When Blade Runner was released theatrically in 1982, the film was a box office and critical failure. It was a major disappointment for its director, Ridley Scott, and star, Harrison Ford. The critical consensus at the time was that Blade Runner was a great-looking film whose technical credits overwhelmed its characters and story.
Time changes everything. Over the following decades, Blade Runner has received, from audiences and critics alike, a sweeping reappraisal and is now regarded as a visionary masterpiece. One of Blade Runner’s original supporters was Denis Villeneuve, the director of Arrival and Prisoners, who was a teenager when he first saw Blade Runner in 1982. “I think I read about Blade Runner in the pages of Cinefantastique, which had a big spread on the film and showed images from the film, which got me really excited about the film,” says Villeneuve. “Years before the arrival of the internet, that’s how I discovered films like Blade Runner. I saw Blade Runner in a small Quebec theater, and I thought it was amazing. The opening sequence, seeing the first images of the landscape, was unbelievable. The rest of the film was just as great. Blade Runner was, for me, one of the first films I saw growing up that was better than I imagined it would be.”
Now Villeneuve is the director of the long-awaited Blade Runner sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Ryan Gosling stars as Officer K, an LAPD officer who’s been tasked with retiring a new breed of replicants. “It’s obviously a very different world now, and it’s a much more brutal world than we saw in the first film,” says Villeneuve. “Earth has collapsed, and everyone wants to leave earth. Those who live on Earth are trapped here. They have no choice and must survive the best they can. K, Ryan’s character, works for the Blade Runner unit, and he’s facing the same challenges, obstacles, that Rick Deckard did in the first film but on a much grander scale. Some of the replicant models are illegal on Earth, and he has to find the illegal ones and eliminate them. Within a science fiction film, this is a detective story with a strong noir element.”
Along the way, K makes contact with the original blade runner, Rick Deckard, who shares his experience with K. This is the same role that Harrison Ford played on the set with Gosling and Villeneuve. “Harrison was so helpful on many levels, especially in terms of trying to project the world that Harrison and Ridley created in the first film into the future. Harrison waited over thirty years to see this film become a reality. His commitment to the project was incredible. It was the same with Ryan. From the moment the three of us became attached to this project, we started talking about the script, exchanging ideas, and this carried over to the filming.”
Instead of relying solely on CGI, Villeneuve insisted on building physical sets. “The problem with CGI is that the actors and the director don’t have the freedom to exchange ideas, to improvise,” says Villeneuve. “You’re bound by the green screen. CG-heavy films also look very artificial, very unreal. If the audience doesn’t believe in the universe they’ve been placed inside of, the film can’t be successful. I’m the type of filmmaker who likes to see things, touch things, and most actors are the same way. This is a much better film because we built sets.”
Villeneuve says that Scott, who served as an executive producer on the sequel, acted as a low-key mentor throughout the process. “Most of the time I spent with him was prior to the filming, when we had long talks about the first film, about what inspired him to make the first film,” says Villeneuve. “After that, he told me he’d be there if I needed him, and I felt his support throughout the filming. I think Ridley visited the set three times. I felt his presence throughout this journey.”
Blade Runner 2049 will be released theatrically on October 6, 2017.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Publicity.