Film Soundtrack Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Science-Fiction’s cult classic returns with a blistering score that stays true to the original.

The original Blade Runner soundtrack was famously awash with synthesisers, futuristic sounds and innovative uses of musical styles, projecting its 1982 audience into the heart of a gritty, dystopian Los Angeles. Now, over thirty years later, Blade Runner 2049 sets out to do the same, with Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception) and long time collaborator Benjamin Wallfisch (It) at the helm of the soundtrack. The plot follows K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner working for the LAPD who discovers the remains of a once-pregnant replicant. In order to prevent a possible war between the two species, he is tasked to find the daughter of the replicant, leading him to discover that the child bears some connection to the original blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for over thirty years.

“There is a darkness and there is a dystopian atmosphere, but there is a triumph of the human spirit.” – Harrison Ford

From the offset, the audience are immediately plunged into a bleak, desolate setting. Felicitous drum noises create a dark and reverberant soundscape for airy synths to emerge, while the subsequent, lighter piano entry leaves the listener hanging on to the enigmatic chord changes. It’s these constant textural and dynamic shifts that create a fluid relationship between the two concepts referenced in the above quote by Ford.

As with all of his scores, Zimmer knows how to create atmosphere, and marries this to swooping shots of gritty, metropolitan Los Angeles and the further afield dystopian scenery. Heard on the synth, the film’s main musical theme appears throughout in various textural forms. From clean, organic musical lines, to waves of towering electronic sounds, the main theme captures the seismic scale of the ultra-modern Los Angeles skyline, bringing an apocalyptic musical sheen to the on-screen proceedings.

At times, the score is beautifully ambient; Zimmer’s use of string harmonics, flutes and celeste bring to light the rich, humane elements of the plot during the track ‘Rain’. This style is developed later on in the film, where synth brass is combined with warm, sub-bass and synth strings to create a dense, opulent wall of sound that immerses the listener.

World music is incorporated into the score in the form of throat singing, and accompanied with acoustic middle eastern instrumentation and low synth rumbles. This creates a powerful sonic presence when in the sinister utopian aesthetic of the Wallace headquarters, where the film’s replicants are conceived and manufactured.

It goes without saying that both Zimmer and Wallfisch have done a remarkable job of keeping the score engaging throughout. What helps this feat is the composer’s use of micro-tones; where musical intervals are played which are smaller than semi-tones, creating a unique harmonic atmosphere. This unconventional way of writing is used to sometimes nauseating effect in the music, especially where the synths are loud and prominent. But even during quiet moments, where the soundtrack takes on a more intimate role, it reinforces the human spirit in this disconcerting setting of unprecedented technological advancements.

The 1982 Blade Runner soundtrack is considered a masterpiece of writing, influential in exposing world and ambient music to a mass audience. Its stature hasn’t been forgotten either, for in 2008 it was performed in full with the Heritage Orchestra and Massive Attack, proving its ongoing resonance with music and sci-fi fans alike. Blade Runner 2049 has simply taken the elements of the original soundtrack and given them a modern makeover, and in doing so has brought a fresh and impactful sound that pines for your attention. Hans Zimmer has once again proved that he is the only logical composer fit to reimagine such a legendary soundtrack in a fresh and compelling way.

– Alex Weston

Image: Warner Bros

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