“Blade Runner” debuted more than 35 years ago to mixed reviews and unexceptional ticket sales, much of the world unmoved by what its creator, Ridley Scott, believed was an audacious step forward in science-fiction filmmaking.
“I knew I’d done something special,” he said recently. “But I never really expected it to get into a sequel situation.”
And yet, here we are. Time and a crucial 1992 “director’s cut,” which removed the film’s tacked-on voice-over and happy ending, brought the culture around to Mr. Scott’s way of thinking. His dystopian but visually electric neo-noir about android replicants and the existentially troubled “blade runner” who hunted them, played by Harrison Ford, has become an influential masterpiece. (Mr. Scott’s preferred “Final Cut” was released in 2007.)
On Oct. 6 a sequel, “Blade Runner 2049,” arrives, starring Ryan Gosling as K, who pursues a new generation of replicants and untangles a mystery involving a murderous androids and a new Tyrell-like megalomaniac with a god complex, played by Jared Leto.
Mr. Ford returns as Rick Deckard and Mr. Scott is back as an executive producer, having developed the new story with one of the original screenwriters, Hampton Fancher, before handing off directing duties to Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival,” “Sicario”). The film marks the latest resurrection project for Mr. Ford and Mr. Scott, who clashed during the trying “Blade Runner” shoot but are friendly now. The actor has lately been revivifying decades-old roles like Han Solo (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and Indiana Jones, and Mr. Scott passed on directing the new “Blade Runner” because he was finishing “Alien: Covenant,” the latest installment in the series he began with 1979’s “Alien.”
In separate phone interviews, Mr. Ford, Mr. Scott, Mr. Gosling and Mr. Villeneuve discussed the legacy of the original “Blade Runner,” the reasons they’re reviving it now and the enduring argument over whether or not Deckard is a replicant. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.
When you were working on the original “Blade Runner,” did you have any sense that it could be a milestone?
HARRISON FORD Yes, if it didn’t kill us first. It was clearly very ambitious, and it was clearly new and inspired. But it wasn’t easy to get it on paper.
What was the most challenging aspect?
FORD The nights. The endless 50 nights of work. And as much as the audience, perhaps, was shocked or a little bit confused by the newness of it, I suppose I was a bit as well. There were a lot of things that I wasn’t sure would work.
RIDLEY SCOTT The stories about Harrison and I not getting on, [they were] not absolutely true. I was very much in my own head about what I was doing, and it’s very difficult hour by hour, minute by minute, to explain why it’s [expletive] raining and why it’s [expletive] dark. And eventually, I used to say, “‘Cause that’s what I want. Back the [expletive] off.” And that was it, because I got fed up of explaining myself.
The initial reviews weren’t great but eventually it became beloved. When did you get a sense the film was resonating with people?
SCOTT I used to watch a lot of MTV, and I suddenly realized that, “Hang on. There’s a shot in there from ‘Blade Runner.’ ” It had sneaked out and was influencing filmmakers and rock ‘n’ roll artists. I got a call from Bob Dylan — he had a lawyer contact me, and I went in and I spent the whole evening with Bob Dylan because he adored “Blade Runner” so much. So I knew it had made its dent.
What did “Blade Runner” mean to you, as fans?
RYAN GOSLING I think I was 2 when it came out, but I saw it when I was maybe 12 or 14. It was one of the first films I had seen where it wasn’t clear how I was supposed to feel when it was over. It really makes you question your idea of the hero and the villain, the idea of what it means to be human.
DENIS VILLENEUVE It’s linked with the birth of my love for cinema. I think we hadn’t seen before, the combination of film noir and science fiction, and it’s the first time that someone was taking the time to really create the future. They tried to project the ’80s into the future and to think about it from a sociological point of view, from a demographic point of view, technological. Visions of the future in the cinema at that time were more fantasy-like, you know? Not that serious.
Why was now the time to do a sequel?
SCOTT I always thought it was time to do it, any time in the last 30 years. I got a call from Alcon [the producing studio] saying, “We’re gonna buy this. Do you think there’s a story?” I said, “There’s a big story,” which is about artificial intelligence. I called up Hampton and we sat there and worked it out. The fundamental basis of the story [is about] that idea of A. I.s being turned into A. I.s with emotion, which becomes very dangerous. Because he’ll get out of control in a heartbeat as soon as he realizes he’s superior to his master.
That idea is even more relevant now than it was in 1982.
VILLENEUVE In some ways it’s a very classic story of a human wanting to play God, like the Frankenstein story. It’s timeless. So the same questions are still there, but we are more and more kind of hybrids ourselves. Our relationship with memory, faith and communications has evolved a lot since then.
GOSLING What adds to the surrealness of it is that the original film is baked into your memory. So as you start to unravel the idea of memory, in general, Denis and I just kept finding ourselves back to the original, which was so much a part of our early memories.
How did you differentiate the new one?
VILLENEUVE I was not afraid to be different but I tried to keep some elements of the first movie. The certain rhythm, the atmosphere. This movie travels outside, it goes more in the suburbs and around Los Angeles. The first movie was set in 2019 and as you know, there are not now flying cars in the sky. There’s no Steve Jobs in that first “Blade Runner.” There are no cellphones. So really we had to create the future of the first “Blade Runner.”
So that’s why, for example, Atari still exists?
VILLENEUVE Exactly! We took all the companies that went bankrupt, like Pan Am, that didn’t survive the time in between both movies, and we kept them alive in that parallel universe. The U.S.S.R., as well, is alive and kicking in the movie.
What was Ridley’s role?
VILLENEUVE He gave me everything he knew, and then after that he said, “You’re free. It’s your movie. If you need me, I’m there.” It was the first time, and honestly the only time, I would do that, to step out in somebody else’s shoes. To take someone’s dream and try to make it my own, it was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I felt his presence all the time.
SCOTT Denis got the mood and he respected the mood, which I thought was a very nice thing.
Were you nervous about potentially tarnishing the legacy of “Blade Runner”?
SCOTT Art’s like the shark — you’ve gotta keep moving, otherwise you drown.
VILLENEUVE Once I made peace with the idea [that] what I was about to try was insanely difficult and my chances of success were very narrow, I became free. It’s the best movie I’ve ever made, I think. But I know it’s going to be compared to the first one. And I’m nervous. I’m still waking up sometimes in the morning, thinking to myself, “Oh God! I just made a sequel to ‘Blade Runner!’ What the [expletive]!?”
Harrison, does returning to roles like Deckard, Han Solo and Indiana Jones after decades away from them change your understanding of the earlier movies?
FORD I guess there’s a bit of that. The process, for me, is to understand how to give some logic to that lapse in time. I’m stuck with the same raw ore that the character comes out of. You may be more informed by your own experience, and you may have some different, higher degree of understanding about the process of bringing a character to life, which certainly may be the case in the “Star Wars” films. I always feel obliged, for the audience, to bring some more nuance to extend their understanding of that character, to develop different aspects of his relationships or his personality in respect to the time passed.
There’s a longstanding disagreement about whether Deckard is a replicant between Ridley, who says he is, and Harrison, who has maintained that he isn’t.
VILLENEUVE Harrison and Ridley are still arguing about this. I witnessed some discussion at dinner we had in Budapest, and it was fantastic. The idea that you’re unsure if you were designed or you are a real subject, a real human being — that tension is interesting. I’m not interested in the answer. I like the fact that the movies are playing on that ambiguity instead of taking one side or the other.
FORD It comes up somewhere around the end of the second drink. It always comes up somehow. When we were making the first film, the conversation really was only for Ridley and myself. Somehow it got into the general conversation, because people were curious about that, and I think that’s a good thing. The story, I think your options ... are somewhat preserved, for the audience.
SCOTT Deckard is a [expletive] replicant. Harrison can’t disagree now, because the whole premise of this new plot is based on the fact that he’s a replicant. I’m more amused by this than anything.
GOSLING They had this virtual reality experience at ComicCon where you could walk around in the world of “Blade Runner,” and these machines would read whether you were a replicant or not. We went in it, and I did see Harrison’s reading. I’m not at liberty to discuss it. But I know what he is.