Blade Runner 2049 Demonstrates Canada’s Collaborative Edge

Ryan Gosling from Blade Runner 2019. Credit: Warner Bros.
Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is being hailed as one of the most striking, beautiful films ever made: a “sumptuously photographed” film noir that provides “staggering new visions of the future”.

No surprise for Villeneuve, the groundbreaking director behind last year’s Oscar-nominated “The Arrival” and a string of critically lauded non-SF films.

Harrison Ford returns as Deckard, with Ryan Gosling stars as the new replicant protagonist “K”, along with Ana de Armas as his holographic paramour “Joi” and Syvia Hoeks as the manipulative, powerful replicant “Luv”.

Interrogator: “Officer K-D-six-dash-three-dot-seven, let’s begin. Ready?”
Agent K-D: “Ready”
Interrogator: “Recite your baseline.”
Agent K-D: “And blood-black nothingness began to spin… A system of cells interlinked within cells interlinked within cells interlinked within one stem. And dreadfully distinct against the dark, a tall white fountain played.”

The quoted exchanges are from Blade Runner 2049’s first “baseline” scene, where Gosling’s “K” is tested for obedience and non-deviance. It’s one of the most striking sequences in the entire film. Villeneuve said that “it became our own Baseline for the rest of principal photography”. Its stark, clean austerity, and the almost poetic calls and responses between Gosling and his unseen interrogator brings out a lot of the movie’s tension between its human and inhuman characters. It sharply contrasts against the dark, decrepit and decaying Los Angeles seen in the rest of the film, and viewers across the internet have talked about how it still endures in their minds.

What filmgoers may not know is just how Canadian it is. Almost everything you see and hear in that scene is influenced or created by Canadians. It was directed by Villeneuve, and performed alone by Gosling—a fellow Canadian—who wrote an extended version of the scene that ultimately ended up on screen. The production design comes from Vancouver’s Dennis Gassner. Gosling’s costume was created by Montreal’s Renée April, and a key production role was performed by Villeneuve’s partner, former Radio-Canada journalist Tanya Lapointe.

For a supposedly American production, it’s a very Canadian scene, and these strong Canadian contributions led to a very Canadian movie. An interview with Macleans showed how his life in Quebec helped influence the grey, wintry look of future Los Angeles:

“Villeneuve has shrouded his future Los Angeles with snow-filled, silvery grey skies that look, well, Canadian—relieving the American darkness with a northern light.”

“Villeneuve clearly relishes the notion of bringing snow to L.A., and sending a distinctly Canadian chill through an American classic…’I had to bring something from home to that universe. And we have a very intimate relationship with winter. The idea that California would be struggling with winter was a key element, a template for the movie.’”

The wintry Los Angeles of 2049 doesn’t look like Los Angeles: it looks like winter in Toronto, or Winnipeg, or Montreal. In fact, if you weren’t told it was Los Angeles, you would be forgiven for assuming that the film is set in some future Toronto, after Toronto had finally finished its breakneck-paced densification. No wonder that Villeneuve joked with Macleans that “no one noticed that the movie was hijacked by two Canadians”.

Many of the cast and crew that don’t hail from Canada in this “American” movie are still international. Hoeks is Dutch, and de Armas is Cuban. The music was composed by German composer Hans Zimmer, and Blade Runner’s astonishing images and stunning lighting were brought to life by legendary British Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who discovered Villeneuve’s treasured “Canadian silver light” during his time with Villeneuve in Montreal. The visual effects were created by Double Negative VFX, headquartered in London with locations around the world—including, yes, both Vancouver and Montreal.

Blade Runner shows the fascinating state of Canadian contribution to visual science fiction. Yes, Canadian-owned and Canadian-produced SF exists across every medium: film, television, prose literature, graphic novels, and video games. Canada has a wide variety of celebrated science fiction and fantasy creators. Yet, just as we see with Blade Runner 2049, Canadians often serve as an integrated part of a greater whole; bringing Canada to internationalized productions like Blade Runner 2049.

None of this will surprise SpaceQ readers. The CSA and Canada’s private space sector are world-class, but there’s a reason for that: Canada doesn’t work alone. Canada doesn’t run solo space missions, we don’t launch our own manned missions, and we don’t have our own space station.

Instead, we work in concert with other space programs, like America, Russia, or the European Space Agency. We contribute our experience, our technological skill, our ingenuity, and our knowledge to make international missions a success. Canadian astronauts like Chris Hadfield — called “the most famous astronaut on earth” by Quartz — and newly-minted Governor-General Julie Payette are household names working in concert with astronauts from across North America, and across the world. Hadfield’s instantly-viral video of David Bowie’s Space Oddity is owned by the Canadian Space Agency, but was filmed aboard the International Space Station and the music and lyrics are Bowie’s.

It’s the secret to our success. Whether it’s in space, or on set, in reality or in fantasy: Canadians don’t go it alone. We work together. We build connections. We’re interlinked.

We should continue to support Canadian-owned, Canadian-created speculative fiction. It’s important to have works that reflect Canadian views, with Canadian characters in Canadian settings. Still, it’s good to know that Canadians are bringing Canadian experiences (like a cold, grey December morning) to international productions. Sometimes, as with Blade Runner 2049, we can take a work and—in our own subtle ways—make it our own.

About Craig Bamford

Craig started writing for SpaceQ in 2017 as their space culture reporter, shifting to Canadian business and startup reporting in 2019. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has a Master's Degree in International Security from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He lives in Toronto.

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