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Blade Runner 2049 by Benjamin Wallfisch & Hans Zimmer (Review)

posted Oct 19, 2017, 7:15 PM by Kaya Savas

When Blade Runner 2049 came into the picture, it was widely expected that Jóhann Jóhannsson would be scoring the film given his history with Denis Villeneuve. As the movie progressed it was announced that Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer would be joining the project, and by the time the first posters started to roll out with a billing block we saw that Jóhann was no longer involved. It is what it is, welcome to Hollywood. In the end though what Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer were able to do was craft a meticulous atmospheric score that feels like an extension of Vangelis without feeling like a copy/paste job.

Blade Runner has always been held in this high regard as a masterful piece of science fiction filmmaking, and really it’s because it was so visually and sonically arresting. The plot of the original was so basic and so empty in many ways, but this sci-fi film noir had many brilliant elements that has made it stand the test of time. The same goes for this sequel, which takes places 30 years after the original. With Roger Deakins behind the camera, the film is visually breathtaking and it provides such an amazing canvas for the score to operate on.

The function of this score is very much in line with how Vangelis’ score operated in the original. The music never overpowers yet still manages to feel extremely present and active. This score is all about creating an emotional response in your gut rather than your brain, it feels like a natural part of what your seeing. All the pieces are already on the screen, the music isn’t adding anything but rather enhancing what’s there. You have these amazing waves of synth that don’t feel dated and add to the world of 2049 Los Angeles. Or when you enter the ancient looking rooms of Wallace’s headquarters and we get these deep chants that make us feel like we’re entering a tomb. What the score manages to do also is highlight the theme of the film, that having a soul is what makes you human. Our protagonist is a replicant and we see him struggle with his identity as he uncovers the central mystery of the plot. The music does a surprisingly great job of slowly revealing the soul of our protagonist.

Another big part that makes this score successful is when it becomes absent. There are many long stretches of silence in the film that allow the visuals to wash over you. You become aware of the camera movements and the shot durations, you study the actors’ faces more closely. And then the score will rush back in like a wave and take hold of you when it’s needed, or in some cases work very subtlety underneath the surface just adding the right amount of atmosphere and tone. It really isn’t until the climax of the movie that the score really overtakes, and that’s in the track titled “Sea Wall”. And the music indeed acts like the waves that keep crashing from the sea in that scene.

In the score’s final moments it becomes extremely emotional and almost existential. There’s this blossoming of a soul in the music once Vangelis’ original theme is introduced in those final moments. And even though it’s a callback to the original, it feels like we were naturally moving in that direction all along to finally find that familiar melody, to find that soul.

This score is extremely masterful in its execution and the way it works with the picture. The picture is so strong in its assembly, that the score found just the perfect places to enhance what’s onscreen. It gives our protagonist’s stoic gaze some deep meaning and actually enhances Gosling’s performance. This is a very Ben Wallfisch heavy score. Hans’ core synth sounds, which owe a lot to Vangelis, are there and you can definitely pick out that Hans style in a few places. But let’s remember that he was still touring the world when this project called upon Ben and him. Benjamin Wallfisch's voice shines through here and his style is really embedded in the writing. The final product is a stylistic venture back into this futuristic vision that makes Blade Runner 2049 a very memorable and resonating experience.