Soundtrack review: Blade runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch – 2017)
“Blade Runner 2049” is a 2017 American neo-noir science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green. A sequel to Blade Runner (1982), the film stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, who reprises his role as Rick Deckard, with Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto in supporting roles. Officer K, a new blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. His discovery leads him on a epic quest to find Rick Deckard, a former blade runner who’s been missing for the last 30 years.
For both film and film music lovers, “Blade runner 2049”, the sequel to the iconic Ridley Scott 1982 movie and to the equally iconic Vangelis score was if not the first at least the second most awaited film event of the year (since we also have a Star Wars movie coming in 2017). For me the excitement wasn’t just about the story and idea but also about Denis Villeneuve as a director since for the past few years he has emerged as one of my favourite filmmaker with exceptional “Prisoners”, “Sicario” and the best movie of last year in my view, “Arrival”. All those movies had another thing in common and a part just as important in creating their unforgettable and suffocating tension: Johan Johannsson’s music; I had no worries about the new “Blade runner” when I knew he would be back and the score was still among my most anticipated of the year. As much as I was looking forward to JJ’s score, imagine how inconceivably excited I got when my favourite composer, Hans Zimmer, the man who had dreamt his whole life of writing the music for “Blade runner”, was called by Denis Villeneuve to take over and make this movie sound coherent with his vision. As always Hans didn’t come alone but with his current favourite collaborator and pupil, Benjamin Wallfisch, a composer who had already wrote on his own the best horror score of 2017, “It”, for another long awaited movie and a few more very good compositions with “Annabelle: Creation”, “Bitter harvest” and “A cure for wellness”. Both Hans and Ben stated that they were going to stay true to the general sonic scape of the original “Blade runner” while bringing their own vision to the franchise. I am reviewing the music before seeing the movie as I don’t want to repeat the experience of seeing the 1982 movie and the music really not fitting in some scenes, as opposed to being perfect in the album presentation.
The two composers welcome us into the new BR world with “2049”, a dystopian electronic theme that’s as dark as it needed to be and has the humming and whirring that bleed into a synth dream that if I would have heard without knowing who wrote it or for what movie I would have instantly though “Blade runner”. This is the sound that Vangelis created, now under other exceptionally gifted fingers. What has made the original movie special for so many years in term of sound has been, for most part, the atmosphere of a melodic, dark dream, of a rainy fantasy. The way “Blade runner 2049” opens, it feels as if we never left. That undertone remains, constant and hypnotic, even in more action oriented cues like “FLight to LAPD” which is vintage Zimmer since he met Chris Nolan.
The rain which was such an important element in the BR world is played by Hans and Ben with the most sublime of ambient synth melodies; this rain is welcomed and friendly and wakes up every single nostalgic cell I have in me. The entire score does but this quiet cue in particular just hits the spot. “Wallace” is the moment when the vision of Hans and Ben kicks in; this movie happens 30 years later in the same world, in the same town but evolved and the two composer use the same tools that Vangelis did 35 years ago but with their own craft. I think in his mind Hans has been preparing for writing this score his entire career; it’s like every and all synth or electronic motifs he has written from “Black rain” on have built up to this perfect mix, to cues like “Mesa” which is a synth anthem to make you forget all other synth anthems. It’s also the place where one motif from one of my favourite Hans Zimmer scores, “The fan”, hides. I am amazed though at how well Benjamin Wallfish can write this type of music; with his credentials in drama and horror as well I am calling 2017 the year of Ben Wallfisch and he gets my vote for composer of the year.
The first half of “Blade runner 2049” is nothing like Hans’ scores from the past few years for movies like “Dunkirk”, “The dark knight”, “Inception” or “Interstellar”; in fact it’s nothing like any other score Hans Zimmer has written. The score is dark without being abrasive; aggressive but natural; the emotional parts are simply sublime: “Someone lived this” and “Joi” are among the best atmospheric cues Hans Zimmer has ever written. “Joi” especially could be my favourite theme from the score, with the haunting keyboard motif and the blissful ambient mood and it’s also the closest to the original Vangelis sound.
From “Hijack” on, Hans and Ben, following the evolution of the movie, go disturbing. In Vangelis’ score the only disturbing thing was the overuse of a bow on string like motif during “Blade runner blues”; here the two composers get closer to the sound Hans has been mastering for the past decade. “Hijack” and “Sea wall” are violent synth pieces where Hans goes over the top and I love them. It’s the kind of music that can accompany climatic scenes in the movie and the part of the “Blade runner 2049” score that’s farthest from the original sound. If the 1982 score played like a single 54 minutes long uninterrupted cue I can say that the 2017 score plays like two separate cues, one quieter, one more violent. I like the cathartic end to “Sea wall”, the last quiet and sweet motif after 8 minutes of abuse. “All the best memories are hers” continue the catharsis and the dream.
Just when I was debating the comparison between the two scores, old and new, Hans and Ben fuse the two together in the best of both worlds: they bring their own version of “Tears in the rain”, the most beautiful piece from the Vangelis composition. Safe so say it’s heart to beat and I almost get misty eyed as I listen to it. I mentioned the place where the two scores meet and I will also talk about the theme that shows best the differences between the two: the longest cue from each score, the “Blade runner” theme. In 2049 there is no more “blues” as the 10 minute long final cue focuses on atmosphere rather than character, as a culmination and suite of the entire score. This last track and the way I am enjoying it also shows me that even 76 minutes is not enough and I could have listened to hours of the dark synth soundscape that the two composers created.
Every generation of Sci-fi and synth music fans needs a “Blade runner”. The atmosphere of such a movie and score is unique, addictive and affecting and for me Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfish created the own vision of the soundscape for this world; at times evoking the sensitivity of Vangelis, at times inevitably hitting with the force and violence of 30 years later but all the time delivering exceptionally rewarding film music I am sure they will managed to satisfy purists and new fans alike. For me, just like the original, this score is perfect and I can’t wait to enrich my experience by hearing it in the context of the movie.
Cue rating: 100 / 100
Total minutes of excellence: 76 / 76
Album excellence: 100%
Flight To Lapd
Someone Lived This
That’s Why We Believe
Her Eyes Were Green
All the Best Memories Are Hers
Tears In The Rain