Then, a hitch. In 2014, Scott’s other directing commitment made it clear he wouldn’t be able to helm 2049. Instead he became an executive producer, and Johnson and Kosove approached Villeneuve. At that point, the director was still not quite a household name: He’d spent the past decade making a series of unyielding dramas that were freeze-grab gorgeous but gut-wallopingly tough, like 2010’s sweeping war drama Incendies (yikes), 2013’s abducted-kid downer Prisoners (oof), and 2015’s stark, almost suffocatingly tense drug-war thriller Sicario (hoo, boy). These were films in which violence acted as a pathogen, spreading through one person’s body or an entire country’s history with devastating, long-term effects—especially for the characters on the receiving end. And with last year’s Best Picture–nominated hit Arrival—about a linguist (Amy Adams) who communicates with a pair of octopus-like aliens—Villeneuve proved himself to be one of the few filmmakers who can make sci-fi that feels at once fantastical and utterly real. Kosove, who also produced Prisoners, believed that duality was necessary for 2049. “Blade Runner is always put in the sci-fi genre, but we really think it’s more of a noir movie,” he says. “And if you look at Prisoners and Sicario, you know there isn’t a filmmaker today doing better noir than Denis.”
But Villeneuve had some (perfectly human) reasons not to take the job. He’d just finished Sicario and was about to start on Arrival, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle another movie so soon. Besides, Blade Runner was one of his favorite films, and he suspected that reentering the movie’s complex world could be “a super-bad idea.” He initially said no, but when the producers came back with another offer to accommodate his schedule, he changed his mind and decided to take the risk. “I said to myself, ‘If there’s a moment where I’m going to do a movie of this scale, it needs to be something that matters to me.’”
Later, I asked Scott what it was about Villeneuve that made him comfortable handing over the keys to his beloved Blade Runner.
“I wasn’t,” he says.
“No. But waiting for me to direct it would have only gotten in the way, and Denis was our best option, by far.” He smiles, before adding cryptically, “It takes one to see one.”
Production began in Budapest in the summer of 2016, and for nearly 100 days, filming swallowed up a campuslike 10-stage facility. Unlike the famously calamitous making of the original Blade Runner, which Ford once described as “a bitch,” Villeneuve’s set hummed with brisk, amiable efficiency. (On the day I visited, at least.) Even shooting take after take of the scene where Gosling kept scaring the daylights out of the dog, Ford appeared to actually be … enjoying himself? “Well, if it looked like I was, I probably was,” he says, his voice still reliably—and wonderfully—coarser than a quarry. “I don’t spend too much time trying to look like I’m having fun.”
Millions of dollars went into re-creating the look and feel of the original film—and all without relying on too much green-screen chicanery. “So many science fiction films all look the same, because the effects are done by rote,” says 2049 cinematographer Roger Deakins. “We were desperate to create our own world.” Step up to Deckard’s windows, for instance, and you see that the hazy high-rises surrounding his home are towering illustrated backdrops that wrap around the stage. Nearby, there’s an enormous Vegas-like nightclub in which a skinny-era Elvis, surrounded by feather-adorned showgirls and iced champagne bottles, crooned “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Outside, there’s a giant lot strewn with mini mountains of rusted beams and oil barrels, as well as a warehouse where crew members are hosing down one of several “spinners”—the insectlike police cars that served as Deckard’s transport in the original and have been upgraded for the sequel. “We wanted the vehicles to have a more chiseled, angular, graphic strength,” says production designer Dennis Gassner, who oversaw the design of the new spinner. “It’s a harsher world than in the first film, both environmentally and stylistically.”