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Harrison Ford Is Only Human

harrison-ford-blade-runner-2049

Or is he? Either way, the chance to reanimate Rick Deckard for Blade Runner 2049 was too appealing for a grumpy ex-hunter of replicants to turn down... 

“Whatever, it’s better than a real job...”

Interviewing Harrison Ford has never been easy. You feel as though if he had a choice between being interviewed and getting a root canal, it would be a toss-up.

I say this as someone who has interviewed him four times over the years. He’s not surly, just naturally uncomfortable in that setting. I can add, though, that if you really want to make things awkward, ask about his work in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Ford has always been open about not “getting” the 1982 existentially minded, post-apocalyptic noir film. Of course, many critics at the time didn’t get it either. The producers and studio execs felt they’d been promised another Han Solo character and another Star Wars, and had been lied to by Scott. (Though you wouldn’t think Star Wars if you’d read the film’s original source material, Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

“I was a detective who didn’t get to do any detecting,” Ford once said dismissively of the movie at a round-table interview I attended. By all accounts, he and Scott bickered a lot. Ford especially hated the narration with which his character, Rick Deckard, ended the movie (to be fair, that was never Scott’s idea, and it disappeared from the director’s cut).

They stayed sort-of friends, but Blade Runner remained contentious. “When you put them in the same room, they start to talk very loud about it,” Denis Villeneuve, the Canadian director who helmed the 35-years-later sequel Blade Runner 2049, told CinemaBlend.

So, it raised a few eyebrows in Berlin — at a “sizzle reel” demonstration and news conference a few months in advance of Blade Runner 2049’s release — when Ford talked about his commitment to playing the since-retired replicant hunter Deckard (who might or might not be a replicant himself).

Original writer Hampton Fancher and co-writer Michael Green sent Ford a pre-script novella for the movie that would star Canada’s own Ryan Gosling as a young android-hunting blade runner. “And I was delighted to be involved,” Ford said. “I thought the story was extended in a way that made sense for me, for the character I played, and for the audience.”

And then he added: “It was a very ambitious project. And then I was told Ridley [who remained as executive producer] had decided he couldn’t direct the film. And that sealed the deal.”

When the laughter died down, Ford added dryly, “I know he’ll take that in the best possible way.”

If anything, the new script upped the existential ante. The original film had Rutger Hauer as a homicidal replicant driven by not wanting to die. (Replicants were programmed to have a short lifespan, a fail-safe device built in by their fearful human creators.) Blade Runner 2049 takes the question — “What is human?” — even farther, extending it to holograms that fall in love. And yes, questions remain about the “human-ness” of virtually every main character.

All of this is set against a backdrop of a degraded environment. Los Angeles in the original was merely smoggy, dark, and dirty. In this version, everything is desiccated and desert-like, with a megalomaniacal billionaire (Jared Leto) offering to use his resources to save the world. For this visual experience, veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins won his first Oscar this year.

As you might expect, after Star Wars, Ford is someone who expects more from sci-fi than special effects. “For me, one of the most important things about CG [computer graphics], and the potential we have to create in the computer, is that I feel more comfortable when a director curbs his enthusiasm for what the computer can generate.

“I feel often that you lose what I think of as human scale. As an audience, most of you are human,” he joked.

“It’s very important for you as an audience member to be able to recognize something from your own experience and your own life — even in the context of a place you’ve never been, even another world. That seemed to be Denis’ sensibility. You’re still following a human story, even if there are complications as to what it is to be human.”

If you’re counting, Blade Runner 2049 makes it four turns for Ford as Han Solo, four as Indiana Jones, and two as Rick Deckard.

“The question is not so much whether I enjoy coming back to people I’ve had good luck with, and created things with that are popular enough to produce several iterations of the character in stories; it’s whether we will bring something new and fresh to the audience, albeit in old clothes.

“In the case of this film, with the passage of 35 years of time, how will we manage that passage? Will we acknowledge the difference in age? Will the character be able to deepen the audience’s understanding of the story? Will they miss the youthful character?

“Whatever, it’s better than a real job,” he adds, wryly.

Jim Slotek is a Toronto movie critic and freelance entertainment journalist.