Question: The important messages in a text are conveyed by the differences between settings.
Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is a sci-fi film set in a dystopian future, where the line between humanity and artificial intelligence is blurred, and society is dominated by advanced technology. Beings called replicants who look and act like humans are used for slave labour on Off World Colonies. The titular Blade Runner, Rick Deckard, is tasked with hunting down and “retiring” killing 6 replicants who have escaped in pursuit of a longer life span. As viewers, throughout the film we are presented with various contrasting settings, from the city streets, to the industrial high rises, to the ominous Tyrell pyramid. These contrasts of these settings convey important messages, with the big one being a warning about what it will take before humanity is lost.
The city streets of Blade Runner are dark and gloomy, and it is always raining. The smoke has been backlit to draw attention to the pollution, and the whole atmosphere has a blue tinge to it which has connotations of technology and modernism. This contrasts the setting of the Off World Colonies, that are described as “a golden land of opportunity and adventure,” and presented as a much more pleasant living area. Scott insinuates in the film that this is a result of climate change, and booming advertisements reveal that only the poor or disabled people are left in this environment, with the rich having escaped to the Off World Colonies, despite the fact that it is likely the rich corporations that caused this uncomfortable climate. This contrast between the city streets and the Off World Colonies conveys the message that the issues of consumerism brought on by the rich, will affect the poor a lot more. We are provoked to consider how our own unsustainable habits may not negatively affect us, but can be detrimental to those more economically challenged, and those in future generations. There is also a clear issue of overpopulation in the film, likely due to a lack of remaining safe living spaces. There are many wide shots of the cramped streets, and the marketspaces are surrounded with people huddling around them. The ambient noise adds to this with the constant hum of distant voices and the frequent sounds of sirens and vehicles. This starkly contrasts J.F Sebastian’s eerily quiet and empty living space, which implies that the city is not overpopulated because there are too many people on the planet, but rather because everywhere else is a barren wasteland. This conveys the message that if we neglect urban infrastructure in pursuit of short term gain, like in Blade Runner, it will likely lead to long term destruction. One might imagine their children growing up in an environment similar to Blade Runner’s city streets. Through the contrast between the city streets and other settings, Scott describes how in selfish acts such as disregarding the future, humanity has become lost.
While Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles, the backdrop was inspired by an exaggeration of downtown Hong Kong, with tall high rises and bright colourful advertising everywhere. There is also advertising everywhere, from Coca Cola, to Pan-Am, an airline that has ironically gone out of business. This contrasts the empty and gloomy setting outside where Sebastian lives, in the emptier outskirts. The copious advertising in the more populated areas, while the less dense areas are ignored, symbolises the issues of commercialism that are so prevalent in our own society, and conveys the message that we tend to focus on appeasing the masses as we are more likely to profit. Establishing shots from small planes reveal fiery explosions erupting from tall buildings, and low angle shots from the ground emphasizes their imposing nature. Ironically there is no more sense of power associated with these entities as they are mostly empty. These empty high rises contrast the cramped city streets, and convey the message that rapid urbanisation present in human society is interfering with our living spaces. The city as clearly intended to host many more people, but the neglect to the environment has resulted in unnecessarily confined spaces. Through the contrast between the high rises and other settings, Scott emphasises how in prioritising commercialism over quality of living, humanity has become lost.
In addition to the city streets in Blade runner, Tyrell’s towering pyramid is another setting that Scott utilises to convey a warning about what it will take before humanity is lost. It was inspired by the ancient Aztec and Mayan pyramids, and houses Eldon Tyrell, the creator of the replicants. The contrast between the cramped city, and this vast area symbolises the extreme wealth and power of the ruling class. The shrinking middle class is also a problem in our own society, and we are encouraged to critique it by considering what will happen if we too are left with a rich and powerful ruling class, and a poor lower class with no method of climbing the ranks. The interior of the Tyrell pyramid also contrasts the blue tones of the city streets and high rises, with a warmer and more natural orange hue. While blue conveys the corporate controlled environment, the warmer tones evoke a sense of humanity and freedom. The wide shots of his spacious living area suggest that he remains in a comfortable environment. This symbolises how Tyrell may not be experiencing the negative effects of climate change, despite the fact that he is likely a large source of the problem. The fact that it is the creator of the replicants who is part of the ruling class is comparable to our reliance on technology, conveying an important message, that our dependance on computers and AI is causing a disconnect from the natural world and potentially worsening societal inequalities. Through the contrast of Tyrell’s pyramid, with the high rises and city streets, Scott exposes how in prioritising technological advancements over human relationships, humanity has become lost.
We are presented with many contrasting settings throughout the Blade Runner, such as the city streets, high rises, and Tyrell’s pyramid. The differences between these settings convey important messages, such as a warning about what it will take before humanity is lost. Therefore, I fully agree with the statement that the important messages in a text are conveyed by the differences between settings. As stated by Ridley Scott, “I wanted to make a film about the human condition, and what we will do to humanity and out world.”