“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe”

Adam Savage of top geek show MythBusters (one of my favourite bits of factual viewing and not just because I look a bit like Adam, especially when I have my hat on) has written a piece in Popular Mechanics in praise of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as it celebrates its 25th anniversary (link via Boing Boing). I’m totally with Adam on this one – like him I have to re-watch the film every year or so; its one of the most visually ravishing films of all time and easily up there with Lang’s Metropolis for stunning images of a future city. The opening scene of LA in 2019, towering buildings with video walls mounted on them, flames shooting into the night from industrial towers and hover cars flying between them all set to Vangelis’ music ranks as one of the most stunning visuals in movie history. It still sends shivers down my spine no matter how often I see it, the impact made all the more sudden by being prefaced by a very quiet moment as an explanation of Replicants and Blade Runners is scrolled across the scene before suddenly boom! Future LA.

Adam argues that despite massive advances in effects and digital manipulation which can now create almost anything a director imagines the film’s effects remain astonishing: “I worked on Star Wars Episodes I and II, on the Matrix films, on AI and Terminator 3; yet 25 years later there are ways in which Blade Runner surpasses anything that’s been done since.” He’s right, it still looks amazing, which is a tribute to the legendary Doug Trumbull and his effects colleagues but also to Ridley Scott too, a director who has a real flair for visuals. The film, like another now-classic, Citizen Kane, wasn’t a commercial success when first released, but (again like Citizen Kane) has gone on to gather a cult audience, critical plaudits and inspire generations of later artists.

For visualising a future cityscape it has to be up there with Lang’s Metropolis; both also owe much to photographs and film of New York in the early 20th century (imaginary cities and the real meeting, but then all ‘real’ cities are also partially imaginary, made up as much of our memories and dreams as they are what our eyes take in). The themes (very Philip K Dick, appropriately) of alienation, individuality, identity and what it is to be human and what is real and what is dream add to the lush imagery. No wonder it is still one of my personal top ten movies of all time.

Some great visualisations or descriptions of imaginary urban spaces: Blade Runner, Metropolis, Carlos Ezquerra’s concepts for Mega City one in the original Judge Dredd back in ’77, Otomo’s Akira, Bill Gibson’s Sprawl (see Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive), Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris (see City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek: an Afterword), Alex Proyas Dark City, Kafka’s work, Borges, Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan… I’m sure you can all suggest other good examples from books, movies and comics or any other artforms. A final bit of movie-comics trivia, Ridley cites the legendary comics artist Moebius’ Long Tomorrow graphic novel from the mid 70s as a key reference for Blade Runner’s visual look. The graphic novel was written by a young Dan O’Bannon, who would later write Alien, which Ridley would direct (one of his first big successes); Dan would later adapt another Philip K Dick tale, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale for the film Total Recall. I’m sure I could add more here, but it’s time for Heroes 🙂