with visual references, echoes, and even outright repetitions from the first movie, yet all with a purpose. Blade Runner predicted and defined many 20th-century sci-fi concerns and Blade Runner 2049 teases them up to the modern day and beyond.
All of which doesn’t sound particularly exciting and trust that this almost 3-hour long sci-fi epic isn’t one of constant visceral stimulation. There is violence and action in Blade Runner 2049, it’s just always terse, brutal, and unromantic (you know, like the last one). Most of the splendour and entertainment of the film springs from the stunning imagery and world building. After all, Blade Runner essentially created a future sci-fi aesthetic that defined so much of what followed. The design of the sequel doesn’t push things into directions that will redefine the future of the genre, but it does create an evocative and lived-in world as beautiful as any film made in the last 35 years. The mixture of practical and digital effects is seamless. The dusty and damaged worlds tell a deeper story through design than anything played in the drama. The smoky, neon-lit cinematography by Roger Deakins is never short of astounding. It’s the type of movie that demands to be seen on the biggest screen available, IMAX if possible. A bar has been raised.
Performances are strong throughout, but like Blade Runner, everyone is muted and lost to underline the themes of artificial humanity and disconnection. In no way is Blade Runner 2049 designed to offer a cuddly and satisfying emotional experience. It’s a harsh and uncompromising vision of the future and our world designed to provoke and create discomfort. There’s little joy here. In its place is a richly and evocatively cynical vision of the future that delights the eyes and toys with the mind with little space for the heart. That’s true to Blade Runner in ways practically guaranteed to please the most ardent fan base. It’s unlikely to please anyone who didn’t like the original or hasn’t seen it though. That’s fine. This is a blockbuster art film sequel to a cult film. The fact that it even exists is somewhat of a miracle. Those who will appreciate what Villeneuve and co. accomplished will appreciate it enough to make up for those who couldn’t’ care less. This is one for us and god bless Warner Brothers for making it happen. This movie was a risk that paid off beautifully in artistic terms. Now let’s see how the pesky marketplace responds.