Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins on making Blade Runner 2049

In arriving at the year’s most sublime science-fiction film, they had to escape the shadow of a classic
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One of the 1980s’ most untouchable achievements, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is many things: a total vision of a frightening tomorrow, a genius piece of technological design and a perfect art movie. Something it’s not: incomplete. It didn’t need a sequel. (Does any movie?) Many fans have dreaded even the idea of one, but in the hands of the creative duo behind Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival – director Denis Villeneuve and photographer Roger Deakins – a second miracle seems to have happened. Their mantra from the start, per Villeneuve: “There’s no new Blade Runner movie unless it’s existential.”

Give us some context: What does the original Blade Runner mean to you?
Denis Villeneuve: I saw it at a time when I was first starting to dream about being a filmmaker. It was a strong artistic shock. I was very hungry for science fiction films that weren’t “B movies” or parodies or clichés. There weren’t a lot of them that took sci-fi seriously, as Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg did. The way Ridley Scott depicted the future was the first time I had the sensation that someone was showing us what could be.

Many famous cinematographers have entered the field because of Blade Runner specifically. Is there an intimidation factor for you here?
Roger Deakins: Yeah, obviously. But the way Denis talked about his sequel when he first approached me, it was going to be a film of its own. Clearly, there are connections with the story and the world we’re in, but I’m not [original cinematographer] Jordan Cronenweth – I couldn’t light like Jordan did. There’s no way. I wasn’t even going to try and go there.

Villeneuve directing Ford and Gosling in Blade Runner 2049

So purely as a matter of confidence, how were you able to proceed?
DV: There are two periods: before I said ‘yes’ and after I said ‘yes’. [Laughs] Before, they put the screenplay in my hands and I couldn’t believe the amount of trust they had in me. It was a privilege and a burden – I was moved. I already knew they were developing a film, which I thought was a fantastic idea and a very bad one at the same time. But the script was elegant, with depth and beauty. Still, I might be damned by the film community! So it was very arrogant, but I said, “Somebody has to take the burden.” It was worth the risk. Then it was too late to be afraid.

One of the new film’s most arresting visual images is its empty Las Vegas. How did that come together?
RD: Vegas, we talked it through and Denis liked the idea of it being red. So I got some images from Australia during the dust storms they had a few years ago – very famous photographs of the Sydney Opera House covered in red dust. I’d been in Egypt years ago in a haboob, which is a red dust storm. Basically, that’s how these atmospheres evolve: You throw ideas back and forth.

The sound design of Blade Runner 2049 is a feast in itself. Original composer Vangelis is the god of this film, even though he didn’t score it. Did you try to draft him?
DV: I took a lot of visual liberties, but the sound of the first movie is so singular. We needed it. I met with Vangelis, but there was too much distance between us, and time was an issue. I deeply wish that had worked out.

And getting Harrison Ford on board?
DV: I had to be approved by him. Honestly, I’ll remember that first meeting all my life. When I heard his voice – “Denis, come in,” – I was like: Whoa. I couldn’t be a fanboy anymore.

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