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Why ‘Blade Runner 2049′ Could Be Cinematographer Roger Deakins’ Masterpiece

We dissected the full-length trailer of the Denis Villeneuve sequel, and we're delighted to see that the master DP refuses to play it safe.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Cinematographers of modern sci-fi often capture future dystopia through a specific hue, a restrained color palette that gets further stepped on and over-emphasized in post production. It establishes a mood, but also becomes a shorthand to give this future world a specific, unified look.

For example, this still from the new “Blade Runner 2049” trailer captures the desaturated feel of a world gone wrong.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

However, this represents just one of a dozen distinct looks of the new “Blade Runner.” While trailers can be misleading, often picking the most dynamic shots, the new “Blade Runner 2049” trailer released today showcases many different worlds within the Blade Runner universe. And while the film certainly has a look of its own, it is would appear that this might be Roger Deakins’ most ambitious work. He’s utilizing a far-reaching and wide-ranging lighting and color palette that’s unlike any sci-fi film we’ve seen in recent memory.

“This time, Roger is alway focusing on the logic of light and naturalism,”  said director Denis Villeneuve in the Facebook Live Q&A that followed the trailer’s unveiling. “But this time — and this is an expression Roger will hate — he went wild.”

This will mark the third collaboration between Villenueve and Deakins, and in recreating one the most visually influential future worlds in film history, they did not play it safe.

Light as Space

In the film, Jared Leto’s villain is in some way farming human replicas (clones?) to become his workforce. Leto’s space stands in contrast to the cluttered, dense dystopia — both desert and urban — that defines much of the film. His vast, shapeless environment is defined by Deakins’ light, which literally becomes the architecture defining this otherworldly space.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Water

A key visual theme in “2049” will clearly be water. From the water birth of Leto’s human replicas, to rain that obscures multiple characters from seeing, to the rain-soaked streets, water plays a stylistic, thematic, and story role the new “Blade Runner.” It’s clear Deakins embraces this in his bold lighting. From a waviness of light reflecting off water, to obscuring how we see characters — like this shot of Robin Wright, who we watch talking through the streaming water.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Future Noir

From German Expressionism to the 1940 Hollywood film noir, cinematographers have always done some of their best and most showy work when dealing with high-contrast, single-source light with no fill. “Blade Runner 2049” has created a future noir look and one of the remarkable things about it is how Deakins creates a futuristic, halogen-like light source — much different than the  direct, hard light source needed to create the classic shadows of noir — for his own twist on genre lighting.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Urban Color

The original “Blade Runner” took the modern neon an Asian metropolis and made it a far-off future. Deakins continues this tradition, but is pushing the color without losing the dystopian feel — not an easy task. The candy-color nightclub, which appears a few times in the trailer, is just one example.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Dense, Foggy Compositions

What’s remarkable is how Deakins is able to push the color, the clutter, and density of the urban landscapes, and the smoky haze that defines “Blade Runner,” and balance them so perfectly. Look at this frame below and take in how much is visually going on, with multiple kinds of light and space — yet it is perfectly balanced, and doesn’t overwhelm the intimate moment of two characters that takes place far from the camera’s lens. There aren’t five cinematographers alive who could so elegantly bring these things together into a well-composed shot.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Orange Dust

Finding definition with light in the dense smoke and dust of “Blade Runner” is a paradox, yet one Deakins seems to have little trouble managing with well-defined contrast. For example, here Deakins puts his own spin on the orange-dust world of the original 1982 film.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Harrison Ford’s Clarity

Contrast that to this to the crisp images on Harrison Ford’s world. The detail is sharp, our connection with character is unvarnished, the depth of field shallow. The hazy, density of “Blade Runner” surrounds Ford’s world, but is soft and in the background. Based on the trailer, Ryan Gosling’s Officer K turns to Ford’s character for clarity and answers, and Deakins finds a matching visual scheme that brings it to life.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Processed Shots

While Dennis Gassner’s production design plays a big part in the new “Blade Runner” — and it’s clear he and Deakins collaborated closely — the trailer shows off a number of wide processed shots that establish the world. There’s also a number of holograms that appear in the urban backdrop. To make these key “fake” elements feel real is an enormous part of the lighting design and how the process shots are actually filmed. In pausing on some of these key establishing shots, it’s jaw dropping to see how vivid and seamless Deakin’s work is here.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

Modern blockbuster lighting has become boring and safe. Here, Deakins is taking one of the most distinct-looking franchises in film history and stretching its boundaries. To have naturalistic images like the one below and have it feel like the same film set in a stylized 2049 goes to show that Deakins won’t be lighting a Marvel movie any time soon.

"Blade Runner 2049"

“Blade Runner 2049”

You can watch the new trailer below:

This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit and tagged , ,


Comments

Nymphomaniac Vol. 2

Actually, this isn’t possible since the meaning of the word “masterpiece” requires the work to be a singular piece. And Deakin’s already made such a piece with “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”

EvilDead

It looks too clean, makes me wonder what it would’ve looked like if it was shot on film like BR was and in anamorphic lenses. This lacks the grit and dirt of the original and I admire Deakins work, just not as much as his work on film.

    Harry Davidge

    Nicolas Bolduc would have been a much a surer choice after Enemy. If it’s not Aspherical’s, it’s just not Blade Runner. Jordan Cronenweth is irreplaceable.

Waldo Z

Seems Harrison Ford wants to make remakes of all his movies prior to kicking off.

Dave B

Personally, I’m glad Ridley Scott didn’t direct this one. It seems to me that once he entered the realm of big budgets he was determined to spend all the money and most of his attention on design, and less attention on story and acting.

Mike J

Chris O’Falt is an idiot. You are giving ZERO credit to the director, production designer, visual effects people and all the post people, colorist and DIT etc, that went into the production. The look of this film (whatever it may be because no one has actually watched the movie) has a lot more to do with the production design and visual effects than anything else.

    Dantes342

    You don’t seem to know what cinematography actually is, Mike.

ERADICATOR X

This looks like such a bad money-grab. What a terrible sell-out. An unknown director who will ruin every fiber of the original with this. It’s heartbreaking that no movie from any era can remain uncorrupted. Terrible. Just terrible. Sad and stupid.

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