Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Essay on "Blade Runner" and Cyberpunk Genre

Blade Runner was considered one of the most significant and best made science fiction movies of its genre. The movie was directed by Ridley Scott, produced by Michael Deeley, and stars Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer. The theme of the movie is basically man’s eternal quest to find infinite life, and how short life really is. It is also about man’s egocentrism, making cyborgs that look and act like just like humans.

It is the year 2019; artificial human robots called Replicants have been made for the sole purpose of being slaves doing work in a colony on another planet. A group of renegade Replicants have escaped, their reason, to find the answers of their own mortality, each Replicant has a four year life span. Harrison Ford plays a blade runner, a person trained to track down these renegade Replicants, and force them into “retirement” meaning extermination. In his mission to destroy these robots, he also questions his own mortality and realizes how the Replicants have come to develop real human feelings. He also falls in love with one replicant named Rachael played by Sean Young. During the movie the audience also begins to question whether or not Deckard (Ford) is also a Replicant himself.

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The science fiction genre is filled with far out ideas, space, aliens, fantasy and themes that human beings create in their imaginations. One of the most significant things that Blade Runner the movie did was it was one of the first movies that were considered to be a part of the sub genre of science fiction called cyberpunk. Runner set the rules for how movies of the cyberpunk genre should be made. It is a mix of high technology and low class of living. Cyberpunk is defined as being a fast paced science fiction involving futuristic computer-based societies. One of the primary themes of cyberpunk films is in the end humans lose control of the technology they have invented and they must suffer the consequences. Science fiction brings to life human imagination and theories of where human life will end up in the future. Critics have said that this movie was the most significant sci-fi cyberpunk movie ever made. Cyberpunk is about the importance of individualism in a world that is controlled by the ‘man’. The genre brings to light how quickly technology is moving towards the future, and that humans are not moving at the same pace.

The genre itself was highly criticized when it first came to light; some science fiction writers denied that it existed. Many said that the genre of cyberpunk should not exist because the codes and conventions of the cyberpunk were the same as science fiction. As time went on though those same people after doing some research realized that cyberpunk was in deed its own separate category.

The special effects, scenery, lighting, music and costumes all contributed to the greatness of this movie. It was ground breaking in that the scenes of the futuristic cosmopolitan world looked so realistic. Before the movie came onto the big screen there was a lot of media hype about the film, famous director and stars, the advertising for it made the movie seem like it would be filled with high speed chase scenes and great special effects. What the film actually portrayed was a dismal depressing portrait of the future of the world and mankind. Initial movie critics in 1982, were not impressed, they thought the movie was slow and the acting was not done well.

After sometime the critics changed there critique of the movie, looking in the deeper story lines and hidden themes. Because of its contribution to the film culture and its impact on film making, it is stored in the United States Library of Congress. The time of the movie is set in the future, 2019 and because of this the director can forget all conventional rules and procedures when it comes to the content of the film, basically anything goes. At the time, when most of the movies made were more uplifting and about positive changes in society, this movie portrayed a dark and dreary future.

Many of the codes and conventions of the movie were taken from other film genres, some from the film noir genre, science fiction and action. In many of the scenes you can see aspects from film noir, such as light coming in from a window covered with Venetian blinds. Another characteristic is the old school detective played by Ford, unfeeling and incapable of emotion. There is a scene in the movie where Deckard and Rachael kiss and it matches a scene in the movie The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor, a film produced in the 1940s. Like the Maltese Falcon, there is a female character known as the Dame, played by Sean Young. The character needs help in some sort of way, but the male lead is reluctant to help because he is not sure if he can trust her or not. In the end he falls in love with her.

Camera angles, lighting and sound were extremely important to the film to help convey the audience the mood of the scene and the characters. In many of the scenes the camera was behind the character, as to show the audience the point of view from the characters eyes. There were wide sweeping shots of the futuristic LA city, the camera seemed to be either looking up at the buildings or looking down in the city, conveying the hugeness of it. This was done by having glass bottoms in hover cars that patrolled the city, the police officers inside could look down through the bottom of the car and see everything.

There is an eye motif that is used throughout the film that gives the audience a sense of paranoia, the huge eye illusion used in the beginning of the movie, the eye test for the replicants, the blimp that is constantly circling the city with the Asian woman looking down on the city, gives the audience a feeling like someone is always watching. Shooting actors from a low point of view, making it seem like you were looking up at them to portray a sense of power from that character. Sometimes scenes are shot from a high point of view, conveying weakness. The film is in color, some scenes were made digitally. One technique that was used was that in many of the scenes the background behind the main character in the scene was often very out of focus so the viewer had to strain to see what was behind them. Objects in the background only came into focus if they were to become a part of the scene.

Lighting is used to help portray a dismal future. The LA city’s light only comes from the artificial light from the streets and industrial buildings. It is always cloudy and raining because of the pollution so there is barely any light. It’s like the director used the opposite of light to convey the meaning of the environment. Scott uses darkness and shadow to portray darkness and sadness. Like the conventions used in film noir movies, Venetian blinds were used a great deal in some of the scenes to cut the vertical line of the film. Heavy curtains were used to hide the light from the city, making the mood in some scenes dark and sinister. In one scene of the movie, the apartment of JF Sebastian is filled with heavy curtains that block out light making his apartment seem dark and large, this is where Batty and Pris (replicants) hide out, and although they are nice to the unsuspecting Sebastian, the darkness that the curtains create convey to the audience that something bad is going on.

The music is expressive and futuristic, it creates mood. Feelings such as sadness, anger, and loneliness are created through the music. There is no soundtrack; no songs with vocals, the music expressed the feelings of the characters. With each climatic moment the music builds up momentum getting stronger as the emotions of the characters get stronger and more expressive. The music sounds futuristic which matches the time period in which the film takes place. It sounds like music that is made by an electronic keyboard, or perhaps synthesized music made by a computer.

The set design, costumes, lighting and placement of objects (mise-en-sence) all come together to help narrate the story of the film. There are many characteristics of film noir in Blade Runner, darkness, shadows, and rain. It is always raining in the city maybe to show how dreary life is. Water seems to play a part in telling the story. The artificial lights from street signs and billboards give a feeling of harshness in the atmosphere. The city is mechanical and polluted. Nothing natural exists in the world anymore; it has been drained of all its natural resources. There is a constant roving search light going round and round circling the cloudy sky, suggesting constant surveillance. It is about the feeling of always being watched, not knowing if when you are alone, if you are truly alone.

Smoke was used in many ways during the film to express some sort of feeling. Smoke from cigarettes expressed feelings of confusion and murkiness, many of the characters in the movie smoked, expressing there paranoia and confusion. There was smoke and fire coming from the industrial buildings that polluted the city sky. The costumes and clothing looked very different from 1980’s; the designs portrayed what the director thought people in the future would be dressed like. Except for Deckard, dressed like the old school police/detective from the film noir genre. The streets of the city were often crowded and seemed chaotic. A technique that was used to express the passage of time was the phasing in and out of scenes. The scene would slowly become out of focus and a new scene would start to take over.

One of the main conventions of the cyberpunk genre is the awesome speed at which technology grows and the sometimes dark consequences of human actions. Blade Runner is an example of this, showing what could happen in a futuristic world, showing that technology cannot always improve human life. It is when technology turns on man, that man realizes the mistake it has made by trying to improve technology at a speed that it cannot handle. Although man realizes its mistake, it is too late and the effects cannot be changed. The replicants that were invented were supposed to help humans by being their slaves and doing whatever they were told to do, but the replicants were made too well, they developed their own personalities and their own thought processes they became independent, and they turned on their human masters. You also see this in other films like in The Matrix and The Terminator.

All these codes and conventions come together to make the film what it is. The difference between Blade Runner and other films is that it is the first of its kind. The reason why it is so significant is that it established many of the codes and convention for future cyberpunk films such as The Matrix trilogy, The Terminator, and Strange Days to name a few. Some of the conventions used have changed since the making of Blade Runner, mostly because of the progression of technology and the improvements made in the film making digital processing.

When Blade Runner was presented in movie theaters in 1982, it was a new age. The 70s were over, peace love and being unemployed was not the in thing anymore. Business and technology were growing and improving at impressive speeds. The computer was becoming very popular many homes and businesses began to purchase pc’s and people began to realize that this type of technology was the way to succeed in life. Computers were used as recreational devices as well as for business purposes. Video games were becoming more popular because of the realness of them. Businesses began to use computers because of the efficiency and usefulness that pc’s provided. Corporations, governments and universities could use databases to store massive amounts of information and this information could be accessible at any time. With all this information that is readily available via the internet, came a new form of paranoia, whose information is really private and safe? Is it possible that the government has the knowledge and authority to go into any personal database and view what they want? A new form of rebellion was created with this birth of new technology, a generation of people known as computer hackers were born. The children of the cyberpunk generation were all about breaking into computer databases and systems, trying to fight against the ‘man’. They did not want to conform to society and follow their rules.

One of man’s eternal quests is the search for eternal life. It doesn’t matter what time period it is, this search has been going on since the age of man and will go on till the end of time. People always wonder about life and death is there a way to cheat death? Perhaps through technology? The replicants in the film were searching for answers, why were they only allowed a four year life span? Could this be fixed, is there a way to lengthen their life span. Human beings do this as well, we as humans try to do everything that is humanly possible to live long healthy lives. But what if, we knew how long we were going to live? What If everyone knew exactly how long they would live for? Would life be different? Would human beings start to live like the replicants did, knowing when their death would come? These questions were shown in startling reality in the film.

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