Movie Review: Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott, is an adaptation of the novel named “Do androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” written by Philip K. Dick. Since he passed away before the movie was completed, he did not see the movie entirely; however, he saw twenty minutes of the film, and he said the movie was just as he had imagined. 

The movie begins with text announcing Tyrell Corporation produced genetically engineered living forms named “Replicants.” They were produced to be used as slave labor and in hazardous areas of off-world colonies. After a mutiny by a combat Nexus 6 team, they were declared illegal on earth. A police team named Blade Runner Units was tasked with executing them when they were detected. The story begins with Deckard, a blade runner, who was commissioned to kill the Nexus 6 team, seeking replicants. 

Throughout this detective story, we question whether the Replicants produced with the slogan “more human than human” are human or not.

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Blade Runner Poster for Director’s Final Cut_©www.facebook.combladerunner2049

The Blade Runner’s Universe

The first thing to discover in the film is that blade runner’s universe is dark physically. In the opening sequence, Los Angeles in 2019 is demonstrated as Hades set. It is a dark city even that cannot be illuminated by gas flames that are occasionally glowing intensely from industrial towers. The city’s darkness is reflected in products such as the umbrellas used against acid rains are designed like a flashlight. 

In 2019’s Los Angeles, the animals are rarely found on the earth and made artificially; therefore, it is clear that the world is no longer a habitable place. Air vehicles constantly advertise life in off-world colonies. However, not everyone can leave the world. The remaining people belong to the lower class or are unhealthy people.  The city seems to be dominated by Asian culture, especially Chinese

The city’s reason to be full of Chinese can be attributed to the people working in labor-based professions becoming unnecessary after launching replicants and the collapse of developing countries that based their economic growth on cheap labor. Nevertheless, Chinese influence is not only seen in the population. In the city, billboards have often written in Chinese, and symbols associated with Chinese cultures, such as the dragon, can be seen on the flashing signs. 

Companies in 2019’s Los Angeles, on the other hand, have identified Asians as a focus group for the advertisements on the earth since they are overpopulated; therefore, women convenient for Asian beauty standards like geishas are used for advertisement on giant screens.

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Hades Set_ ©Warner Bros
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A Geisha on a Billboard Advertising Birth Control Pill _© Ladd CompanyThe Shaw BrothersWarner Bros
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Deckard Eating Chinese Street Food_© www.facebook.combladerunner2049

The Evil Corp.: Tyrell Corporation

Class distinction depicted in the movie is objectified through the architecture. High and splendid skyscrapers rise on the horizon, contrasting with the streets that are chaotic and dark. The most conspicuous of all towers belonged to Tyrell Corporation, the god of the new world. The twin towers of Tyrell Corp. evoke the Mayan Temples. The tower’s upper floors can be reached by elevators or flying vehicles, and only people belonging to a certain coterie can reach there. 

In the Mayan temples, the stairs were used for rolling up the heads of human victims. Instead of stairs, the elevators’ positioning on the inclined road indicates that the father, sitting at the top of this tower, is over the nations and governments and represents authority and order. Eldon Tyrell, the founder of Tyrell Corporation, is the father living at the top of the tower with his pet, an artificial owl. 

Although the owl is generally known as a symbol of wisdom, it is associated with darkness and evil in the Mayan myths. Besides its architecture and mythology, the reasons behind the decadence of Los Angeles in 2019 resembled the ones that caused the collapse of Maya’s. Scholars have proposed many theories for the downfall of the Maya civilization, such as overpopulation, war, and environmental degradation. Particularly, environmental issues and waste of resources caused by big corporations like Tyrell seems to be the key reason for the end of civilization as we know it in this dystopian scenario.

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Twin Towers of Tyrell Corporation_© 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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Building of Tyrell Corporation_© 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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Eldon Tyrell and His Owl_© Ladd Company/Ridley Scott/Warner Bros

Inspirations for the Los Angeles in 2019

In an interview with Ted Greenwald for Wired, Ridley Scott said that he got inspiration from the Durham steel mills and the Imperial Chemical Industries plant since the art school he attended was alongside these facilities. He remembers memories that belong to those years, such as walking above the steel mill, passing through the smoke, and looking down into the fire. It is quite obvious that these recalls shaped the image of the evil corporations in the film. 

Spending some time in New York and Hong Kong also helped him while designing the city.  Moreover, Production designer Lawrence G. Paull had visited Milan for the first time before working on the film. He was impressed by the fascist architecture of the city that had been planned by Benito Mussolini. High facades rising on both sides of narrow streets, and the porticoes and arches in the streets were the most defining features of this architecture. Paull benefits from characteristics of fascist architecture while designing Los Angeles in 2019 because of the claustrophobic effect that it creates. 

Another source of inspiration for the city was Metal Hurlant magazine was. Especially the erotic, dangerous, and futuristic world of Moebius, a French cartoonist, one of the founders of Metal Hurlant was the basis for the movie’s esthetic. 

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A Metal Hurlant Cover After Movie Launched_ ©www.dazeddigital.com

Real Buildings Shot in the Blade Runner

In the film, images of some of the symbolic buildings in Los Angeles have blended into the urban design via CGI. Ridley Scott not only informs the audience about the space with a text written “Los Angeles 2019” at the beginning of the film but also reminds them that Blade Runner is a dystopian interpretation of today’s Los Angeles by showing us real buildings. Bradbury building, designed by George Wyman in 1893, is the building Sebastian lived in. 

The building’s condition and the architecture of his flat are informative about the character’s life and feelings. Because of a genetic disease, Sebastian ages rapidly; therefore, he is not accepted into off-world colonies. He lives alone in an abandoned building with toys that he made. The large layout and high ceilings of Sebastian’s flat are not convenient for the human scale; therefore, just as he feels, he looks lost and lonely. 

Another real building in the movie is The Ennis House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1923. House’s exterior is original; however, it has transformed into a high building via after-effects. “Mayan revival” style of the house refers to other Maya references in the film. Deckard dwells in the building, and in contrast to Sebastian’s, his flat with short walls and narrow space represents that repression above him.

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Bradbury building _©www.movie-locations.commoviesbBlade-Runner.php
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The Ennis House _©Mike Dillon
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Deckard enters a lift in his home. The Ennis House’s style is notable on the walls behind_ ©Warner Bros

Retrofitting

Film’s architecture, costumes, and hairstyles are an amalgamation of different retro styles. For instance, while Rachael fits the femme fatale trope of the ’40s, another woman in the film, Pris, is punk. Syd Mead, film’s visual futurist, stated that they looked for a retro-futuristic aesthetic. To create high-tech devices, they used old mechanisms and updated them with the latest additions. This method is named retrofitting. 

For example, the Esper machine is a device that is composed of a Television and a polaroid machine that can enhance and manipulate the image. Even though it looks outdated today, it is a prescient device with high-tech abilities. These retro devices are also a great fit for the requisite bohemian lifestyle, which is a consequence of the desperation of lumpen proletarians stuck in the world. Using mixed styles and retro may also be associated with nostalgia, a common concept in the science fiction genre. 

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Rachael (on Left) as femme fatale, Pris (on right) as Punk_ www.facebook.combladerunner2049
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The Esper machine_ ©Ladd Company/Ridley Scott/Warner Bros
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Zhora Using a Hair Dryer_ ©Ladd Company/Ridley Scott/Warner Bros

Production

Syd Mead declared he took the World Trade Center’s twin towers and sizes of the streets and doubled the measurements vertically as a reference to scale vertical settlements of 2019’s Los Angeles. Hades’ set, shown in the opening sequence, was a miniature model with 18 feet in height and 13 feet deep. It was built on a raised platform to facilitate lighting from below. 

While the buildings in the foreground are 3D, models close to the background are 2D. Forced perspective is used to increase the perception of depth. To provide ease of movement to the camera, different models are used depending on the shots. Tyrell’s twin towers are a detailed 8 feet model with the backlit. Mead also has retrofitted an old town New York set into a cyberpunk city by adding manhole steam, neon lights, wires, street signs, and monitors.

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Christopher S. Ross checking the scale of the Hades Landscape_ ©www.vfxvoice.comthe-miniature-models-of-blade-runner
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Model of hades Set is being prepared_ © Listal user @Prisoner 1138
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Tower of Tyrell is being Prepared_www.openculture.com201507blade-runners-miniature-props-revealed-in-142-behind-the-scenes-photos.html

Key Takeaways from Blade Runner

I believe that we may make many inferences from the film as architects. Rapid, vertically structured cities such as China and Hong Kong are the proximate cities to Blade Runner aesthetics. It is quite possible to find photographs of billboards on top of the skyscrapers similar to those in the film in these cities on the Internet. 

Besides, the height difference between the streets and buildings is directly related to the class distinction that becomes even sharper. Like there is no relationship between the streets and the towers, there are also no squares in dystopia cities. Making inferences from such films can remind us who we are designing for. Also, if you are a dreamer, the science fiction genre is good for not only inspiring designs but also makes you enjoy life. 

Throughout my article, I could only review the movie in an architectural aspect to avoid being wordy and boring. However, Blade Runner is a masterpiece that can be interpreted in many aspects. While some may see the film as a Marxist criticism, others might be interested in the film’s existential philosophy. Therefore, besides the fancy futuristic features, I recommend everyone to watch this science fiction classic.

Billboard in Dystopic Los Angeles_© www.facebook.combladerunner2049

Here is the trailer of the movie. You can get the movie on iTunes, Google Play and Prime Video.

Author

MügeElmas is currently an architecture student studying at Ozyegin University, Istanbul, in the senior year. After graduation, she aspires to continue her masters. She is interested in all forms of art, but is specifically passionate about movies and set designs, and always seeks new experiences to widen her knowledge about art and architecture.

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