Time and culture have caught up with the influential “Blade Runner,” which combined sci-fi and neo-noir and ushered in dystopian cyberpunk in 1982. So it was a tall order for Denis Villeneuve to tackle the long-awaited sequel. But thanks to an aesthetic that both honors and expands the world of the original, “Blade Runner 2049” delivers a visual feast with plenty of Oscar crafts potential.
That’s not only great news for cinematographer Roger Deakins, who could finally earn his elusive Academy Award after 13 nominations for his diverse lighting, but also for Oscar-winning production designer Dennis Gassner (“Bugsy”), Oscar-nominated editor Joe Walker (“12 Years a Slave”), costume designer Renée April (“Arrival”), Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King”) and collaborating composer Benjamin Wallfisch (“It”), and the VFX and sound editing/mixing teams.
Indeed, “Blade Runner 2049” could be this year’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which won six out of 10 craft Oscars last year (costume, editing, production design, sound editing, sound mixing, makeup). Like the “Mad Max” reboot, Villeneuve and his team redefined the rules of their dystopia, creating something very personal while also taking advantage of both old and new school methodologies.
A Frozen Future
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For Villeneuve, “Blade Runner” became a baseline for exploring the meaning of humanity in the 21st century (where memories are even more precious). Only 30 years on, climate change has considerably worsened in L.A., so the French-Canadian director added snow to falling rain for a perpetual winter. And that harsher climate impacted the look of everything.
For example, Gassner designed harder-looking Brutalist architecture (concrete blocks with sharp edges) and Spinners (flying police vehicles), as well as a seawall to prevent total flooding. The production designer also emphasized Asian influences, such as the cramped, cube-like low-income housing units and updated the sexy neon billboards from the original with more VR-inspired holographic imagery. Beyond L.A., there’s a trash mesa that stretches beyond the horizon along with a red desert strewn with fallen giant statues.
In Search of Reality
It all began with the guiding light of Deakins, who grounded the movie in reality as well as beauty with a series of different looks. But it all stemmed from natural light. And it’s breathtaking to behold Deakins capturing rain and snow through gray haze, or the artificial effect of moving sunlight inside the lair of Zen-like inventor Wallace (Jared Leto), or the otherworldly red Las Vegas desert.
Likewise, the VFX (Double Negative, Framestore, MPC, among others) strives for reality whenever possible, with everything in the foreground shot in camera and enhanced only when necessary. Holograms are a mixture of practical and digital, and Weta Workshop provided real models. However, there’s a stunning CG surprise that’s going to blow people away.
As of now, the main crafts competitor for “Blade Runner 2049” is “Dunkirk,” of course. Both Warner Bros. releases provide strong ammunition for why the theatrical experience must survive. But “Blade Runner 2049” has the advantage of its legendary pedigree as well as the Deakins factor. We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.