It had a budget that fell between $150- and $180-million, a 35-year build-up since the original Blade Runner, and a near-guarantee of being a hit at the box office. So what distinguishes Blade Runner 2049 from any other Hollywood blockbuster?
Answer: two Canadians.
“No one noticed that the movie was hijacked by two Canadians,” says director Denis Villeneuve. The Montreal native, who cast compatriot Ryan Gosling in the movie’s leading role, wasn’t interested in making a typical American big-budget production. Instead, Villeneuve deftly weaves together elements of two genres–the art film and the blockbuster–to create a haunting landscape with an existential soul. This is no Bond movie.
At a running time of 46 minutes longer than the original, Villeneuve expected that his director’s cut of Blade Runner 2049 would elicit pushback from its producers. The opposite happened: they loved it. Villeneuve told Maclean’s that one of the producers pronounced it “the most expensive arthouse movie ever made!”
The film takes us back to a futuristic Los Angeles, three decades after the original Blade Runner takes place. The city is filled with toxic smog and a forlorn emptiness. In this setting, we watch K, an LAPD blade runner from the next generation hunt illegals, the non-human “replicants” hiding in the landscape.
It can be difficult to bring your own vision to a much-anticipated sequel, but Villeneuve had a clear vision of what he wanted the movie to look like. One element of that vision was a Canadian winter. The future version of L.A. depicted in the movie is covered in snow, the skies shrouded in a silvery-grey light.
“That’s the way I was able to make it,” Villeneuve has said. “I had to bring something from home to that universe. And we have a very intimate relationship with winter. The idea that California would be struggling with winter was a key element, a template for the movie.”
The other key element? Ryan Gosling as LAPD blade runner K, the successor to Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard from the original. Villeneuve knew he needed someone who could anchor the movie’s strong sense of alienation, of being an outsider. “You need a great actor, who’s able to convey a character going through an existential crisis, and a lot of those emotions will be silent,” Villeneuve said.
Gosling does, in fact, remain silent through the majority of the nearly-three-hour film. Nevertheless, he pulls off its emotions flawlessly. The New York Times described Gosling’s “unhurried shuffle and downcast baby blues” as “impeccable casting… Mr. Gosling’s ability to elicit sympathy while seeming too distracted to want it — his knack for making boredom look like passion and vice versa — makes him a perfect warm-blooded robot for our time.”
Blade Runner 2049 opened to lines at the box office and positive critical reviews. It seems that this Canadian combination of a wintry chill and warm-blooded acting has more than a little to do with it.