Advance screenings of Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 have sent critics in the United States of America and the United Kingdom into raptures. A new set of superlatives needs to be invented for the futuristic thriller, which opens on October 6, including in India. From “masterpiece” to “You have never seen anything like this” and everything in between, Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner (1982) is already home.
The original film, based on Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is set in Los Angeles in the year 2019. The Tyrell Corporation manufactures androids, known as replicants¸ to be used as slave labour in the Earth’s distant colonies. A group of replicants, headed by Roy (Rutger Hauer), escapes and is hunted down by Deckard (Harrison Ford). Sumptuously designed and imaginatively shot, Blade Runner is set in a futuristic multi-cultural Los Angeles that anticipates contemporary global cities and has provided “our cultural-visual template for the future”, as science fiction writer William Gibson said.
The new movie is set three decades since the original. As chaos threatens the order, blade runner K (Ryan Gosling) tracks down Deckard, who has been missing for 30 years. The cast includes Robin Wright as K’s boss, Dave Bautista, Ana De Armas and Jared Leto as the villain, Niander. The cinematography has been singled out for praise, which is hardly surprising, given that the brilliant Roger Deakins is behind the camera.
Deakins, who has shot nearly every single Coen brothers movie, Villeneuve’s Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Sam Mendes’s Skyfall (2012), has amazingly never won an Academy award for cinematography despite being nominated 13 times. That might finally change with Blade Runner 2049.
Vast portions of the movie were shot in Budapest in 2016. “Millions of dollars went into re-creating the look and feel of the original film – all without relying on too much green-screen chicanery,” said an article in Wired. Deakins told the magazine, “So many science fiction films all look the same, because the effects are done by rote.”
The distinctive vehicles from the original movie, called spinners, have been redesigned for what production designer Dennis Gassner calls “a harsher world than in the first film, both environmentally and stylistically”. Leto partially blinded himself by wearing opaque lenses to better play the role of Niander.
The movie has been in the works for several years. A planned sequel by Scott, titled Metropolis, never took off. Numerous directors were attached to Blade Runner 2049 before Scott, who opted for an executive producer position, picked Villeneuve as his successor. Hampton Fancher, who co-wrote the original film, has also scripted the new movie along with Michael Green.