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Blade Runner 2049: Back to the future with eagerly awaited sci-fi sequel

Blade Runner 2049 (Cert 15, 163 mins)

By Damon Smith

The imperfect, rain-lashed future of the original Blade Runner is almost upon us.

Released in 1982, Sir Ridley Scott's ground-breaking sci-fi conjured a breathtaking vision of a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019, festooned with alluring holograms that flickered to the mournful strains of Vangelis' electronic score.

The eagerly awaited sequel, directed by Denis Villeneuve, honours the past and respectfully expands the nihilistic universe imagined by Philip K Dick in his novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

In Blade Runner 2049, androids dream of wooden horses and possessing the one thing that cannot be coded into their meticulously crafted bodies: a soul.

"You've been getting along fine without one," rebukes one human to her melancholic replicant underling.

Motifs from the earlier mission reverberate throughout this pristine follow-up, deftly stitching together two timelines without completely excluding audiences who are blissfully ignorant of the original picture.

For all its bravura design and flawless special effects, Blade Runner 2049 doesn't smack gobs with its invention, aside from a sensual three-way sex scene.

Like the automata that enrich human lives, Villeneuve's film is one small yet significant iteration shy of perfection.

The laconic hero is officer KD6-3.7 (Ryan Gosling), one of a new breed of grizzled blade runners who 'retire' genetically engineered replicants that live among the wary population.

He returns home each night to a cold, functional apartment, where a holographic companion called Joi (Ana de Armas) creates the illusion of companionship.

Working under Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) at the Los Angeles Police Department, K hunts outdated Nexus-8 models, which haven't been coded to cherish humankind like the new replicants fashioned by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto).

His "angels" are closely monitored by his most perfect creation, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), who jealousy guards her elevated position at her creator's side.

In the course of his unforgiving work, K uncovers a shocking secret. "This breaks the world," whispers a terrified Joshi.

The subsequent quest for painful answers leads K to Deckard (Harrison Ford), who is reluctant to venture back into the automated world that almost destroyed him.

Two generations scarred by loss unite in the spirit of self-sacrifice.

Blade Runner 2049 is a beautifully crafted thriller that sustains a pedestrian pace, allowing us to second-guess K and even beat him to a couple of narrative punches.

Gosling's restrained performance contrasts with de Armas' luminous embodiment of a digitised love interest.

Ford eases back gruffly into a familiar role, while composers Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer crank up the volume on their bombastic score.

Villeneuve's muscular, brooding film does not fade quietly.

Four stars

Impressive star pair keep unlikely escapade airborne

The Mountain Between Us: (Cert 12A, 112 mins)

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Cold truths: Kate Winslet and Idris Elba

A plane crash in mountainous terrain brings together two strangers on different emotional flight paths in director Hany Abu-Assad's romantic drama.

Based on the novel by Charles Martin, The Mountain Between Us is a gooey collision of beautiful people in peril: a female photographer on assignment for a national UK newspaper and a gifted male neurosurgeon who asserts the brain is the most important organ in the body.

"What about the heart?" she asks. "It's nothing but a muscle," he replies dismissively.

Abu-Assad's picture, adapted for the screen by Chris Weitz and J Mills Goodloe, pays considerably more attention to the heart than the brain.

Storm clouds amass over Salt Lake City, grounding all commercial flights. Photojournalist Alex Martin (Winslet) is poised to marry her fiance Mark (Dermot Mulroney) the following day in New York.

She charters a two-person plane for $800 from avuncular pilot Walter (Beau Bridges), who fought and flew during Vietnam.

"As long as nobody's shooting at me, I'll get you there," he promises.

Alex offers the second seat to Dr Ben Bass (Elba), who needs to operate on patients in Manhattan.

During the subsequent flight, Walter suffers a stroke and the plane careens into a snow-laden peak in the High Uintas Wilderness.

Walter perishes while Ben suffers bruises and a couple of broken ribs, and Alex's leg is badly injured.

"We might die together and I don't even know you," mourns Alex, who knows her fracture will impede rescue as they brave sub-zero temperatures and natural predators.

The Mountain Between Us remains airborne thanks to Winslet and Elba, who compel us to believe in their unlikely coupling.

A final destination is clearly telegraphed far in advance of the softly lit, breathless sex scene.

Don't expect much turbulence before landing.

Three stars

Birdwatcher’s contemplative journey of self-discovery

The Ornithologist (Cert 12, 118 mins)

Portuguese director Joao Pedro Rodrigues draws inspiration from the life of St Anthony of Padua for a contemplative journey of self-discovery seen through the eyes of avid birdwatcher Fernando (Paul Hamy).

He is travelling through the most remote parts of northern Portugal as part of a research project into black storks.

Fernando is forced to travel by land and water, and during one stretch of the trek his canoe overturns.

His body is washed into the dense forest, where two Catholic pilgrims, Fei (Han Wen) and Lin (Chan Suan), discover Fernando. They strip him down to his underwear and tie him to a tree, abandoning him to the elements. Thankfully, Fernando manages to wriggle free of his bindings and heads into the forest in search of help. He stumbles upon a riverbank where a handsome shepherd called Jesus (Xelo Cagiao) proves to be his salvation and undoing.

Three stars

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