Denis Villeneuve was determined to bring the film noir aesthetic and spirit of the original film to Blade Runner 2049.
“I’m not supposed to be here with you, I’m very busy doing a movie right now,” says Denis Villeneuve when STACK meets with him at San Diego Comic-Con. “I have three crews working in Los Angeles and I’m meant to be doing sound, music and VFX right now.”
That movie is Blade Runner 2049, the highly anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction classic which brought forties’ film noir elements to a bleak future of bioengineered human replicants and the cops who terminate them.
“[Ridley] told me he’d be there for me, anytime, but would also leave me alone. It will be my movie, which was very generous.”
Villeneuve says it was “love at first sight” when he first saw Blade Runner. “It was science fiction that was doing its job, which is to explore the human condition and ask deep questions about our identity and relationship with memory. At the time it was great to see a movie where morality is blurred. I didn’t know who were the good and bad guys. It’s a movie that stayed with me through the years.”
Set 30 years after the events of the original, the sequel involves another Blade Runner, played by Ryan Gosling, who is searching for Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard, in order to solve a long buried secret. While precise plot details are still tightly under wraps, Villeneuve promises Blade Runner 2049 will be a very existential detective story with more dynamic action sequences.
In approaching the sequel, he says his main goal was to respect the spirit of the first movie. “When I say spirit, I’m talking about the film noir aesthetic and rhythm. I also wanted to stay in contact with Roy Batty, Deckard, and all those characters in the first one. I hope I succeeded, but that I cannot judge. We did our best and it is [the audience] who will say how they feel about it.”
Blade Runner 2049 is Villenueve’s second venture into science fiction following last year’s Arrival, which received eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Director. On the strength of Arrival, as well as his other films – which include Prisoners and Sicario – the Blade Runner sequel is in very capable hands. But Villeneuve himself wasn’t so sure when first offered the project, citing the enormous responsibility and pressure that came with it.
“Harrison is part of the DNA of the story – I had to be approved by Harrison Ford, not the other way around”
“The truth is, at the beginning, I was very excited and touched that they came to me and trusted me,” he says. “Then I read the screenplay and fell in love with the story; I thought it was very powerful. But I was saying to myself, ‘It’s an insane task, dangerous.’ I’m used to flirting with disaster but this is another level. Once I said yes, the way to deal with the pressure is that once you accept your chances of success are very small, it becomes a pure artistic gesture of love toward the first movie. When you make a sequel to a masterpiece, once you find that space of peace, you are totally free.”
Villeneuve adds that he received the full support of Ridley Scott – who serves as an executive producer on the film – when the pair met to discuss the sequel.
“He told me he’d be there for me, anytime, but would also leave me alone. It will be my movie, which was very generous,” he recalls. “I also remember that he shook my hand and looked me in the eyes and said ‘Listen, if you do your homework correctly, that can be fantastic. If you don’t, that can be a disaster.’ And he was right.”
Harrison Ford was already onboard when Villeneuve signed on, and the director duly notes that without him, there would be no sequel. “Harrison is part of the DNA of the story – I had to be approved by Harrison Ford, not the other way around,” he laughs.
As to Ryan Gosling’s involvement, he says it was co-writer Hampton Fancher’s idea to cast him as the protagonist. “When they gave me the screenplay, they said ‘Listen, you will do what you want and cast who you want, but we think Ryan Gosling could be a good actor for this.’ And when I read it, it was obvious – it was written for him.”
Villeneuve adds that Gosling proved pretty easy to convince. “We had a very long meeting, talking about our love of the first movie, and he said yes right away. He said it’s going to be weird when they realise that two Canadians have hijacked Blade Runner,” he laughs.
As a filmmaker, Villeneuve says he looks for inspiration in life, not other movies, and evolving the future world of Blade Runner gave him the opportunity to reflect the present.
“The good news is that we are still there in 2049, which is optimistic. For me, good sci-fi is an exploration of today’s world. It’s not interesting in what it says about our future, it’s interesting in what it says about our world today.”
Blade Runner 2049 is in cinemas on October 5
Scoring Blade Runner 2049
As any fan of Blade Runner will know, the music score by Vangelis is as intrinsic to the identity of the film as the noirish mood. Tasked with capturing the essence of Vangelis’s haunting themes for the sequel is Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson – who has worked with Villeneuve on Sicario and Arrival – along with contributions from Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer.
“There was a lot of talk [as to whether] we try and do what Vangelis did and design a new sound,” offers Villeneuve. “I felt there’s no Blade Runner without a Vangelis vibe. We worked with a CS-80 – the Vangelis synthesizer – on the movie; it needs these sounds to be alive. We need the Vangelis spirit in the movie, it doesn’t work without it.”