From Atlantis to Interzone


An Analysis of a Ten Minute Sequence from ‘Blade Runner’
July 15, 2009, 9:29 pm
Filed under: Film

Another one of my old high school essays here. This one is concerned with genre elements in a ten minute sequence from very early on in the 1992 ‘director’s cut’ of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

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Film narratives are concerned with the way that connected events in a story are ordered and structured. A narrative is essentially a story told in a particular way. A genre is a classification, or type, of film. It is a way of dividing films with certain recurring elements into groups. Genre films are commercial films that show familiar stories with familiar characteristics. With genre films, audiences usually require familiarity as well as differences within the films they view. The same view can be applied to narrative. The same story can be told in different ways to create different meanings, though for an audience to completely comprehend the meanings intended, the narrative must be structured appropriately. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is an interesting film when it comes to genre as it is what is known as a hybrid genre film, meaning that it is a combination of one or more major genres within the same narrative. Blade Runner is both a film noir and a science fiction film. It presents the viewer with familiar aspects of both of these genres, though some of the ideas presented within the film were very much unique at the time of the theatrical cut’s release. This essay will refer to a ten-minute sequence early on in the film where the central protagonist is introduced and is assigned a mission that will be the main focus of the film’s plot.

As well as being both a film noir and a science fiction film, Blade Runner is an early example of a sub-genre referred to as ‘neo noir’. This sub-genre includes films where either film noir attributes are applied to more contemporary settings or where a film noir has essentially just been made in colour. An example of the former is The Big Lebowski, where a perpetual slacker becomes involved in events reminiscent of the plot of The Big Sleep. An example of the latter is Chinatown.

The selected expository sequence begins with a shot of downtown Los Angeles in 2019. The film’s location is established with familiar looking buildings that appear to sour to thousands of feet and with moving advertisements that cover much of them. The buildings are reminiscent of 1940s skyscrapers normally associated with New York. Flying vehicles are seen throughout this shot, as is torrential rain, suggesting some sort of environmental disorder in the city. The distinctly retro look of the architecture of this film had a big influence on sci-fi films since, such as Dark City and Ghost in the Shell. The flying cars and towering structures in The Fifth Element are highly reminiscent of Blade Runner, though the buildings are less grim-looking. Though flying vehicles are a common sci-fi element, the imposing environment shown relates back to film noir. Recurring features of that genre are smoke-filled streets, rain, threatening urban environments, and a pessimistic world view. The pessimistic world view is represented well by the unusual sight of torrential rain in Los Angeles. The film’s protagonist, Rick Deckard, is introduced in a trench coat, another common characteristic of film noir, making him look like film noir associated actors like Humphrey Bogart in films like The Maltese Falcon. Deckard stands in an area that seems highly populated with East Asian people. Since this film is set in Los Angeles, this could possibly be Chinatown, which could be viewed as a sly reference to the neo noir film Chinatown. Above Deckard is a giant blimp flying overhead. A loud speaker from this blimp advertises off-world colonies as “the chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure”. This is one of the few references to space travel within the film and the idea of space colonies is reminiscent of films like the later made Total Recall. The description of space colonies makes light of the current state of the planet. The outer-world colonies are seen as a chance to begin a new life in a new world, whilst Earth seems to have been highly damaged. Torrential rain and heavy mists are weather not normally associated with Los Angeles. Through these visual and audio elements alone, the audience is given an idea of the planet’s state within the first ten minutes of the film and without being spoon-fed the information via dialogue, unlike in the theatrical cut of the film which contains narration. Exposition is soon to be given via dialogue however, as Deckard is arrested whilst eating. Such a disruption in the hero’s world is another familiar characteristic of film noir, as is Deckard’s negativity towards the police.

As Deckard is led to the police vehicle, the viewer is shown a street with distinctly old-looking stone structures. This gives the impression that the future isn’t as advanced as one would think, as the pillars here look like they belong in the 1940s. Interestingly, all of the street scenes for the film were shot on an old New York set in the Warner Bros. back lot, where street sequences for film noirs like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep were filmed. The persisting rain on the car is particularly violent, suggesting that acidic rain is now a common feature of Los Angeles. As the vehicle ascends and flies, searchlights, another recurring feature of film noir, can be seen shining upon the towering buildings. The viewer is also shown buildings that share a distinct resemblance to pyramids, a reference to the silent sci-fi film Metropolis, which also features towering skyscrapers, many of which resemble pyramids. As the vehicle docks upon the top of the police headquarters, only music is used. The elegant docking to music is reminiscent of a similar sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, though the docking there is much slower. Without dialogue, the images are allowed to simply speak for themselves. The viewer is allowed to wallow in this creative vision of the future without having to concentrate on any possible plot points.

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As Deckard enters the main body of the interior of the police station, we see very low-key lighting with searchlights shining through the windows. Since low-key lighting is arguably the most recognisable characteristic of the film noir genre, this is clearly a deliberate reference. As Deckard enters Captain Bryant’s office he is greeted as “Deck”, suggesting that there is already an established relationship here. Since Deckard is dressed similarly to Humphrey Bogart, the relationship between this cocky protagonist and the local authority figure is somewhat reminiscent of Bogart’s relationship with Claude Rains’ character in Casablanca. Bogart’s character in that film also happens to be called Rick. The windows of the office are covered by Venetian blinds, which are common in detective films. After initially being reluctant to work for Bryant, Deckard is convinced to track down the replicants (artificial humans) for him after being convinced that if he’s not a cop he is simply one of the “little people”. Deckard is a cynical and disillusioned character and he wasn’t initially in the business for good. He is the classic film noir anti-hero.

In the following scene, the viewer is treated to a standard film noir exposition scene but with some notable differences. Venetian blinds and smoke are present, but now there are the famous shadows of the genre, though since the film has not been shot in black and white, the standard grey is replaced with a cerulean blue. Within the film’s world, this blue light is given off by the projection that Deckard and Bryant are viewing. Another noticeable change is that the dialogue here is full of science-fiction terms and ideas. Throughout the characters’ conversation, common sci-fi ideas are presented to the viewer. These include the uneasy relationship between technology and humans, and what it means to be human. The latter idea is presented by the idea of replicants developing their own emotional responses. The idea of androids gaining real emotions has been used in many films since, including I, Robot and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. A means of combating the replicant threat is presented via the idea that they have a limited life span built into them. This further enforces the fear of technology as well as a recurring aspect of sci-fi where mankind sees it necessary to enforce a limited life span upon its creations or slaves so that they can eliminate the threat of a revolt. This idea can be seen in films like Logan’s Run.

In the final scene of this ten-minute sequence, Deckard travels once more; this time to the Tyrell Corporation building where he is to meet the creator of the replicants he has been assigned to locate and terminate. Once again, music alone is used to accompany the images. Industrial explosions can be seen on the way, which gives a further impression of the damage to the environment by this point in time. Interestingly, the further Deckard gets away from downtown Los Angeles, the lighter the sky gets. A wealthy and influential man like Tyrell can afford to escape some of the damage that people like him may have caused. Social commentary like this is once more displayed via the imagery. There are also more recurring pyramid structures here, referencing ‘Metropolis’ once more. The pyramid resembling structures also provide an underlying subtext. In Ancient Egypt, the pyramids were built for the pharaohs who were viewed as gods. This is interesting as Tyrell has been established as something of a god, as he is the creator of what could be considered to be living things. The visual metaphors are once again ever present.

This sequence of Blade Runner clearly uses film noir and science fiction conventions in order to establish the style of the film early on. The film manages to conform to certain characteristics of each of these genres through the combination of the two within the same scenes, thus going against audience expectations to create something original. Blade Runner could be viewed as a perfect example of a genre hybrid film. The means of conveying key narrative points via the imagery successfully manages to inform the audience without spoon-feeding them various technical jargon.

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[…] chance to invent it. I leave you with a dystopian scene of Blade Runner (1992) accessed on 24/03/11 https://spengo.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/an-analysis-of-a-10-minute-sequence-from-%E2%80%98blade-runne… A Scary Future for […]

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Comment by Kermit




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