“Blade Runner 2049”: The 30-year reset; can synthetic people attract souls?

The original “Blade Runner” (1982), directed by Ridley Scott, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?”, had an interesting premise, that ranged far and due to happen soon, om 2019;  a blade runner would track down slave replicants who had stolen a space ship and “illegally” (Trump-like) returned to Earth to look for their creator.  I saw the original film at Northpark in Dallas.

The newer film “Blade Runner 2049”, directed by French Canadian Denis Villeneuve, was necessary to reset the calendar.  It starts out by showing up an eyeball, and then a huge array of solar panels in a very smoggy California desert, before a vigorous young LAPD detective named “K” (Ryan Gosling) tracks down rogue replicant Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista) and winds the hand-to-hand battle, tearing out walls in a remote desert house, before finding human remains.

The movie seem sets up is premise, which is geographically limiting. The older replicants were to be retired and eliminated, and the newer ones are integrated into society.  But soon K gets information on a missing veteran replicant Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), and discovers that replicants can actually reproduce.  K’s adventures lead him to a particular ogre, Nilander Wallace (Jared Leto), who sets up a demonstration of a holographic pregnancy surrounded by disembodied black crawling eyes as if they were partial creature remnants themselves.  (There was a horror film “The Crawling Eye” on “Chiller” in the early 60.s).  There is curious terminology that calls the new replicants “angels”.

K moves between the city, modern LA, and a work farm out in the Mojave Desert, where kids (“proles”) are trained in a massive work farm, to burned out Las Vegas (“Cibola” from Stephen King’s “The Stand”). There is a critical scene with the Luxor (where I stayed in 1997) in the distance), which is ironically across the street from the rampage on Oct. 1.  Coincidence?

Some of the scenes, with bizarre alien structures laid across the desert, are impressive, but most of the time in this film, you don’t really know where you are going. But it is the psychological composition of the people that gets interesting.  First of all, K has gradually come to realize that he is a replicant himself. He is told he has no soul by a supervisor (Robin Wright), and that some of his childhood memories were implanted digitally.

Yet, K seems psychologically intact.  He may have mild Asperger’s, but he is really quite likeable and self-aware, and seems to have a certain intellectual integrity that doesn’t require close involvement with other people. It’s almost like he is a kind of Alan Turning, or maybe “The Good Doctor”. He could be fine as your best friend.  Relationships with women turn out to be fantasy pieces with holograms, but why not.  He doesn’t seem inclined to reproduce, but has discovered that maybe he is supposed to. It’s not hard to imagine how this kind of film could have used a gay subplot.

The movie would beg the question, what really gives someone an identity?  If your memories could be transferred (like by a virus) to someone else’s brain, could you wake up perceiving yourself in that person’s body.  It would be a good way for a 70 year old to become 21 again.  With a finite list of souls, no one dies, and there is no need for reproduction.  But then you don’t do your part dealing with the entropy of the universe.  Inevitability of death is tied to life.

I saw the film at Tyson’s AMC in 3-D, having left Friday’s just before the Washington Nationals came up with their winning home run rally in the game I was watching on a plasma screen during dinner.

The film was produced by Columbia Pictures (and Alcon, and Scott-Free) and has plenty of references to Sony products. It is distributed by Warner Brothers.  The introduction dispensed with the trademark music and went right into the Hans Zimmer’s bizarre musical world of sliding scales (more dissonant than the 1982 score by Vangelis).   The music score often quotes Prokofiev’s March from “The Love of Three Oranges”

Previewers of the film were required to sign unusual non-disclosure agreements of certain spoilers, but they probably don’t matter much now.

Name:  “Blade Runner 2049
Director, writer:  Denis Villeneuve, DGC
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1, Imax, 3D
When and how viewed:  AMC Tysons 2017-10-7, evening, ample crowd
Length:  165
Rating:  R
Companies:  Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Alcon, Scott-Free
Link:  WB

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 at 4:30 PM EDT)

“Alien: Covenant”: A synthetic man makes his (adopted) home planet a deadly honeypot for a colony space ship

Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” is said to be a prequel of the well-known “Alien” franchise but also a sequel to “Prometheus” (2013), which had shown the panspermia of man and then set up the series of space journeys that could set mankind in mortal danger.  The story for this movie is by Jack Paglan and Michael Green.  Titan books sells a “novelization” of the movie.

I was still living in Manhattan at the end of 1978 when I saw the movie posters for the upcoming first “Alien” movie. There was a picture of an egg and a laser flare beaming down on bodies, and I thought some wording like “a warning”.  I wondered then if the movie was about some kind of mass abduction (given my contacts then with Dan Fry and “Understanding”).  Indeed, a movie about what happens to those who are “raptured” (an inverse of “The Leftovers”) could be an interesting premise. That would not be the case.  I remember standing in line at the Medallion Theater in Dallas Memorial Day 1979 to buy a ticket, and seeing a young man who had been severely burned in line.  That’s one of the few time I remember seeing that.  And I remember the visual captivation of the first movie:  the cave with the devices combining man with machine, the egg cases, and then, back on the ship, the exploding bodies, and later the hidden robot.  Ripley, Sjjuourney Weaver, believer.  For the third film, they gave out clippers for private parts.

The new film starts with a shot of an eye, and then we’re on some mountain spa on another planet, as David (Michael Fassbender) learns he is an immortal android artifice created by his dad, who has learned how to connect consciousness to AI.  Then we’re on a colonization ship, the Covenant, with 2000 colonists and some embryos looking for a specific Earth 2 at the other side of the galaxy. The ship (where Fassbender plays another droid, Walter) passes through a “neutrino flare” and gets damaged.  When the ship is getting fixed, it gets a bizarre transmission indicating another earth-like paradise planet is much closer. The crew takes the bait, not suspecting it is a honeypot.

The surface is a damp, fjord country of southern New Zealand (“Aotearoa”).  When the crew makes its initial exploration, it quickly notices the silence, no birds or animals.  Soon the astronauts are getting infected by dust that can enter an ear lobe, and the bodies start to explode.  Some of the crew is led to the ruins of a former city, ruled by David.

It seems that ten years before, the survivors of “Prometheus” had been there, and David, after arriving with them, had thrown a hissy fit and destroyed the entire civilization, after breeding a virus that destroyed all other animal life except this one shape-shifting monster mutant.  (Did that virus come from the Prometheus planet?)

The flashback makes the ancient city look quite interesting.  There were two organic sabres or “ships” that commanded an open circle in the center of the City.  The rest of it looked like a typical place in the Middle East, despite the damp climate.

Davis, as a character, presents a dilemma.  If you’re immortal you don’t need to have children. But wouldn’t you care about the future if you knew you would be around forever, like a god?

There’s an interesting sequence where David learns to play a flute, to articulate the soaring music theme that had played in “Prometheus” (by Mark Stretenfeld). David also has a fixation with Wagner, the “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla” and the movie (before credits) ends with the close of “Das Rheingold”.  The closing credits feature a Wagnerian symphonic poem by Jed Kurzel.

Wikipedia New Zealand scenery.

Wikipedia chart of extra-solar planets.

Name:  “Alien: Covenant
Director, writer:  Ridley Scott
Released: 2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/5/22, large auditorium, evening, small audience
Length:  122
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, TSG, ScottFree
Link:  official

(Posted: Tuesday, May 23, 2017 at 3:30 PM EDT)

“Morgan”: Ridley Scott and son produce a silly, conventional horror film with an “A.I.” “mental patient”

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Name: Morgan
Director, writer:  Luke Scott
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2016/9/2, Regal Ballstom Common, Arlington VA, large auditorium, evening show, only 2 in audience; mall renovations seem to drive down attendance
Length 92
Rating R
Companies: 20th Century Fox, Scott-Free
Link: official site; IBM video 

Morgan” has been the title of a few films about “disturbed” individuals, but Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi flick about a super-girl created as a synthetic humanoid is pretty pointless, because there is no one to like in the film.  So it turns into standard horror, with the monster escaping from the decrepit house, only to meet her match in a surprise ending. “Ex Machina” last year was much better, as was the intriguing series “Kyle XY”, as these had likeable artificial people.  (Don’t forget Stephen Spielberg’s “A.I.” in 2001.) The film is actually directed by Ridley’s son Luke.

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Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy), usually in a hoodie, is kept caged in a “hospital” in the woods (apparently British Columbia) and now her creators (including mother played by Michelle Yeoh) have to decide what to do about her.

The session with shrink Paul Giamatti (remember, the brain of a chickpea in ”Cold Souls”) starts out like one of the individual therapy sessions I endured at NIH in 1962.  But indeed, Morgan turns out to be a god-damn MP.

Of course, the question of whether an artificial intelligence would be aware of itself and be capable o emotions (like “HAL” in “2001: A Space Odyssey”) is intriguing, and whether a post-human civilization can really negotiate other solar systems (like in Ridley Scott’s own “Prometheus”) could hinge on it.

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There was a gay flick named “Morgan” in 2012 which I haven’t seen yet.  But I did see the British black-and-white comedy “Morgan!” (or  “Morgan: A Suitable  Case for Treatment”, directed by Karel Reisz) with college friends in 1966, I think at the old Dupont Circle in Washington.  One friend, who barely knew about my NIH history, thought the film was offensive and made fun of mentally ill people, but also thought it belonged on “Chiller”.  David Warner plays Morgan Dell, who behaves in various bizarre ways (out of his own fantasy world) to win back his wife (Vanessa Redgrave);  complicating he story is the history of being raised as a communist.

(Published: Friday, September 2, 2016 at 11:30 PM EDT)