Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve is science-fiction’s brave new hope

There were two events that were to change the life of 49-year-old French-Canadian film-maker Denis Villeneuve. The first was the arrival of three boxes, given to him before he reached his teens, by an aunt who strongly believed in extraterrestrials. The boxes – battered, overspilling – were full of sci-fi comic books by French artists from the 60s and 70s, the likes of Philippe Druillet and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Enki Bilal and Raymond Poïvet. They were often baroque and bizarre, a little bit funny, a little bit nightmarish. Stories in Métal Hurlant depicted a sci-fi warrior who rose on a pterodactyl-like creature – and featured no words. In Pilote, a Victorian adventurer guarded his own pocket universe, situated on an asteroid, from invaders (think Doctor Who with a much bigger Tardis).

He didn’t know, he says now, what these artists were taking – but he wanted some. “It was just something I didn’t have any contact with. Still today, I think the best sci-fi has been designed by those guys.” It was, he says, a “storm of ideas” that hit him.

The second was a ticket he bought when he was 14, in a theatre near the small Canadian village where he grew up, for Blade Runner. At that point, pre-internet, his only link with the wider cultural world was magazines such as Starlog or Fantastic Films – “magazines made by maniacs”, which he means in the best possible way – and it was on the cover of one of these that he’d seen the first Blade Runner still.

“I remember the emotion,” he says, “of seeing my favourite actor at the time [Harrison Ford] doing a new character.” But, crucially, it was an adult character; a sci-fi film, like the comics he’d come to love, that wasn’t pitching down. “Yes! An adult world. A sci-fi film for adults. Which for me, when you’re a teenager, was a big thing. Like, it’s serious. It’s not a comedy. It felt like an existential sci-fi. It had a strong aesthetic. It felt new.”

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