Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 was a visual feast of a film, and on Sunday night, it took home the Oscar for Achievement in Visual Effects. Visual effects supervisors John Nelson, Paul Lambert, and Richard R. Hoover, plus special effects supervisor Gerd Nefzer, all took the stage to accept the award.
The film was up against a powerhouse lineup of films, including Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Kong: Skull Island, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes. The Blade Runner sequel was nominated for five Academy Awards going into the evening’s ceremonies, though they were entirely in technical categories: in addition to visual effects, it was nominated for sound editing and mixing, production design, and cinematography. The film lost those first three awards over the course of the night to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, respectively. At the time of the visual effects win, the cinematography award was still outstanding, though the film has been largely favored in the category, particularly because it would be the first win for legendary director of photography Roger Deakins, who has been nominated in the category 13 previous times without a win.
Villeneuve had a difficult challenge ahead of him when he decided to direct the sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal classic. Blade Runner achieved a legendary status not just among cinephiles, but as a cultural artifact. Crafting a film that could live up to that legacy was always going to be difficult. As our review notes, we ultimately felt that Blade Runner 2049 didn’t fully deliver on the original film’s thematic promise — but it was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful films to have been made in recent years. The visual effects win feels like like an appropriate tribute — but if Deakins ends up taking home his first Oscar, then the film will have really earned its due.