For the creators of ‘Blade Runner 2049,’ honoring the original was everything

Thirty five years after the release of Blade Runner, the film still casts a long shadow on the science fiction genre and cinema in general. But nowhere is that shadow more encompassing than over Blade Runner 2049, a sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic that’s finally coming to theaters more than three decades after its predecessor.

For the filmmakers behind Blade Runner 2049 — including writer/executive producer Ridley Scott himself and red-hot director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) —  the legacy of Blade Runner was a constant consideration. Digital Trends attended a press panel ahead of the film’s release, in which Villeneuve, producer Andrew Cosgrove, and the new film’s stars discussed the task of remaining true to a movie that has become ingrained in American culture.

For Villeneuve, the most important consideration in staying true to the original was Scott. There would be no Blade Runner 2049 without Scott’s full blessing, he said.

“Ridley, Harrison, Hampton all agreed this was the time to make the film.”

“One of my conditions before taking the movie was that I needed to be in the same room with Ridley Scott and hear him say that it was okay for me to be behind the wheel,” Villeneuve said.

If Scott wasn’t on board with Villeneuve taking on the iconic filmmaker’s vision, he said, he would have turned down the movie — “and I would have been at peace with that,” he said.

Blade Runner 2049 expands on the classic film with a new take on the original premise. It stars Ryan Gosling as Agent K, a special cop in Los Angeles known as a Blade Runner, who is tasked with hunting down rogue replicants, or genetically engineered androids built to serve as slaves. In addition to coming out 35 years after Blade Runner, 2049 is also set almost 30 years after the original film.

Blade Runner isn’t just a well-loved sci-fi movie, the filmmakers said at the panel, but one for which the cultural significance is hard to overestimate. As Gosling noted, the original film had a huge impact on movies, the effects of which are still being felt in culture today. Revisiting its world meant that Blade Runner 2049 was a big commitment to staying true to what made the original so powerful.

“It is very helpful to protect the legacy of a film if the artists involved in the original film are part of the continuation of the story,” Cosgrove explained during the panel. “We brought as many of the people who were the geniuses behind the original film to participate in this, and we felt that was an important component in giving us the best chance to protect the legacy that the first film created.”

In addition to Scott, Ford reprises his role as Deckard in the new film. The screenplay was based on a story by Hampton Fancher, who originally adapted Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into the script for the first movie. Futurist Syd Mead, who dreamed up much of the original film’s futuristic elements, also returned and provided designs for the portion of the movie set in Las Vegas.

“I wasn’t asking myself at 12 what it meant to be a human being, but I was after it.”

Though Blade Runner is often lauded for its visual style, its themes are also part of what has made it so enduring. As Deckard hunts replicants in 2019 Los Angeles, the movie is constantly asking questions about humanity, the value of life, and what creators owe to their creations.

Gosling said that he saw the movie when he was 12, about 10 years after its release, and didn’t expect to be as affected by Blade Runner as he was.

“I wasn’t asking myself at 12 what it meant to be a human being, but I was after it,” Gosling said. “Maybe not consciously, but subconsciously, those seeds were planted.”

But for the filmmakers, there’s more to Blade Runner 2049 than reliving the past. It explores a story of its own as much as it builds on the narrative of the original, allowing 2049 to expand on Blade Runner’s original themes without retreading them.

“As human beings we are programmed by our genetic background and by our education, and how we get free from that, that path, is something that is inherent to the project,” Villeneuve explained as he discussed the themes 2049 works to explore. “And how to bring back that idea from the first movie and explore it with my own sensibility.”

Blade Runner 2049

Staying true to the original Blade Runner wasn’t the only consideration for the cast. Gosling and Ford both said their decisions to join the cast hinged on what new story the film wanted to tell — not just how it treated the legacy of Blade Runner.

“Ridley, Harrison, Hampton all agreed this was the time to make the film, this was the story to tell, this is the way that the narrative would have evolved and the world would have evolved, so who am I to argue with that?” Gosling said. “But the question I asked myself after that is, is there a story to be told here? Does it stand as a film? Is there something useful in here that’s worth all this effort? And there was no doubt in my mind after reading it.”

Ford has said he had a rough time working on the original Blade Runner. Since its 1982 release, the film has seen multiple director’s cuts as Scott made adjustments to the movie, including changing the ending, pressing the possibility that Deckard himself is a replicant, and removing things like Deckard’s film noir-style detective voiceover that Ford famously hated. At the panel, Ford said he’s happy with the “long-term, eventual movie,” but of the original production, he said simply (in his trademark grumbling), “It was raining. I was tired.”

After all that, to return to the Blade Runner universe, Ford said, he had to be excited about what the entire story was trying to accomplish.

“It was a great opportunity to extend the audience’s understanding of the character,” Ford said of his part in the movie. “To be part of the telling of the story … the whole had to be something I really wanted to be involved in as well, not just my part, and I saw that potential.”

Working with many of the original filmmakers who helped create Blade Runner was also a big selling point for several of the actors. Gosling described Ford’s arrival on the film for their scenes together, which he said was a “very cinematic” entrance.

“We heard Harrison had landed, we heard Harrison was coming to set, we heard Harrison had arrived. It was very darkly lit; you could only distinguish people by their silhouette. Suddenly this very distinctive silhouette appears, and he steps into the light. He looks at me — a lot like that,” Gosling explained, looking over at Ford ominously watching him tell the story. “Like I was an 8-year-old kid who had just broke his window. And he immediately put us at ease because he’s the best collaborator you could ask for, and brings with him the experience and the intent of making something great, and we all felt that and felt like we could really begin to do that.”

Blade Runner 2049 hits theaters on Oct. 6.

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