Los Angeles in 2019,
Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is a blade runner. He is part of a
police unit charged with tracking down the replicants. The replicants
are androids whose appearance and behavior reproduce so well the men
that it is very difficult to recognize them. They are even capable of
feelings, and artificial memories have been implanted upon them on
which they build their character. Although born adults they have a
lived experience, a personality and are plagued by certain internal
conflicts. Only their physical strength and their agility far
superior to that of normal individuals differentiates them, as well
as a certain tendency to insubordination. They were declared illegal
on earth after a mutiny, and only serve to do dirty work in the space
colonies. At the beginning of the film, we learn that 6 of them
escaped and managed to reach the Earth. A Deckard colleague, Holden,
managed to flush out one but was seriously injured. Deckard is the
second on the list of the most competent blade runners, mainly
because of his insensitivity, which protects him from any pity
regarding human beings.
I will at first
introduce the movie genre including the film as a whole and then I
will study the opening sequence.
To begin, Blade
runner is a science fiction movie because it is located
chronologically 37 years after the date of its realization. What is a
science fiction movie ?
not belong to the supernatural, and wants to be rational, which is
typic from Blade Runner with all the futuristic replicants and
technological progress. Here, 2019 is seen from a 1982 point of view.
Urbanism has accentuated its vertical dimension of the cities: the
immense skyscrapers are still dominated by explosive oil torches
spreading out of factory chimneys. Like that of Tyrell, companies
are fortified castles and vehicles move in the heights of cities; the
ground being for commercial or emergency vehicles only. The social
differences have increased: coexist buildings dilapidated, for
instance that of Sebastian, and high-tech buildings, that of Deckard,
yet hardly high socially. Racism has disappeared because
cosmopolitanism is the rule. Nature is gone, the animals are almost
fiction does not really interest Ridley Scott . In fact he is much
more fascinated by the fantastical dimension of the movie and the
quest for identity of his hero which makes him a film Noir character.
The Noir genre can be distinguished from the Detective of Gangster
movie as its focus is dedicated to the victim. In the three-part
drama that is played between the executioner, the victim and the
Robin Hood, the film noir also excludes focusing on a character who
has entirely passed on the crime side or who, on the contrary, has a
moral conscience that guides his actionl. The concept of victim must
thus be understood in a broad sense. It is also being a victim of
crime to have to protect one’s life at the cost of unwanted murder.
Unlike the gangster, the occasional criminal is, in most cases, a
victim of his environment. Crime is the only possible alternative in
a world, real or not, with no way out. The origin of Noir film is
related to the deterioration of the economic and social situation.
The dockers of San Francisco went on strike in 1934 and 1937 as well
as the General Motors workers in 1936 and 1937. And that same year,
the iron and steel industry suffered a particularly severe crisis.
Freud’s theories and
psychoanalysis mark the film noir with his amnesiac heroes, haunted
by their past, and who seek indications allowing them to find their
identitiy. Here in accomplishing his mission, Deckard will eventually
find himself. “I think so I am,” said Pris as a desperate
joke about his robot nature, but it’s good when he accomplishes his
mission that Deckard will know who he really is.
Blade Runner is also
a fascinating movie because of lights effects. When Rachel is getting
ready for the Voight-Kampf test. A blue light, whose source is
invisible, falls on her back, obliquely.Rachel is “out of
light”, as if to indicate that there is no safe place for her in
this world. Blue lights are often used in movies to reproduce a night
scene. Then Deckard has his face cut off
in two by a beam of
light that is no longer oblique and blue, but horizontal and yellow.
These two lighting effects are linked by a false connection (rupture
in the coherence of the luminous atmosphere from one shot to another)
leaves Deckard’s eyes in the dark and insists on those of Rachel,
whose polygraph studies the reactions. In Blade Runner, the light is
entirely artificial, even in outdoor scenes; it constantly changes
direction, intensity and coloration, favoring the plan on the stage;
light plays systematically against the actors.
After talking about
the shape and the background of the movie, I am going to make a plan
by plan sequence analysis of the opening scene. This analysis of a
scene is mainly intended to try to understand the impact of the
director’s choices and to try to break through his staging.In every
shot of a movie there are a lot of things that have been thought
about while others are left totally to chance. But it is this
“creative dynamic” that sometimes gives meaning to the
insignificant or unreflective events of filming.
We face a Noir
opening scene. Three muted bass sounds are heard. “Los Angeles,
November 2019″: the catch and the date of the action is
something enigmatic. The musical theme is first announced
unaccompanied, surrounded by a vast reverb, bringing out a huge
emptyness however the titles of the credits follow one another on a
black background (in the 1992 version, a drop-down notice also
explains the origins of the word ” replicant “). Then, on
the first images of Los Angeles in the near future, it will be
completely taken up on vast and long synthesizer chords, like a big
organ. The concept of the beginning of the film is clear: the musical
theme, symbol of the film, installs a certain epic atmosphere, but
also creates, before the curtain raises, a sort of void. Then the
screen is filled with an amazing explosion of colors and sounds. Most
of the time the spectators do not realize that the theme they hear on
the first images is strictly the same as the theme of the credits.
The plan closes with a black closing on this last carton of the
credits. I think the choice of the month, November, is not innocent.
Indeed it is often considered the saddest month of the year.
Then the camera moves
forward with a wide tracking shot. We notice typical Noir genre
patterns with sounds and visual explosion. Flames are exploding
literally like spurts to punctuate this aerial view. The megalopolis
appears to us as a dark mass which multitudes of lights constitute
the unique details. Heaven and earth seem to be confused. A flying
engine arrives towards us from the bottom of the image and a
lightning then tears the sky as soon as it leaves the field. We will
see during this sequence that everything is perfectly orchestrated,
to give this impression of mobility. Each time the camera will move,
an element will intervene in the image, linking each shot, in a slow
and calculated rhythm that will continue throughout the film,
highlighting the oppressive side of the atmosphere in order to be
more realistic. In fact the city is a total invention and does not
exist, so they had to find a way to make it look like a living city.
Soon after the
traking shot gets tighter. There is a focus on a flame that springs
up, it seems to come out of the ground, as if responding to the
lightning and throws a sheaf of fire. The elements are unleashed. The
very violent cut allows Ridley Scott to get closer to the heart of
the city while keeping the subtle tracking very fluid. He leads us
unconsciously in a kind of apocalyptic universe. This world is
immersed in the mist and this movement is perceived as wandering.
Hence the need to have a guide who appears to us in the form of a
flying engine which red light at the back pierces the dark sky and
goes to the bottom of the image. His input is brought by a few notes
above the others in the musical score that turns into a buzz
immediately resumed by the sound of the reactor at its entry into the
field. Music, sound and image are in perfect harmony as in a ballet
does not occur all the time during the movie.
After the city there
is a kind of seizure and fixed plan with the extreme close up of the
eye. The disappearance of the engine gives way to a very large plan
of the eye in which the lights of the city are reflected. Ridley
Scott cuts through from a very large to a very small plan scale. The
eye is an attractive image but with its various cinematographic
representations has become worrying: it is the “eye of
consciousness”, consciousness being one of the fundamental
themes of Blade runner. The appearance of this eye has something
unusual. One could have the impression that the whole city rushes
into this eye (the spectator then realizes that it is probably the
eye of the man located at the window of a pyramid). The eye is of
extreme importance in Blade runner: it is through it that one
distinguishes the human from the android thanks to the Voigt-Kampf
test. I have to note that the megalopolis and the eye occupy on the
screen a place and an importance less proportional to their sizes.
Then the shot is a
little tighter but still in tracking shot. Ridley Scott continues his
cutting by approaching successive shots of the two pyramids while
keeping a transition between each shot to not lose the fluid movement
“approach” to which the viewer does not pay attention.
Without realizing it, he will find himself “at the foot” of
the pyramids. He discovers in this plan the purpose of this planing
shot, the ship passes by the side of the pyramids, leaving the field
on the left, as if he had fulfilled his mission now that we have them
before our eyes . The transition to the next shot will take place,
again, when it disappears. The two pyramids are massive and dominant,
like two mausoleums to Tyrell’s glory. Moreover the bright white
lights directed towards the sky give a divine impression. Here again
as I already mentioned in my first part, lighting is a key element
for the spectator’s perception of the movie even though it does not
play infavor of characters it has a huge role for setting.