The good news about “Blade Runner 2049,” which Warner Bros. and Alcon have been showing gingerly to thin slivers of press, is that it’s a gorgeous cinematic spectacle that more than lives up to its advance hype. What are they so worried about?
Well, the epic sequel set 30 years after the brilliant Ridley Scott 1982 original looks a lot more expensive than its $150 million official budget, and the original movie — which this builds and expands upon with care and finesse — was a critically hailed succès d’estime that failed at the box office. Scott’s influential future noir, which inspired generations of subsequent cinematic dystopias and came remarkably close to predicting what big-scale megalopolises like Los Angeles and Beijing look like today, has built its cult cred over decades.
So following up that accomplishment with another one that neither violates nor betrays the original, but uses innovative technology, design, and, yes, Roger Deakins’ extraordinary skills as a cinematographer is no small feat. I fell into this movie gratefully and happily for all its two-hours-and-43-minute runtime and felt not one wasted moment.
Whether or not “Blade Runner 2049” becomes a moneymaker, Warner Bros.’ stubborn unwillingness to allow any movie to be considered festival fare before its commercial release, fearing a tinge of classiness will push mainstream moviegoers away, is a loss for the New York Film Festival, which could have delivered a glorious premiere for this. And the buzz would have helped sell this with the smart demo that will appreciate this very special movie. WB eventually took “Dunkirk” to Toronto to good effect, so they will slowly, in good time, make an awards campaign for “Blade Runner 2049” with critics, guilds, and the Academy.
So what are its likely Oscar prospects? Best Picture, Director, Screenplay (original writer Hampton Fancher and Michael Green), Best Actor Ryan Gosling (its a weak field and he’s terrific) and Supporting Actor Harrison Ford, who is so lovely reprising Deckard (is he a replicant or not?) that he could land the nomination that was denied him for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Ford hasn’t been in the Oscar race for while: He’s only been nominated once, for “Witness,” back in 1986.
French-Canadian Villeneuve is well-respected by the directors branch. He is coming off good will for brainy sci-fi drama “Arrival,” which earned him his first directing nomination among eight nominations including Best Picture. His thoughtful and sophisticated, detail-driven direction falls within the realm of Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi” or George Miller for “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
And Deakins. Come on. The go-to man for Scorsese (“Kundun”), the Coens (“Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?”), and Villeneuve (“Sicario” and “Prisoners”) has been nominated 13 times and never won. He may not be up against three-time winner Emmanuel Lubezki for once: “Chivo” is unlikely to be nominated for Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song,” also starring Gosling, and his other credit this year was A.G. Inarritu’s VR piece “Carne y Arena,” which is deserving of an award but is not technically a film. Deakins’ main competition: Hoyte van Hoytema’s extraordinary 65 mm IMAX photography on Best Picture frontrunner “Dunkirk.”
Mainly, Villeneuve and Deakins have masterminded a stunning achievement that will be welcomed by grateful cinephiles inside and outside the Academy. Beyond that, who knows?