The Miracle of Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Nearly every conversation I’ve had about Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 starts with “I can’t believe they got to make this film.” That’s the feeling of witnessing a miracle of a film in a saturated studio landscape only concerned with franchises and intellectual properties to squeeze cash from. That’s the feeling of witnessing a miracle of a film that gives you themes and messages to unpack in conceivably every image. That’s the feeling of witnessing a miracle of a film that operates on questions about humanity and mortality as the driving force rather than action or exposition. That’s the feeling of witnessing a miracle of a film that does all these things while somehow being made by a studio for a lot of money. I talk a lot about this sort of thing in my review for the film, which I’m quite proud of if you want to read it.

It’s always unique when a sequel can feel as original as this film does. Let me put it this way, if it gets an Oscar nod for screenplay, it’s perhaps one of the most original screenplays to get slotted in the adapted category. It’s not a cash grab, it couldn’t possibly be since the first is more of a cult classic than it ever was a hit. It’s not a nostalgia bump, it incorporates elements and characters from the original only to service the film rather than a discount snort of nostalgia – Blade Runner came out in 1982, but you can’t really be like “hey remember the 80s?” when you reference it, if that makes any sense, like Guardians of the Galaxy 3 won’t be referencing Blade Runner for cheap laughs. It’s a unicorn of a studio film, and I just realized the double meaning of that statement considering the original film.

I don’t know how Villeneuve dealt with the pressure of making this film. Just put yourself in his shoes. If he succeeds, he cements himself in film history. If he fails, he cements himself in film history too but for bad reasons this time. He succeeded and he’s cemented himself in film history for all the right reasons regardless of where the box office ends up. I’ve watched the film three times, and I still don’t have any legitimate nits to pick. I had originally thought I could have done without some of the voiceover flashbacks, but Huston talked me into them and how they relate to the dreaminess of the French New Wave and the construction of the noir elements in the film. Is it perfect? I don’t know, it can feel a little too hot-take to call it perfect, but it’s damn close if not.

I can’t overstate how rare a film like this is. It’s impossible in today’s climate for you to go to a studio and say “Hey I want to make a standalone sequel to a scifi film that bombed on release like 35 years ago and it’s gonna be really long and patiently paced and not heavy on the action, and oh can we have $185 million to make it?” and for the studio to not smack you in the face and call security. It’s not inconceivable that in this age of franchises and IP adaptations in the studios, somebody just realized they had the rights to the original and since it was an IP, they are almost mandated to try to get some more money out of it.

It almost feels like fate that 2049 isn’t dominating the box office. The original was famously a bust at the box office before becoming a cult classic turned one of the most beloved films ever made. Against the $185 million budget plus whatever amount they spent on marketing, The film has made as of this writing around $40 million domestically and foreign markets kicking in another $49 million currently for a worldwide gross of $90 million. Make no mistake, that’s still a lot of money and the film is only heading into its second weekend, so it’s still got a lot of legs on it and more foreign markets to open in. It just still would have been nice for it to have made more money in its first weekend so we wouldn’t have to worry about this.

Looking back at previous original (yes, we’re calling 2049 original, we’ve been over this) big budget sci-fi films the past 5 years, the results aren’t all winners, which makes it even stranger that they got away with this film. Last year’s Arrival (yeah I’m calling it original too), also directed by Villeneuve, had a budget of $47 million and managed to score $100 million domestically and $203 worldwide! In 2015, Jupiter Ascending unfortunately bombed, netting just $47 million domestic against a $176 million budget. Foreign markets pushed the number closer to the budget, but the film was a loss. 2014 was actually a good year for these films, with Interstellar netting $675 million worldwide against its $165 million budget, and Lucy scoring $463 million worldwide against its small $40 million budget. 2013 was a less fortunate year. Pacific Rim sadly only netted $100 million domestically against its $190 million budget. Thankfully the foreign markets stepped up and made it the money necessary to get us next year’s sequel. Oblivion only nabbed $89 million domestically against its $120 million budget, and once again the foreign markets did the heavy lifting to get it to profitability. So we’re basically going 3 for 6, which is a nice .500 batting average in however small a sample size. Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn’t view those numbers as optimistically. Only 3 of those placed within the top 50 grossing films of their years. It’s gotta be 6 for 6 for them to consider any of them a win.

Simply because Hollywood never just reacts, they overreact, I’m concerned about how this may affect Villeneuve’s planned remake of Dune that he’s doing next. I’m concerned about how this will affect more original, bold and big budgeted science fiction films. I’m just concerned about original film in general. If I have to see Blade Runner 2049 like 200 times in the theater to push it to profitability I’ll do it. I’ve seen it 3 times already, what’s another 197? Will anyone join me in pursuing this ridiculous feat?

I don’t cry during movies. It’s not that I’m unaffected by them, exactly the opposite, I just don’t cry during movies. You’re reading from a guy who went through Life is Beautiful and Schindler’s List with dry eyes. But with all that said, all I wanted to do was cry during this film. I just wanted to weep at how beautiful every single moment was on screen. In the opening of the film, the last words Sapper Morton tells K before he retires Morton are “…You’ve never witnessed a miracle.” I have witnessed a miracle, it’s Blade Runner 2049.

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