Blade Runner is a film released in the early 1980’s in which I never saw it in the theater, my experience was on a grainy quality film called VHS. The movie still spectacularly blew my mind as a child and continues to do so today. I am now able to enjoy it more critically since I love production design in films. Blade Runner has a high quality of set pieces, matte paintings, vehicles, and costume. The mise en scene of this film is everywhere, it engulfs us and pulls us into the futuristic noir world the director Ridley Scott produced.
The first thing you see is the grit and grime of the world. The future in the film, shows us how everything is overpopulated and dirty. The neon lights and smoke is shown throughout, with lights being casted through the smoke to enhance the feeling of suffocation. Everything looks wet and uncomfortable, people wear clothing that feels just slightly more advanced and worn. Nothing looks very new. That is the setup for this world.
The next thing you realize is the advanced technology like replicants, cloned animals, flying cars, and futuristic buildings. The replicants are androids made to do our dirty work off world and have a limited life span, in which the plot of the story revolve around four replicants (or skin jobs) that have hijacked a space ship and are renegades and are needing to be retired (destroyed). We see a few different animals in the film like an owl and snake that have been cloned, emphasizes the creatures to be different like serial numbers on a scale, or the eerie glow of the owls eyes. We see the new technology of flying police cars taking off VTOL and soaring through a weathered and industrial backdrop with fire plumes and futuristically designed structures.
Every set piece we are guided through shows things to be a mess, with the layers of dust and garbage strewn across everything. It seems the future will be cluttered and we will have no place to set a cup or dish. A life of excess that brought us to no where to put things. The city streets are cluttered with people and everyone looks to be trying to find a spot to sit just to eat food at a food stand, like the main character Deckard, who sits across as people walk by with their lightsaber-esque umbrellas. We next see him in a police station cluttered and dirty where he walks into an office that has little room just to sit down. All these places, including his own apartment feel claustrophobic and gives off a feeling of anxiety.
I want to give a very special addendum to the smoke of this film. Not just the fact that nearly everyone smokes, but that there is a smoke or fog in nearly every scene in the film. It helps to enhance the lighting and make it eerie, but when I see smoke, I always want to cough and it makes me feel like something needs to be cleaned or rectified to get the smoke out of there. The smoke of the film is a very mise en scene piece and it helps establish the way the world now looks. It leads me into the way I feel about Blade Runner.
What I feel with the film is always anxious, in each of the places we are taken to. The mise en scene of all the places we go are messy and busy. It never feels calm or meditative. I wanted to focus on the set pieces for what is “in the scene” which there are many of. I still feel uneasy when watching this film and it sticks with you even after it is over. It takes you to places that we had not seen during the 80’s (now some technologies have been created) but as a child, I was captivated at the way the world looked and the way people acted.
Now that is has been 30 years since its original release and being able to see this film on Blu-ray and in a director’s cut version. I love the way technology has helped to enhance the production design so subtly. Getting to see details in the city, cars, and clothes show a greater depth and little nuances that you could not see on VHS, Laserdisc, or DVD quality.
On a final note, I want to leave you with a scene about the artificial owl and the explanation of replicants/clones.