By Josh Williams
“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it?”
Roy Batty’s words probably echo within Denis Villeneuve’s brain. Tackling something massive like Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” universe is an insurmountable task. Some would even classify it under blasphemy in the religion of cinema. Yet in the words of Damien Chazelle: “That’s Hollywood, they worship everything and they value nothing.” When a “Blade Runner” sequel was announced, some cringed, some were excited and many were cautious. “Blade Runner” is such a sacred chalice to so many cinephiles that it would almost be disrespectful to craft a sequel. Should Denis have been scared to make the film? Should we as viewers who love the original film be scared?
But as news continued to surface about the film, tensions began to ease. Harrison Ford would be reprising his role as Rick Deckard and the cast of actors grew more and more exciting as time went on (Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, etc.). Hampton Fancher would be returning to offer up the story and the screenplay. So far the film sounded like it was in decent hands. However, there are two names that shined above the rest: all-time great cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Denis Villeneuve (“Sicario” and “Arrival“). But is it enough to conquer the world carved in stone by Ridley Scott? Well, today we attempt to answer that question.
Recently a lot of people have been expressing feelings about Scott’s “Blade Runner” stating that it isn’t as great as they remembered. Now, if you feel this way about the film (Like Matt did recently) that’s okay but there is one thing we cannot deny and that is that the film is quite masterfully made. Whether it’s too slow-moving or full of itself, whatever your issue may be, the final product is quite a stunner. If you’ve only ever seen the theatrical cut, I implore you to take the time, do yourself a favor and watch the final cut. Despite the debacle with all various versions of the film floating around, the final cut is a full-out masterpiece.
There are three main things that make the world of “Blade Runner” so unforgettable and astonishing. The score, the production design, and the cinematography. Vangelis’ score is haunting and timeless. The production design by Lawrence G. Paull is immaculate and massive in scale. Finally, Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography is vibrant and compelling. Clearly, there are more aspects of the film that are noteworthy but these three things are what makes the memory of “Blade Runner” so pleasant.
Obviously, the first thing to note is the world itself. There is so much to see in the final product of the film but the production design is the first thing that is so prominent in our minds. That smoke-filled, rain-drenched, vibrant neon world is so stunning. From the first shot of Los Angeles in 2019 with the explosions to the final moments of Deckard and Rachael escaping. One thing that is so remarkable about the film is how different backstories are told simply through the production design. For example, Deckard’s apartment is disorganized and filthy in many ways. But then Dr. Eldon Tyrell’s office is classy and organized.
The other technical achievement that goes hand in hand with the production design is Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography. From the rain-drenched streets of Los Angeles to the smoke-filled apartments and offices. One thing that is potent about the cinematography is Cronenweth’s use of contrast. Sometimes shots will be seemingly too dark or too bright. In a scene or shot when something is too dark he’ll shine a spotlight through a window that appears overexposed. Or in shots with the skyscrapers of LA where things seem a tad too dark, a copious amount of neon lights are thrown in to contrast the heavy darkness.
Finally, the third aspect of the film that ties everything together is the score. Vangelis’ music is the perfect bow on top for an already masterfully crafted film. The score not only plays a crucial role in the overall plot but each track flows flawlessly between one another. The score is haunting and will stay with you for years to come. Ten years after watching the film you’ll be sitting at home thinking about this score.
But now to answer the questions we asked earlier; can Villeneuve tackle something of this magnitude?
Villeneuve so far has had quite the outstanding career. From his petrifying short films to the humanity related questions he attempts to answer in his feature films, Villeneuve has done something rather special with his career. Considering where he started at the beginning of his career, to gaining an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film with “Incendies” to his most recent Academy Award-winning film “Arrival“, Villeneuve seems to tackle themes that are prevalent in the original “Blade Runner” film: Humanity, violence, and of course identity.
He is slowly becoming one of the few directors who can get their vision past the studio. Villeneuve’s has come out stating that he is a huge “Blade Runner” fan and that this task has been a huge risk. First reactions to “Blade Runner 2049” have been seemingly positive with a few mild responses here and there. But with Villeneuve’s ability to drag out drama and make things move at a slow methodical pace, the story of Blade Runner will rest perfectly in his hands.
In terms of the visuals, teaming with Roger Deakins is the smartest decision Denis Villeneuve could have made. If he does not win the Oscar for this film they may as well retire the category. “Blade Runner 2049” is drop dead gorgeous in every single frame and Deakins definitely is long overdue for a win after receiving 13 nominations.
The score is being done by composer Hans Zimmer instead of Villeneuve frequent collaborator Johan Johansson. While I’ve seen some complaints here and there about Zimmer’s score, the biggest piece of advice I can give you is this: If you think Zimmer’s score is going to be anywhere near the level of Vangelis’, you’re doomed as a viewer. Vangelis’ score is a once in a lifetime kind of soundtrack. Zimmer will no doubt do a great job but they cannot be expected to replicate the first film on such a short schedule. They must find the balance between honoring what came before it while also implementing a strong amount of their own take on the world.
Villeneuve is a smart enough director to know that and we believe he is going to do a fantastic job. He is fantastic at that slow burn, big payoff style of filmmaking and Blade Runner is the perfect universe for that style. The things that make Villeneuve perfect for this is his slow methodic approach to films and the themes that he likes to repeat: Humanity, identity, and violence, all of which play part in Scott’s original film.
“Blade Runner 2049” releases October 6th, it is directed by Denis Villeneuve and stars Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Harrison Ford, and Jared Leto. You can check out Matt’s review here and also be sure to vote on our weekly poll over which Academy Award you would have given to “Blade Runner” in 1982 here.
You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @josh_williams09