Blade runner 2049


Total Film - - Contents - Words Jane Crowther

It’s (Philip K.) Dick, but not as we know it. Gosling, Ford and Vil­leneuve talk re­viv­ing the repli­cants.

Talk­ing to Ryan Gosling about his lat­est project is like quizzing a repli­cant. Though he’s very much flesh and blood (as ev­i­denced by the num­ber of up­scale Barcelona ho­tel staff loi­ter­ing, sud­denly clean­ing non-ex­is­tent dust in our in­ter­view room) and un­fail­ingly po­lite and con­ge­nial, his dis­cus­sion of the film is lim­ited to pre-ap­proved, per­func­tory ‘talk­ing points’ and de­flec­tions as in­structed by his com­pany pay­mas­ters.

The in­scrutable Gosling knows this is faintly ridicu­lous – an amused smirk play­ing across his face as he dodges queries about his char­ac­ter, the plot, other char­ac­ters… and that ques­tion. “What I can say is,” he side­steps, hun­ker­ing fur­ther into his denim jean jacket with popped col­lar, “I’ve never done science fic­tion be­fore, and I’ve al­ways wanted to. I’m glad I waited.” He chuck­les and shrugs apolo­get­i­cally. “You can do a lot of dis­ser­vice to the movie and to the work peo­ple did when you’re do­ing in­ter­views by just try­ing to cre­ate sound­bites about the nar­ra­tive. I don’t think I’m al­lowed to say if I had a good time mak­ing the film…”

He’s jok­ing of course (more about the good times later), but that lock­down on specifics is a project-wide ne­ces­sity in a tent­pole arena where the ar­rival of a se­quel to Ri­d­ley Scott’s sem­i­nal 1982 sci-fi star­ring Har­ri­son Ford pro­vokes as much au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tion and de­bate as an­other of Ford’s re­cently re-vis­ited iconic fran­chises. Like The Force Awak­ens, Blade Runner 2049 walks a tightrope task of hon­our­ing the source ma­te­rial while also mov­ing the story on by decades. That’s es­pe­cially tricky given the orig­i­nal tale – in which 2019 cop Rick Deckard tracks and ‘re­tires’ rogue repli­cants (bio-en­gi­neered hu­manoids) through a rain-soaked neo-noir LA – be­came a cult clas­sic, ended up with seven dif­fer­ent cuts, and birthed one of cinema’s most en­dur­ing teases: is the hunter un­wit­tingly the hunted? Is Deckard him­self a repli­cant? A ques­tion that Ford and Scott fa­mously dis­agreed on and, ac­cord­ing to 2049 di­rec­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve, still do.

To make a se­quel, then, is no mean feat – and for years, seemed im­pos­si­ble. Scott ad­mits to view­ing his film as an un­fin­ished paint­ing; Ford dis­missed it in 1999, say­ing, “I didn’t like the movie one way or the other – I was a de­tec­tive who did not have any de­tect­ing to do;” and the rights were bound to the pro­duc­ers.

But as the years in­creased from ini­tial re­lease and new gen­er­a­tions em­braced it, Blade Runner’s brand eq­uity only grew, mak­ing a re­turn to Deckard’s world in­creas­ingly in­evitable. En­ter Al­con En­ter­tain­ment, run by An­drew A. Kosove and Brod­er­ick John­son, bol­stered by suc­cess with The Blind Side and hooked up to Warner Bros for dis­tri­bu­tion (though this film will be shep­herded by Sony out­side North Amer­ica). In 2011, they bought se­quel and pre­quel rights – but not re­make rights, which are still sacro­sanct – from exec pro­ducer Bud Yorkin, who re­tained pro­ducer cred­its on the se­quel along with Scott. With orig­i­nal screen­writer Hamp­ton Fancher on­board and Scott in­tend­ing to di­rect again, the team knew there was one in­gre­di­ent that was non-ne­go­tiable in fur­ther­ing the tale of Deckard: Ford. A man not known for beat­ing around the bush. A man who, when asked what fond mem­o­ries he has of mak­ing the orig­i­nal, replies, “None what­so­ever, no, no, no.”

He pauses. “That’s not fair. Ask me again.” What are some of your fond­est mem­o­ries from mak­ing Blade Runner? “Go­ing home in the morn­ing as the sun rose. Fifty nights of rain on the back­lot of Warner Bros. It was a tough shoot. The hours were long, the light­ing was com­pli­cated and dif­fi­cult, there was a lot of wait­ing.” Oh.

Get­ting Ford to re­turn would seem like a hard sell then. But he says he had no ap­pre­hen­sions hav­ing seen the Fancher/Michael Green-writ­ten script. Why? “I think it’s kind of fun to play a char­ac­ter 30 years later, so I didn’t see a real prob­lem with it at all. Be­fore that I had re­vis­ited Han Solo… in a way, I’m used to try­ing on old clothes, hap­pily they still fit, so it wasn’t a strug­gle – it was fun.” He also saw in K, a blade runner work­ing in 2049 LA and search­ing for Deckard to un­lock

‘the movie is walk­ing alone like an an­i­mal. we know the story works, ev­ery­thing is there’ de­nis vil­leneuve

a mys­tery, a role for Ryan Gosling (who Fancher had in mind while writ­ing). “I was re­ally very en­thu­si­as­tic about propos­ing to the pro­duc­ers, and to the then-pre­sumed di­rec­tor, that the part be played by Ryan Gosling,” Ford re­calls. “And they said, ‘Oh yeah, we know, that’s what we were think­ing too.’”

Though Gosling was al­ready in the con­ver­sa­tion, that pre­sumed di­rec­tor soon changed from be­ing Scott, as he was fully loaded re­vis­it­ing an­other of his iconic fran­chises with Alien: Covenant, and moved to a helmer who’d shown an affin­ity for cere­bral sci-fi with Ar­rival. A self-con­fessed film nerd from a small Cana­dian town who had been trans­ported by Blade Runner on VHS as a 14-year-old, De­nis Vil­leneuve couldn’t be­lieve he was be­ing in­vited to re­visit it. And with Ford. “I had to be ap­proved by him,” he re­mem­bers when TF catches up with him in Barcelona in June.

The film is now ‘very close to pic­ture lock’ and Vil­leneuve ex­udes re­lief (as well as ex­haus­tion). “The movie is alive and walk­ing alone like an an­i­mal,” he en­thuses be­tween sips of espresso. “We know the story works. We know the movie is strong. We know ev­ery­thing is there.” He makes it sound as though it were easy, but when we talk about those early days of tak­ing on the project, it’s clear Vil­leneuve had moun­tains to move.

Not least, bat­tling the ‘don’t-fuck-it-up’ pres­sure of ex­pec­ta­tion, as well as ne­go­ti­at­ing a path to a legacy film that had his own stamp on it. “The movie is very, very my movie,” Vil­leneuve in­sists. “When I de­cided to agree, I agreed on cer­tain con­di­tions. That we’d change things in the screen­play. Not the ideas, not the char­ac­ters, but I made it more sim­ple, more di­rect and closer to the script of the first movie. That was a way to make it my own.”

great scott

The other con­di­tion of ac­cep­tance was the bless­ing of BR god­fa­ther Ri­d­ley Scott. “He was very grace­ful and kind to me. He looked at the de­signs we were do­ing, he gave some ad­vice. I fol­lowed it, but some­times I stayed truth­ful to what I be­lieved was right to do, be­cause I don’t have the same sen­si­bil­ity. And at the same time I needed dis­tance. He came on set one day, and he was be­hind me. I was di­rect­ing. I said, ‘Ri­d­ley, who’s your favourite di­rec­tor?’ ‘I was a big fan of Kubrick and Bergman. I love Bergman.’ ‘How would you feel if you were di­rect­ing and Bergman was be­hind you?’ And then he started to laugh and left.”

Vil­leneuve courted Gosling (also 14 when he first saw the film – US The­atri­cal Cut), leg­endary DoP Roger Deakins (“The ne­go­ti­a­tion lasted 10 sec­onds”) and pro­duc­tion de­signer doyen Den­nis Gass­ner [see ‘Neon De­mon’, p65] as well as David Bowie, who he wanted to play new owner of the Tyrell Cor­po­ra­tion, Ne­an­der Wal­lace. “I needed a rock star to por­tray that char­ac­ter. When we ap­proached him, we heard the sad news [that Bowie was ter­mi­nally ill], so I had to find some­body else who’d have some qual­i­ties I was look­ing for.” The gig went to part-time rock star, Os­car win­ner and fa­bled Method man, Jared Leto. “He’s some­one who has a level of ded­i­ca­tion. It was a jour­ney to work with him – a pos­i­tive one.” No con­fir­ma­tion if he stayed in char­ac­ter for the en­tire length of the shoot, mind.

The key to the cast, though (along­side Ford), was Gosling – hot off film­ing La La Land and bring­ing with him a cer­tain cin­e­matic ca­chet. “Lis­ten, I know Ryan has a strong sex ap­peal, which is al­ways a good thing for box of­fice,” Vil­leneuve laughs, while Ford jokes, “I’m hop­ing des­per­ately that Ryan will con­tinue to at­tract an au­di­ence for us, that he’ll stay out of jail, out of trou­ble, and that we can take ad­van­tage of his enor­mous cur­rent suc­cess.” “But se­ri­ously,” Vil­leneuve stresses, “I chose him be­cause he was

per­fect for the part. If you put some­one in front of Har­ri­son Ford, you need a strong star. Har­ri­son on the screen, he’s not small. He’s huge – the star power. So you need some­one who can take that and bounce it back.” That strength for Vil­leneuve also be­came a ne­ces­sity off-screen too. The two men bonded im­me­di­ately in a shared vi­sion for the movie and ar­rived early in Bu­dapest be­fore film­ing to prep and en­sure the screen­play was ‘bul­let­proof’.

“We re­ally spent days be­fore the shoot to­gether, drink­ing cof­fee, ex­plor­ing each scene, try­ing to im­prove it, and mak­ing sure that it’d be pure, sim­ple, pow­er­ful,” says Vil­leneuve, re­fer­ring to Gosling as his ‘muse’. “I shot 105 days, and Ryan was there 103 of them. Ev­ery day he was giv­ing me a lot of en­ergy and was very pas­sion­ate. He be­came a close friend and brought a lot of strong ideas – some of them are my favourites in the whole movie.”

The bro­mance is two-way, with Gosling sim­i­larly ef­fu­sive. “It’s a spe­cial film­maker that’s con­fi­dent enough that they can sort of dog-ear what they have pre­pared, and also be open to ex­plor­ing what else is pos­si­ble. De­nis is very fo­cused on hav­ing ev­ery­thing feel as grounded and truth­ful as pos­si­ble. It’s ex­cit­ing when you have a film­maker work­ing in a height­ened uni­verse and genre but ground­ing it that way be­cause part of what made the orig­i­nal so spe­cial is that it felt pos­si­ble, some­how. Real.”

Ve­rac­ity in sci-fi sounds some­thing of a con­tra­dic­tion, but while Vil­leneuve took ad­vice from Fancher in his ap­proach (“Hamp­ton said, ‘Stop try­ing to be log­i­cal. We did the first movie like a dream. Go into a dream world’”), he wanted to es­chew green­screen and build phys­i­cal sets and ef­fects. Tak­ing over seven sound­stages in Origo Stu­dios, he had Gass­ner con­struct huge-scale ex­te­ri­ors and in­te­ri­ors com­plete with fully re­alised in­ter­nal lives. Gosling per­son­ally dec­o­rated his char­ac­ter’s apart­ment, fill­ing shelves with se­lected books, kitchen cab­i­nets with crock­ery – much of which will never be seen on-screen. The spin­ners pass­ing the win­dows were in-cam­era ef­fects, fu­tur­is­tic gad­gets and giz­mos were func­tional, and the cast were not al­lowed onto the sets un­til they were com­plete to give them a greater sense of lo­ca­tion.

“Phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ments are enor­mously help­ful,” says Ford. “Peo­ple be­have in a more re­al­is­tic way, in a real en­vi­ron­ment when it is ac­tu­ally af­fect­ing the sound of their foot­steps and they can feel it and it’s real.” So real that Vil­leneuve ad­mits the stu­dio see­ing dailies thought they were fin­ished cuts. “Ev­ery day, the hard­est part of my job was to not be im­pressed by the work that had been done and that ev­ery­one around me was do­ing,” ad­mits Gosling. “I’ve never seen any­thing like it, and I don’t think I will again. It was re­ally kind of breath­tak­ing.”

Also part of Vil­leneuve’s ‘ground­ing’ was to en­sure that Blade Runner 2049 con­tin­ued from the aes­thetic and world of Scott’s 2019 (“Our movie is not an ex­ten­sion of to­day, it’s an ex­ten­sion of the first movie… there’s a po­etic dis­tance from re­al­ity”), but that women be­came more than mere or­na­ments. K has a strong part­ner in Joi (Ana de Ar­mas) and a badass ad­ver­sary in Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) [see op­po­site]. Joi, de Ar­mas says, “is a com­plex char­ac­ter with a beau­ti­ful arc” and a “big sur­prise” (“I’d tell you who Joi was, but… oh my God, there’s so much more I could say,’’ she squirms when pressed). Luv, mean­while, may be a repli­cant and gives as good as she gets in a bruis­ing fight with K. “Trust me, she was smack­ing me right back. Sylvia’s a wor­thy ad­ver­sary,” laughs Gosling. “But we were con­scious of [women not be­ing ob­jec­ti­fied]. It’s part of what’s ex­cit­ing about this in­car­na­tion.”

to be or not to be?

A part, yes, but what about the rest? What’s hap­pen­ing 30 years on from 2019? Is Deckard a repli­cant? Is K? “You have an­swers in this new ma­te­rial; it’s mind-blow­ing to think we’re ac­tu­ally

‘i’ve never seen any­thing like it, and i don’t think i will again. it was kind of breath­tak­ing’ ryan gosling

go­ing to tell more,” says de Ar­mas

– but, of course, she can­not say what.

She, Gosling and Vil­leneuve talk of an eco­log­i­cal cri­sis, snow in Cal­i­for­nia, only the sick and poor still liv­ing in LA – sur­viv­ing rather than liv­ing – and the widen­ing of the ge­o­graph­i­cal scope to take in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia [see ‘Lost In Time’, p61]. And there’s the mys­tery that K must un­ravel via Deckard, who is pro­tect­ing se­crets that could im­pact the whole of mankind. “It’s a very brave sto­ry­line,” Ford of­fers of the jeal­ously pro­tected nar­ra­tive be­tween K and Deckard. “It’s very in­ter­est­ing what tran­spires be­tween them. And for me, what I value most is that there’s an emo­tional con­text there, es­pe­cially in the world of fu­tur­ism and hard­ware and con­jec­ture. At the first meet­ing be­tween K and Deckard, Deckard bizarrely quotes a bit of lan­guage from a book, which K’s char­ac­ter in­cor­rectly iden­ti­fies. But close enough for Deckard to say, ‘Oh, he reads. That’s good. Me too.’ It is pre­sumed to be a rare habit in the time frame that we’re in.” So… does that mean they’re both repli­cants? Both hu­man?

Ford is leg­en­dar­ily ex­as­per­ated by the ques­tion that’s been asked for decades. “I wres­tled with sev­eral story points fa­mously,” he says now. “And I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that not an­swer­ing the ques­tion about Deckard’s ori­gin or man­u­fac­ture or pre­vi­ous his­tory is per­haps more in­ter­est­ing. Although I think Ri­d­ley firmly came down on the side of Deckard be­ing a repli­cant, I thought that was less in­ter­est­ing for my char­ac­ter. I thought that the au­di­ence needed to have that hu­man char­ac­ter to de­pend on for an emo­tional con­nec­tion.” Scott, for his part, promised IGN in June that ‘‘it will be re­vealed, one way or an­other”, but Vil­leneuve main­tains 2049 up­holds the am­bi­gu­ity. “If Ri­d­ley was sit­ting here, he’d say, “Yeah, he’s a repli­cant,” laughs Vil­leneuve, “I’d say, ‘No, we’re not sure.’ The way the movie is de­signed it can be at­tached to any one of them. I think it’s quite beau­ti­ful, that doubt.”

Subterfuge and mis­di­rec­tion? Ei­ther way, in a world of spoil­ers and leaks, the team are keen to main­tain the lev­els of se­crecy seen on Bond and Star Wars, with scripts locked in safes

(only Vil­leneuve and Ford had a full printed screen­play ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tor), the lo­ca­tion of film­ing kept even from fam­ily and the strange re­al­ity of do­ing in­ter­views in which most ques­tions can­not be an­swered. It doesn’t faze Ford. “I like peo­ple to see a film with­out too much in­for­ma­tion. With­out a par­tic­u­lar am­bi­tion for what they’re go­ing to see. I want peo­ple to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence a film. And feel their way through it. I think that’s emo­tion­ally the best.”

How about we just dis­cuss whether any­one would like any of the gad­gets from the film then? “I know you’re go­ing to ask me about fly­ing cars or some­thing and I don’t re­ally have an an­swer for that,” apol­o­gises Ford. “Look, it made me look at my

‘i was very en­thu­si­as­tic about propos­ing the part be played by ryan’ har­ri­son ford

elec­tron­ics dif­fer­ently,” ad­mits Gosling. “I wanted to get my Roomba [ro­bot vac­uum cleaner] an­other Roomba to keep it com­pany. They’re amaz­ing, it’s a thank­less job and mine needs a friend.”

Mem­o­ries then (like tears in the rain)… what have they seen that peo­ple wouldn’t be­lieve? “I had some mo­ments that I will re­mem­ber all my life,” Vil­leneuve nods. “Be­ing in a trailer with Har­ri­son Ford and Ryan Gosling for three hours, work­ing and ask­ing them to im­pro­vise in front of me, to try to find the di­a­logue. It was a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence.” Gosling sim­i­larly re­calls a Ford mo­ment when he first ar­rived on set, giv­ing his in­ner teen fan a thrill: “The light was so low that ev­ery­one was just sil­hou­ettes and there was a mist ev­ery­where. We heard Har­ri­son was on set. So we were just search­ing the sil­hou­ettes to see that sil­hou­ette that you know is Har­ri­son. We were watch­ing for him all day. And sud­denly, he ap­peared out of the mist…”

It’s this “feath­er­ing”, as Gosling calls it, of past and present, orig­i­nal movie and new project, Easter eggs (of which we’re as­sured there are many) and in­no­va­tion that the film­mak­ers are hop­ing will em­u­late what The Force Awak­ens did so well: de­liver a love let­ter to the source ma­te­rial with­out be­ing pas­tiche. And, in a busi­ness cur­rently mod­elled on wider fran­chise po­ten­tial, fur­ther Blade Runner films are likely to fol­low. “I think they are hav­ing some ideas, yeah,” Vil­leneuve nods. “Me, I was ap­proached to do one movie that will be linked with the first one. We didn’t fall into the trap of try­ing to be those movies that are just a mid­dle movie. If it stops there, the story’s com­plete.” And with Scott’s port­fo­lio, there’s also a pos­si­bil­ity that if BR does great box of­fice, there could be a shared Alien and Blade Runner uni­verse in the fu­ture. “That, I will leave to Ri­d­ley, prob­a­bly he’ll link them one day,” ad­mits Vil­leneuve. “I see that, and I un­der­stand it’s pos­si­ble, but I would not dare try to make links in his bub­ble.”

Vil­leneuve has an­other iconic sci-fi to re­vi­talise anyway; he’s work­ing on a re­boot of Dune. But in the mean­time he can only wait to see what the world makes of his ‘an­i­mal’. “I’m look­ing for­ward to you see­ing the movie – which you’ll ei­ther hate or love,” he says, drain­ing his cof­fee, “but at least we’ll have a con­ver­sa­tion…”


Walk and talk (above) K with Wal­lace Cor­po­ra­tion’s Luv, played by Sylvia Hoeks; (right) Har­ri­son Ford reprises the role of Deckard.

iden­tity cri­sis It re­mains to be seen if we’ll learn the truth about Deckard (be­low); Vil­leneuve (above) stud­ies the closely guarded script.

neW Worlds (above) K gets out and about in fu­ture LA, and ex­plores be­yond the city lim­its.

spin city Con­cept art de­pict­ing the 2049 world and (left, sec­ond and fourth images) trailer grabs show­ing how it’s been turned into cin­e­matic re­al­ity.

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