Blade Runner (1982)
Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come.
It was called retirement.
Blade Runner isn’t really a film that needs much introduction. A landmark piece of cinema in special effects, it is a philosophical, cyberpunk vision of the future, that is admittedly a little hammed down by the director’s self-indulgence.
Upon my first viewing, I really didn’t understand the appeal of the film. If I am brutally honest, I still don’t really get it now.
But, if I were to remove my issues with the script, the acting and pacing, I would still consider it to be a highly engrossing film for the vision of the world itself. The aesthetic on display here is utterly captivating.
I like to label these films as music video films.
The reason why, is because if you strip it down to sound and visuals alone, it can be compelling watching.
Similar films that fit this category for me include the excellent Tron: Legacy (2010), Oblivion (2013), Ex Machina (2014), Suspiria (1977) and the two films from Panos Cosmatos, Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) and Mandy (2018).
These are the kind of films where dialogue, acting and story take second place to the visuals of the world, and the second most important element is the score.
I suppose in a similar vein, is one of my favourite films of all time, Mad Max – Fury Road.
Blade Runner has such a strong and incredibly rich vision of Earth by 2019. It is so wholly unique and influential in how it perceives what our future will be like. Claustrophobic, homogeneous, and incredibly artificial.
I still vividly recall seeing the first few frames and being struck by the mind-blowing visuals that still hold up today. I doubt I will ever forget the image of huge ATARI signs, or the Coca Cola advert with the Japanese Woman dancing on the side of the building.
The lack of nature was startling and bizarre, cool and terribly alien. I remember staring hard at the huge pyramid like structure, an ancient symbol, transformed into a futuristic headquarters.
The opening scene arrests you straight away. It is hard to tear your eyes away from such amazing visuals.
I still marvel at the spinners that seem to effortlessly fly through the air and add even more depth to the heights of Los Angeles.
The cherry on top for this whole opening sequence, is Vangelis’ score which has the traditional synth of the 80s, but is mixed much more evocatively with a heavy emotional haunting element to it all. It’s high pitched nature has this strange hopeful airiness to it, only to be dropped suddenly by loud thumping booms, that punctuate the melody.
It is eerie, strange, musical and compelling, much like the film’s visuals itself.
Everywhere, the detail and love for this world and its’ aesthetic is beyond belief. The costumes, the light umbrellas, the language …. it’s unimaginably creative and bold.
Even in the future, Asian cuisine is still the cheapest.
The cultural impact of Blade Runner is undeniable. Suddenly, Philip K. Dick’s work were translated into films and there are probably an untold amount of work in games, anime and television that were directly influenced by this film. Deus Ex, Ghost in the Shell, Cyberpunk 2077, even Tesla’s Cybertruck to name a few.
On a more personal note, I was more intensely interested in this depiction of the future, and it actually lead me to research more into the cyberpunk world, from consuming similar media, like Deus Ex, or identifying books that had the same dystopian vision of the future.
In a lot of ways, with the concept of replicants, “off-world” colonies and highly claustrophobic dense environments becoming ever more increasingly probable, the world shown in Blade Runner seems more and more realistic.
Space flight has now been privatised and will doubtless open new opportunities for companies to mine resources other than Earth herself, and Japan’s constant promotion of robotics and sex dolls has the inherent DNA of pleasure model replicants.
Even now, some of our top minds are discussing the ethics of AI, and how that evolution may lead humanity astray or launch it further in the evolutionary scale.
Claustrophobic urban environments, already exists in mega-cities like London, Osaka, Tokyo, Delhi, Shanghai, Cairo and Mexico City. Having visited Japan recently, I can only attest to the clammy, anxious sensation you get when there are too many people around you, and when the buildings behave more like walls, than actual structures.
I remember walking down the endless streets of Osaka, longing for a glimpse of the sky, and getting none, and getting a very Blade Runner vibe from it all, especially at night, on the dirty streets of Dotonbori.
The world of Blade Runner, especially in those first shots, are immersive, captivating and awe-inspiring, because it seems so plausible. All the neon, grime, fashion, language, technology …. despite lacking in modern aesthetic, are deeply rooted in a reality that may come to pass.
Cyberpunk at its finest.
Blade Runner allowed me access to one of the most anxious, tightly-wound novels I have ever read, in Neuromancer, the progenitor of all cyberpunk fiction.
If manic energy was a book, but coupled with paranoia, schizophrenia and a healthy dose of Red Bull, it would be Neuromancer.
The world that Gibson creates in that book, is literally what Blade Runner desperately tries to depict, but with a more noir feel. While Blade Runner is an almost meditative piece on the future, Neuromancer feels like a shot of adrenaline, where I spent half the book stunned by the world Gibson created and the other half ripping through the pages to find out more.
It is probably one of the most unique books I’ve ever read and one of those I dislike to revisit, because you can’t just read a chapter and be happy with it; you have to start the book from the beginning and feverishly blast through it again. While I could take out one of my favourite Clive Cussler novels and read a random chapter and be satisfied, Neuromancer demands you take the ride again from start to finish.
The creation of Neuromancer’s Chiba City most likely influenced the big Asian homogeneity in Blade Runner, especially since Asian culture has only spread in popularity with an ever increasing population growth everywhere around the globe.
I particularly love the antihero aspect of the novel, the drug addiction aspect to Case’s character something that really appealed to me somehow.
The idea that someone this desperate, this pathetic would make for an oddly compelling protagonist made for a great vision of the kind of people that would live in a society in the Sprawl.
It also helped explained why the book felt so …. fast and manic. As if Case himself was writing about his own experiences.
Blade Runner allowed me to visualise Neuromancer’s world more clearly, but in a much more Japanese fashion, due to the numerous references to Japanese culture in the book. Something I noted Cyberpunk 2077 seems to take direct inspiration from.
I suspect, there is a lot more of Cyberpunk 2077 that is directly in line with Neuromancer than any other cyberpunk fiction out there, I, for one, am glad, because the book itself never got any proper “visual” release of its vision.
To this day, I still adore cyberpunk style, fashion and aesthetic, but I am truly hoping that it doesn’t become a reality. I would rather avoid doing the Voight-Kampff test or fall in love with a replicant (slightly ironic, since my girlfriend name is actually Rachel).
Neuromancer by William Gibson. If cocaine was a book.
Blade Runner’s opening sequence is arguably one of cinema’s most aesthetically arresting introduction to a never before seen world. It instantly sets a unique tone, with its art direction, its pacing and Vangelis melodies.
Even the sequel, Blade Runner 2049, couldn’t quite capture the magic of the original, instead going for a different visual direction that enhances the world already established.
I will naturally be making an IMPACT analysis on Blade Runner 2049, since it was actually one of the my favourite films in recent releases, but that will be done later.
Blade Runner inspired me and so many others, with its depiction of the future and I truly hope there will be similar and equally interesting realistic depictions of a bizarre future to come soon!
Imagination should never stop.