Blade Runner 2049 is a love letter to Blade Runner
Three decades after Ridley Scott’s cult sensation Blade Runner changed the face of cinema, the much-anticipated follow-up Blade Runner 2049 challenges our notions of who we are…and where we are headed.
With Ridley Scott as Executive Producer on Blade Runner 2049, this new incarnation based on characters from the Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is scripted by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, with visionary director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) at the helm.
Fancher co-wrote the screenplay of the 1982 Blade Runner with David Wobb Peoples, while a television and film writer and producer Green co-wrote the screenplay for Scott’s Alien Covenant.
Harrison Ford reprises his role of Rick Deckard, with Ryan Gosling as a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K, who unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos; his discovery leads him on a quest to find Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.
“What defines a human being?”
That is the question posed by director Denis Villeneuve.
It’s not the first time the value—and values—of humanity have been questioned.
Thirty-five years ago, the groundbreaking science fiction film Blade Runner hit theatre screens for the first time.
Directed by the legendary Ridley Scott and based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the movie thrust audiences into a future unlike anything they had ever experienced that is at once familiar and unfamiliar.
Back then, no one could have imagined how Blade Runner would go on to reverberate through modern culture, pioneering what became an entirely new genre: neo-noir cyberpunk. Today, Scott’s visionary masterpiece is heralded as one of the best and most important motion pictures of all time, but its impact has gone beyond filmdom, to television, music, art, fashion, and even university courses.
Now, Blade Runner 2049 returns us to the world that has enthralled generations of fans in a film that is, at once, a long-awaited follow-up and a much-anticipated stand-alone moviegoing experience.
Villeneuve, who counts himself among the first film’s devotees, says, “I vividly remember seeing ‘Blade Runner’ for the first time and being stunned by what I think is amongst the most powerful openings in the history of cinema—flying over the Los Angeles of 2019, and seeing that landscape of oil factories. Ridley Scott presented such a strong image of what could be our future that was at the same time so seductive and so frightening.
“Aesthetically, ‘Blade Runner’ was a revolution,” he continues, “blending two genres that, at first glance, don’t go together—science fiction and film noir. It was something never seen before, and it deeply influenced me. It was part of my film education even before I knew I would become a filmmaker.”
Scott says that, even with all of its difficulties, he could never have predicted how iconic one of his earliest major features would come to be. “You don’t think about that when you’re in the midst of it, but I knew for sure we had made something really special.”
Ryan Gosling, who plays the role of an LAPD blade runner called K, remarks, “The original film is haunting; it’s hard to shake. It asks you to look at your idea of what it means to be human, and it makes you weigh your ability to recognize the hero from the villain. It’s a nightmarish vision of the future that’s somehow grounded and feels possible, and yet it’s presented in this romantic, dreamlike way that sticks with you. Time has proven its specialness.”
In Blade Runner 2049, K is sent on an assignment that, for very different reasons, could have more far-reaching consequences—calling into doubt the divide between people and replicants, between humanity and technology, which could lead to anarchy or even war.
But Blade Runner did more than blur the lines between humans and technology. It also broached a range of societal concerns that have grown ever-more prevalent. And with our planet now on the cusp of when that film was set, it seems more revelatory, and more relevant, than ever—foreshadowing issues of urban decay, climate change, genetic engineering, overpopulation, the divides of social and economic strata and more.
“It certainly was prescient in many ways,” says Ford, who turned Rick Deckard into one of his most indelible onscreen portraits and reprises the role in the sequel. “I think as technology developed and people began to see some of the issues the film talked about play out in real life, there was even more reason to accept the themes that ‘Blade Runner’ dealt with.”
“‘Blade Runner’ was ahead of its time in so many ways,” producer Andrew A. Kosove agrees. With its thought-provoking narrative and signature visual design—which Ridley Scott brilliantly conceived—the movie permeated our culture and changed our perceptions about the relationship between humanity and technology, which, in turn, caused us to question what makes us human. I think that’s why it is so revered.”
That reverence understandably gave Kosove and his Alcon partner, producer Broderick Johnson, pause when they were approached about the possibility of a Blade Runner follow-up. Johnson confirms, “We definitely had to think about taking on such an ambitious project, but we both loved the original so we decided we had to go for it.”
The idea of filming a new chapter of the Blade Runner story had come to Alcon through producer Bud Yorkin, who had been on the producing team of the earlier film, and his wife, producer Cynthia Sikes Yorkin.
She relates, “It was a dream of Bud’s for many years to continue the story and I was so happy to support him in that pursuit. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see the completion of the film, but it was a wonderful gift for him to know it was going to be done. And Andrew and Broderick were so respectful of Bud and involved us in every aspect of the production from the beginning. They poured their hearts into this project, and I couldn’t have asked for better partners to realize this dream of ours.”
The initial step forward was to go back to the source. Kosove explains, “The most important thing was for me and Broderick to go to London to meet with Ridley Scott.”
Scott, who came on board as an executive producer, affirms, Blade Runner was always meant to be a stand-alone feature, but we knew even then there was more story to tell.”
Scott reached out to screenwriter Hampton Fancher, who had co-written the Blade Runner screenplay. Fancher recounts, “It was serendipity because I had literally just finished a short story set in the ‘Blade Runner’ universe. I read Ridley just the first paragraph and it was obvious what it was. All he said was, ‘Can you come to London?’ So that’s how it started.”
Picking up the story, Scott notes, “Hampton didn’t end up writing a conventional script; he wrote a novella, still with his beautiful style of dialogue. Then we brought in Michael Green to turn it into a screenplay, and it evolved from there.”
When the opportunity to work on a new Blade Runner film came to screenwriter Michael Green, “I couldn’t say ‘yes’ loud enough or fast enough,” says the self-described avid fan of the first. “Hampton and Ridley had formed the story DNA of what a new ‘Blade Runner’ film might be, and then I had the incredible opportunity to grow out those elements. There are so many fascinating themes that run through the first film; one of them is about quantity of life. Among the themes we wanted to explore in ‘Blade Runner 2049’ was quality of a life. In both films, there are humans and there are replicants, and though in many respects they behave similarly, they have very different origins, as one is born and one is made. Society places a greater inherent value on humans over replicants because someone born is believed to have a soul. But what is the nature of a soul…and is it uniquely human?”
Denis Villeneuve recalls that when he was presented with the completed screenplay, “I was so moved. The amount of trust Alcon had in me, to put this film in my hands…it was one of the greatest compliments of my career.”
Having worked with Villeneuve on the hit drama Prisoners, the producers were fully aware of the skills he could bring to the table. “Denis is an amazing filmmaker with a total command of everything he wants to accomplish,”
Johnson states. “We knew he would be perfect for this film, not only because of his ability to guide the performances, but also to generate tension and atmosphere, which is strong in all his films. That was essential to making ‘Blade Runner 2049’ because the real magic of the film is its tension, its narrative, and its character-based drama. Denis is one of the best at capturing all of that.”
Villeneuve reveals he had one caveat before agreeing to helm the film.
“I needed Ridley Scott’s blessing. That was my only condition.” He needn’t have worried; Scott did more than give his blessing. “He said to me exactly what I needed to hear,” notes the director, “which was that I had total freedom, but if I ever needed him, I could call; he would be available any time. And, in fact, every time I needed him, he was there. I will always be grateful to him.”
In conceiving the overall look of the film, Villeneuve wanted to remain faithful to the spirit of the original. He remarks, “My goal was to honor the film noir aesthetic of the first movie while giving the new film its own identity.”
To that end, the filmmakers emphasize that, while Blade Runner 2049 can be considered a sequel, it can also very much stand on its own as a singular motion picture.
“Even if you’ve never seen the first film, you will have no problem understanding the story,” Sikes Yorkin attests. “The way it’s written and presented, you can absolutely be very entertained and absorbed in the drama without necessarily knowing everything that came before.”
In designing the new movie, the filmmakers had to imagine conditions on the planet three decades hence.
Villeneuve clarifies, Blade Runner was set in 2019, and it was prophetic in some ways, but we already know our 2019 will be quite different from that. So we made the decision to create our own 2049—to propel the movie into its foreseeable future. The world of ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is an extension of ‘Blade Runner’; it is not an extension of reality.”
Out of that understanding “came a lot of decisions about design,” he continues. “We saw in ‘Blade Runner’ that nature was collapsing, so in 30 years’ time, the Earth will be even more brutal. We are finding the same kind of oppressive atmosphere that we saw in the first film, but even thicker. The environment will be more toxic; the oceans will be out of control; the weather will be harsher, colder… We are dealing with even more severe climate conditions and that translates to everything from architecture to vehicles to clothing.”