BLADE RUNNER 2049
The second movie this year, after Fast & Furious 8, to feature a character called Deckard. Which one will be better? It’s a headscratcher.
At Denis Villeneuve’s command, rain begins to fall. Waves crash against a vast sea wall that shields Los Angeles from an enraged ocean. It’s deep into the night, and only the sporadic searchlights that dance across the water provide any illumination. An effect one could happily describe as Blade Runner-y.
“Action!” Out in the half-light, Ryan Gosling, wrapped in a hefty overcoat, finishes his push-ups and Sylvia Hoeks, head-to-toe in skin-tight artificial leather, concludes her lunges. At an unseen signal, they set to. No quarter is given: Gosling’s Officer K and Hoeks’ Luv come to expertly choreographed blows. Finally, with an ungentlemanly swivel of his hips, K launches Luv into the surf.
Fictionally speaking, it is 2049 in a noir-soaked LA, 30 years after
Blade Runner’s cop hero Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) fled the city with Rachael, his replicant (read: android) lover, his own humanity dependent on who you ask. But in real-world terms it’s October 2016, on the outskirts
of Hungary, where the Blade Runner 2049 shoot has taken over a giant water tank. The long-awaited sequel is two-thirds of the way towards completion and nothing seems amiss, though Ford himself is ensconsed in his trailer, replaced by a stunt double snared in cuffs in a nearby Spinner craft. As the scene is recomposed for another take, Villeneuve heads in
Empire’s direction. “I feel for my actors, but it is important to be in contact with the elements, no?” he tells us with a laugh. “I am on day 65 of shooting, I think, and I have seen three greenscreens so far. We are trying to do this in the spirit of the original. In order to step forwards, you have to step backwards.”
Villeneuve had initially thought to shoot in downtown LA, but it had become too modern to play his future, and he liked the idea of adding some Eastern European interiors. Instead, the body of production, which will run from July though to November, is taking place on the nine soundstages and backlot of Origo Studio, a few miles from here.
“I am having the time of my life,” says the Canadian director, who is riding high on the icy promise of thrillers like Incendies, Prisoners and
Sicario, not to mention last year’s cerebral sci-fi hit Arrival. “No matter what we achieve, we will always be compared with a masterpiece. But what we are doing is so insane, it gives you freedom.”
He spins on his heel to take it all in: Gosling back at his push-ups; the crew in waders; Roger Deakins, his cinematographer, contemplating the camera from under the hood of his cagoule.
“We are all,” he muses, “children of Blade Runner.”
idea of a Blade Runner sequel had been no more than a twinkle in a unicorn’s eye. A dreamy Philip K. Dick-inspired noir confounded by questions of what it is to be human, the original has become a cult phenomenon, fans treating it like a holy relic. Yet on its arrival in 1982, it was derided by critics and ignored by audiences, who wanted Han Solo, not this glum gumshoe with a buzz cut. Its clotheared voice-over and happy ending were the lame interventions of desperate producers. Relations between Scott and his paymasters, who held the rights, had become so contentious that revisiting this world was untenable.
Even so, Blade Runner always felt like unfinished business. Scott still smarts that Pauline Kael spent three-and-a-half pages scoffing at him in
The New Yorker: “Scott seems to be trapped in his own alleyways, without a map…” Blade Runner taught him never to read reviews, but he kept tinkering, searching for perfection. With seven different versions, it’s a film with its own existential crisis, treated by Scott as a kind of rolling art project. “It may be my most personal film,” he reflects.
When Alcon Entertainment called him in 2012, then, to say that they had reclaimed the rights to all prequels, sequels, TV, novels and games (but no remakes), Scott was overjoyed. “I’ve been waiting for this call for 35 years,” he told them. Then he outlined to them the idea that had been lurking in his head since Roy Batty’s rooftop valedictory, a total justification for a sequel. “And it is all there in the first film,” he teases.
With Alcon’s backing, he hauled Hampton Fancher back in. The co-writer of the original film brought with him that specific cadence — “that sense of pace and place”— which had such an influence on the original. “Not again,” Fancher had groaned, resistance futile. The two of them — plus Michael Green, who joined halfway through — got to work developing a future-future noir, hooked on Scott’s secret premise. And finally, out of this tripart collaboration, emerged a script
that has mesmerised all who read it.
Even, it turned out, Harrison Ford. He had convinced himself it was never going to happen. Yet when he laid eyes on the screenplay he called Scott straightaway. “Ridley,” he said, “you know that this is the best script ever sent to me.”
room away from the elemental furore of the set, the once and future Rick Deckard sets the record straight. “Ridley and I have long since made our peace with each other,” Ford says. “Whatever the circumstances were during the original film, I have great respect for Ridley and admiration for his work.”
It is well-documented that Blade Runner was a gruelling production, in which leading man and director did not see eye to eye. The star came to believe he mattered less to the director than his dilapidated fantasia. The director felt his authority was being questioned. “Of the 50-day schedule, 35 were nights,” recalls a politic Ford. “Which is a brutal regimen. Anyway, Denis is a very different kind of director than...” He gives a hint of a smirk. “What was his name again? Ah yes, than Ridley.”
Loosely, Blade Runner 2049 is about the hunt for Deckard, with more than one party interested in his whereabouts. But beyond that, Ford is scrupulous at keeping the secrets of the new film intact; when asked about Deckard and K, he responds, “We really don’t want to name the relationship at this point.”
Gosling, at least, provides a spoiler-scanned précis of events: “The world has become even more brutal. People are trying to survive. [K] discovers a mystery that makes him question his own identity, and Deckard is the only one who can answer those questions.”
It was once Ford had committed to the script that Scott had to face facts. “It was always intended for me to do it,” he says. “I was working on this script for two years, but there wasn’t the time.” Other business called him away: The Martian and Alien: Covenant. “I felt I had to be reasonable and step out.”
Villeneuve took the reins instead. And happily he and Ford found they got on just fine. “Denis brings enormous craftsmanship, cogent thoughts about storytelling,” says the star. “He is very direct and
Friends or foes? Deckard (Harrison Ford) confronts Officer K (Ryan Gosling).