A funny thing happens when acclaimed indie directors start making big Hollywood films. The cinematic sensibilities that once made them stand out often wither in favour of crowdpleasing explosions, happily-ever afters and other tropes of mainstream cinema.

Director Denis Villeneuve has been a notable exception, leaving his distinct auteurish stamp on blockbusters as varied as last year’sArrival – the contemplative science-fiction drama that bagged Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director and Sicario, his grimly compelling 2015 thriller about the Mexican drug wars.

Now he has taken on Blade Runner 2049, the long-gestating sequel to director Ridley Scott’s 1982 neonoir fantasy about androids that look just like human beings. The film is racking up glowing early notices and this, despite clocking in at two hours and 43 minutes and being released with an adult R rating in the US both of which suggest the money men did not extract too many concessions from Villeneuve, who cut his teeth making French-language indies such as the mystery drama Incendies (2010).

Ford reprises his 1982 role as a policeman who hunted down errant humanoid robots, with Gosling playing a younger officer assigned the same task in the year 2049. The iconic status of the original Blade Runner would be enough to intimidate any director who took on the sequel, while the $185 million budget for this film would certainly come with some pressure to make a film appealing to the widest possible audience. But in a one-on-one chat with The Straits Times in Los Angeles recently, the French-Canadian filmmaker reveals his secret strategy to resist such pressures and stick to his artistic vision.

“It’s very simple for me, it’s all about relationships— Who are you making the movie with?” says the 50-yearold Quebecois. “I agreed to make this movie because I knew I was working with producers who will respect my vision.” The producers, Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson, made Villeneuve’s first Englishlanguage film, the acclaimed 2013 thriller Prisoners, starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

“I’d never felt respected like that before as an artist and director – the way they treated me and protected my vision. After that experience with them, I felt secure that making a movie on a bigger scale, I knew that those producers would help me bring my dream onto the screen and protect it. And they did, again. So it’s all about who you are working with.

Honestly, I was lucky,” says the director. Big action set pieces are a mainstay of tent-pole films – the ones studios count on to make most of their profits.But for Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve did not want those scenes to feel “too Marvel” a reference to the credibility-straining, effects-heavy action typical of superhero flicks.

“I felt there was the danger of some action scenes looking unrealistic and I worked hard to bring them back to realism so the emotional impact of the violence would be stronger,” he says. The other thing he avoided was overusing special effects. “I wanted every time we used special effects to be necessary to the story and to have a meaning, and not just be there for the sake of playing with toys.

“I wanted the focus to be on humans and not gadgets, on what we were saying about our world today and to keep contact with the poetry of cinema and not be overwhelmed by the technology.” But as much as Villeneuve admires Scott’sBlade Runner, he says his Blade Runner offers a more upbeat take on the future than the original, even though it is set in a world racked by climate change and ethical dilemmas from new technology.

“I think we are lacking utopianism (in science fiction) – there are a lot of dystopian visions and one reason I made Arrivalis I needed, as an artist, that kind of positive vision.

(The Straits Times/ANN)