Originally released to indifferent reviews and mediocre box-office returns, the original Blade Runner suffered back in 1982 from comparison to its competition at the multiplex — the optimistic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was that year’s juggernaut, but titles like Conan the Barbarian, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan were closer to the U.S. zeitgeist at the time. Even R-rated comedies Porky’s and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas outpaced it. Today, of course, Blade Runner is generally recognized by SF fans and cinephiles alike as a landmark, well-loved for its special effects work, dystopian-future film-noir atmosphere, and riveting performance by Rutger Hauer as one of the replicants being hunted down by Harrison Ford’s replicant-tracking cop known as a “blade runner.”
Now, audiences in the U.S. will get to look into a new version of the Blade Runner world, as director Denis Villeneuve and DP Roger Deakins collaborate on a 30-years-later update scripted by Blade Runner writer Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (Alien Covenant, Logan, American Gods). Villeneuve and company are keeping this sequel close to the vest in advance of release, revealing very little about what actually transpires on screen. Drawn mainly from production notes provided by Warner Bros., as well as some interviews that have appeared around the web, here’s what we know about the shoot.
The film cost $150 million after rebates but before marketing costs. Per the Los Angeles Times, FedEx founder Fred Smith’s Alcon Entertainment invested “tens of millions of dollars” in development and production, and Sony Pictures put up $90 million for international distribution rights. Warner Bros. is releasing it in North America. [Los Angeles Times]
The screenplay originated as a novella by Blade Runner co-writer Hampton Fancher. “I had literally just finished a short story set in the Blade Runner universe” when Ridley Scott got in contact about a potential sequel, Fancher said. “I read Ridley just the first paragraph and it was obvious what it was. All he said was, ‘Can you come to London?’ So that’s how it started.”
The production helped keep costs in check by shooting entirely in Hungary. Blade Runner 2049 shot on six stages and a backlot at Budapest’s Origo Studios, on three stages at Etyek’s Korda Studios, and other locations that included a Soviet-era power plant and an old electronics warehouse in Kistarcsa. A dusty Las Vegas hotel lobby was built inside a facility that had previously been the country’s largest TV station. “What attracted us to Hungary, and Budapest particularly, was the diversity of looks within the city — Eastern European architecture mixed in with the brutalist Soviet-era structures,” said executive producer and unit production manager Bill Carraro.
Syd Mead returned to the Blade Runner world to help visualize its ruined Las Vegas landscape. A former industrial designer and illustrator for Ford Motor Company, U.S. Steel, and Philips Electronics, Mead was credited as the original film’s “visual futurist” for his designs of the Los Angeles cityscape and “spinner” vehicles. He also contributed visual ideas for Tron, 2010, Aliens, and Tomorrowland, among other films. Deakins told Variety that more inspiration for Las Vegas came from pictures that showed the Sydney Opera House covered in red dust after a dust storm. [Variety]
Set builds were extensive, and green screens were discouraged. Partly for the sake of the actors, Villeneuve wanted to build the film’s settings practically as much as possible, resorting to green screens and set extensions only when absolutely necessary.
Makeup artist Donald Mowat aged Dave Bautista to play the role of replicant Sapper Morton. “I was filming Guardians 2 and I went out to meet with [Denis Villeneuve],” Bautista told CinemaBlend. “We weren’t very far in the conversation … when he said, ‘I hate to tell you this, my friend, but you are too young for this part!’ And I was heartbroken! I’m used to being told I’m too old for parts.” Once got the role, the required make-up wasn’t an obstacle. “A lot of people commented, ‘Oh, I didn’t know he was that old,'” according to Villeneuve. “And I knew it was a success because they were not seeing the makeup.” [CinemaBlend]
Martial arts champ and stunt double Chloé Bruce was recruited to teach actress Sylvia Hoeks (Luv) to fight on screen. “I trained for six months,” Hoeks said, “which I loved because I was able to do more things with my body.” She’s widely reported to have bulked up by about 15 pounds for the role. Bruce, her double in the film, has also been a stunt performer in Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII, The Mummy, Guardians of the Galaxy and other films.
On top of everything else, the production spent several days in a one-million-gallon water tank. To create turbulence, special effects supervisor Gerd Nefzer attached commercial propane tanks to boom arms that dunked them in and out of the water, creating huge crashing waves. Nefzer also had to rig a spinner so that it would be buffeted around by the roiling waters. Diesel-powered boilers kept the water at 80 degrees.
Like the first film, the sequel features landscapes and cityscapes crafted as miniatures. A 1/600th scale model of Wallace Tower built by Weta Workshop in New Zealand was “about four meters tall,” says Weta DP Alex Funke. “In each case we chose what scale to build the different sets because a lot of things had to be taken into consideration,” he explained. “How close are you going to come to it? What kind of surface texture does it have? What size is the actual object supposed to be? And, practically speaking, how hard is it gonna be to get it out of the shop and to the studio?” As an example, Funke cited the film’s “trash mesa,” a sprawling landfill and scrapyard near San Diego that was the production’s largest physical set, but needed to be extended to the horizon via miniatures and CG. Weta built it at 1/48th scale. “We would have been happy to build it at 1/24th, but there literally wouldn’t have been room for it at the studio.”
Cinematographer Roger Deakins spent a year in prep. He shot with ARRI Alexa cameras, including Alexa Minis for some shots, and Zeiss Master Prime lenses. Lighting challenges included the design of the office of billionaire scientist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) — which is surrounded by a moat that allowed interesting effects to be generated by bouncing light off the water and onto the walls — and a glitchy Vegas show featuring holographic incarnations of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra along with a complement of feathered showgirls. “I spent weeks mapping out different lighting patterns and then worked with a local company in Budapest to produce a computer previs of the whole thing,” Deakins said. “We worked from there until I had the lighting pattern I needed to rig.”
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