When Ridley Met Denis: Two Directors, Two Blade Runners

September 26, 2017
At an IMAX screening of the iconic original, Blade Runner directors Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve discuss the making of a science fiction masterpiece.

“I don’t think my brother liked it very much,” says Ridley Scott of the lukewarm reception to Blade Runner in 1982. “Pauline Kael slaughtered me over four pages of devastation in The New Yorker. The one thing I learnt from that was never read critique. I haven’t read a report on anything I’ve done for 35 years.”

Kael’s strident criticisms (the sloppy mise en scene, the ‘pulpy suspense plot’) seemingly never made their way to Denis Villeneuve’s hometown of Trois Rivieres: “It was a small town and at that time we had no information. I didn’t know that [Blade Runner] wasn’t a success until a few years later when I read a review at university saying it wasn’t very good.”

Watching two of cinema’s most vital minds, in conversation with film critic Mark Kermode is like seeing history collide. By the same stretch, a back-to-back screening of Blade Runner: The Final Cut and the teaser for Blade Runner 2049 in full IMAX glory is something else entirely: Ridley Scott’s cinematic legacy galvanised, and Villeneuve’s thrown in the forge.

The two convened at a special Blade Runner event at the IMAX theatre in Cambridge, to discuss Villeneuve’s entry to the franchise and to reflect on the impact of the 1982 masterpiece. Their rapport is tangible, as they fired quips back and forth across the stage.

Despite harsh critique of the day, and Scott’s irrepressible crank (“weren’t you in a cot?”), Villeneuve recalls the original Blade Runner with awe: “It was bringing so many new things. There were not a lot of science fiction movies that were taking the time to envision what could really be the future. It was pretty mesmerising and frightening at the same time.”

That groundbreaking vision — a retro-fitted future lashed with rain and neon light — has been called everything from future noir to cyberpunk. For Scott, it was inspired by the real places he had worked as a young director.

“By the time I did Blade Runner, I’d done a lot of time in Hong Kong, prior to any skyscrapers being built. Hong Kong was medieval China, it was incredible,” he reminisces. “I’d also done a lot of time New York because I was doing commercials. A lot of fashion. New York was smelly and stinky, a city on overload. Putting the two together, I thought — this could be the future.”

Blade Runner’s visual style was so profound, Villeneuve says the aesthetic was banned on his early sets. “We would do a shoot and we’d look at each other and say, we’re in Blade Runner territory. It was a reference! It was such a big influence on everybody. There was a before and after Blade Runner. I don’t think there is a filmmaker who was not in some way influenced by it.”

The biggest applause came when Scott took Villeneuve’s school to task. “You guys do digital and you don’t know how easy it is! It’s a piece of cake.”

Scott was candid about his early creative process, hatched in the mind of a fearless businessman and budgeter “…who didn’t care about what anyone said.

“I was the smoke king,” he recalls. “I need the magic of smoke, because it hides sets and if you light it properly it’s also a depth thing. It’s a great colour filter. Cheap sets need smoke.”

And while both directors remained tight-lipped about the sequel, Villeneuve did reveal that 2049 will be “a very different movie” to Ridley Scott’s.

“One of my goals was really to try pay homage and be faithful to the atmosphere and the rhythm of the first movie as much as I could. At the same time, we’re totally different filmmakers. Honestly, I finished the movie a month ago, and I’m too close to it. [Fans] will be the ones to describe it.”

When asked whether he’d seen 2049, Scott confessed that he was pleased with Villeneuve’s direction.

“There’s a funny cadence to the first film. It’s like a metronome. My metronome might be a bit slow, but it was a deliberate theatrical choice. That was the style and cadence of the writing and the storytelling and the characters, and I think what’s nice is that, some of the similarities into the world and the people, how you’ve done that is very nice. And there’s a lot of smoke.”

Blade Runner: 2049 is in cinemas October 5, 2017

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