Blade Runner 2049 – Soundtrack Review

After thirty five years the long awaited sequel to Blade Runner finally arrived, and with it an all-new synth-based score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. While it isn’t quite as good as Vangelis’ original music, Blade Runner 2049 definitely holds it’s own.

Considering how highly regarded Vangelis’ original score is, it seemed impossible that Zimmer and Wallfisch’s score to the sequel could reach anywhere near it’s level of iconic. When it came out however, one thing that took myself and I’m sure many other listeners by surprise was that the composers didn’t try to. Aside from using the same Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that Vangelis had, Blade Runner 2049 is a completely different score that doesn’t even try to compete with the first film. Where the 1982 soundtrack was warm and rather relaxing, the sequel is much colder and a great deal harsher, as it represents a world that didn’t exactly flourish during the thirty years between the first and second movies.

The album opens with 2049, and the music throws the much darker tone at you immediately with dramatic percussion and some very creepy sounding synth notes. This only lasts a few seconds however before the mood shifts to a more melancholic one, represented by a slow and almost ominous-sounding synthesizer. The notes it sounds out are long and gradual, and this combined with a low pitch synth droning in the background lets you know that things haven’t gone well for the world of Blade Runner since the first film. The overall mood the music sets here is quite depressing, but with a slightly menacing edge to it too. Despite not being particularly thematic, this first track is pretty masterful composing by Zimmer and Wallfisch as it sets a very interesting scene for the rest of the score.

Flight To LAPD ups the pace a little, with rapid percussion taking up the foreground initially before eerie high pitched synth notes begin playing. This doesn’t last for very long however as the track quickly ends, lasting just under two minutes. The slower and more melodical style then returns in Rain, a much lighter and more emotive track. The synthesizer is played like a piano here with short, sequential notes in combination with higher pitched backing synth. All-in, it makes for a rather relaxing and romantic piece of music that harkens back to the original film’s lighter style to some extent. It is a bit of a shame however that Rain is quite short, coming in at a little over two minutes when it feels like it should’ve been longer. This shortness unfortunately is also a bit of a recurring theme throughout the album.

The villain theme of the score then makes its introduction in Wallace, a return to the much darker and more menacing tone set up in the first few tracks. Low pitched synth takes up the background here while some very creepy sounding vocals have centre stage, and together they make for an incredibly threatening and sinister theme for the bad guy of Blade Runner 2049. It isn’t a particularly thematic piece (you certainly would be hard pressed to hum it) but Blade Runner as a musical entity has always been more about mood and atmosphere than recognisable themes, and Zimmer and Wallfisch have certainly achieved that here. Wallace is so evil-sounding it’s almost shiver-inducing, and listening to it you know almost immediately that this is the theme for the villain.

Mesa was very nearly the standout cue of the score, beaten only by the end credits suite simply because it includes the best part of Mesa (as well as the best parts of the rest of the album). This track is very atmospheric, as it plays when the main character is flying his hovercar over some of the more beautiful parts of the Blade Runner world. It’s one of the few moments in the film where the score is allowed to just take over, and as a result it’s such a great piece of music. Mesa is primarily made up of long and rather soothing synthesizer notes, and while you may think that’s rather simple it’s surprisingly effective, easily being the prettiest musically of the new material on this album. The only downside is that it’s a rather short track, coming in at three minutes long (the best part of Mesa is also even shorter, at just under a minute) which is a bit of a shame considering how great the music is here.

The more sentimental side of the score is continued in Joi, a track that combines the romantic notes introduced in Rain with the harsher, cold synth that 2049 started with. Two seperate moods clash here and that makes for a rather interesting if not slightly confusing track. A similar thing also occurs in That’s Why We Believe, a slightly darker piece that uses the softer side of the score in combination with some harsh and rather ominous sounding synth backing. This musical idea is one of the more standout concepts that Zimmer and Wallfisch use in Blade Runner 2049, as it’s an approach that makes some very interesting and indeed atmospheric music. And since it’s an idea that is used considerably throughout the album, it makes the score as a whole that much more compelling.

The main action setpiece of the score is Sea Wall, and it’s here that Blade Runner 2049 stands out the most from its predecessor. The music starts off immediately with a rapid pace, and short and very harsh sounding synth notes are played throughout the first minute or so to get the frantic nature of the track across. The music then settles back down into the slower and darker tone used by much of the album, and we are treated to a good eight minutes of incredibly haunting but very beautiful and indeed highly enjoyable synth. Like Mesa before it, the only reason Sea Wall isn’t the standout cue of the score is because a large portion of it features in the fantastic end credits suite.

Blade Runner fans then get a massive treat with Tears In The Rain, a pretty much note-for-note brand new rendition of Vangelis’ Tears In Rain (the new one also doesn’t have any dialogue over it, unlike the original!) from the first film. This is the only musical idea from the original Blade Runner that the sequel references, and it picked a damn good one. My only gripe with it is that it is pretty much note-for-note, and I feel perhaps it could have been expanded on a little. I think Zimmer and Wallfisch were probably playing it safe by not really touching it, but perhaps the track could’ve been a little more interesting if they had added their own input.

Blade Runner (an interesting if not slightly unimaginative track title) then closes out the album, and is an end credits suite that features the most enjoyable pieces of music from Sea Wall, Mesa and That’s Why We Believe (those were the ones I could pick out, but there’s probably a couple more tracks in there). This ten minute long track is pretty much the “Best Of” of the score to Blade Runner 2049, and so it should come as no surprise that it gets the standout cue award for this review. It thoroughly deserves it.

Overall, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score to Blade Runner 2049 is very nearly a masterpiece. It doesn’t even attempt to compete with the original film (which is probably a good thing), as it takes a wildly different direction musically with a colder and much harsher use of the famous Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer. As a result, the score is a curious combination of sinister and romantic that surprisingly works incredibly well, and all-in is a pretty enjoyable listen. My only criticism would be that some of the best parts of the album (Mesa, for example) are just too short, and could have used a minute or two more to be really fleshed out. Looking past this though, Blade Runner 2049 is a fantastic soundtrack, and one that is well worthy of being the sequel to one of the best scores ever composed.

 

Score:  9/10

Standout Cue:  23. Blade Runner

 

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