As the debut of director Denis Villeneuve’s lavish rendition of Dune looms closer, tension over the imminent arrival of this crucial career waypoint has to evoke a bit of déjà vu. That’s because it’s essentially where the French-Canadian filmmaker found himself around this time in 2017 upon the arrival of his previous attempt at a sacred franchise offering, Blade Runner 2049, which ultimately became a box office boondoggle. This time around, he’d prefer to avoid repeating mistakes that he now implies compromised his artistic future.
Contextually, Blade Runner 2049 was to be the big-budget crowd-pleasing coming out party for Villeneuve, who was riding a wave of critical momentum from 2016 sci-fi drama Arrival, which even earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination. Indeed, he was on a steady upward trajectory from preceding buzz-worthy hits Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013) and Sicario (2015). Consequently, said coming out party—the belated sequel to director Ridley Scott’s 1982 future-noir cult classic—ballooned to a budget upwards of $150 million. Unfortunately, the film’s $92 million domestic and $167 million international grosses made him the deliverer of a dud. Now safely four-years-removed from the experience, an appearance on the Happy Sad Confused podcast (via IndieWire) has Villeneuve candidly commenting on his Blade Runner humiliation.
“The miracle for me about Blade Runner 2049 is the following: I’m still making movies and you’re still talking to me,” recalls a relieved Villeneuve. “I knew that when I did this movie I flirted with disaster. I put myself into massive artistic danger. That was walking, as Christopher Nolan said to me once…walking on sacred territory. It’s true. It was sacrilegious what I did. I was told, ‘You don’t do that.’ Just the fact that I’m still here making movies, for me…at least I wasn’t banned from the filmmaker community. It was a dangerous game.”
The caution-dispensing Christopher Nolan would know a thing or two about what it’s like being a buzz-riding artiste director tackling a sacred cinematic task, having rebooted DC’s Dark Knight with 2005’s Batman Begins. While that gamble obviously paid off for Nolan to tremendous critical and financial success and two (even more successful) follow-up films, Villeneuve’s situation with Blade Runner 2049 instead resulted in a lackluster performance that put him in danger of being dismissed across the industry as a director who’s unable to deliver off his own lofty ambitions. Yet, Villeneuve still had the saving grace that his sequel is a generally well-regarded entry, boosted by inter-generational headliners in Ryan Gosling and returning original star Harrison Ford, both of whom played off an antagonistic dynamic provided by Jared Leto and breakout actress Sylvia Hoeks.