Happy Birthday, Ridley. Blade Runner at 25

Posted Jun 25, 2007 by unusualsuspect

In the age of CGI, a 25 year old movie still stands head and shoulders above most FX films, remains a solid favorite among Sci Fi fans, and continues to be an industry influence. Adam Savage, a long-time special-effects wizard, is still amazed by it.
Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, his realization of Philip K. Dick's story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, influenced a generation of filmmakers, videogame designers, and I have no doubt, more than one science fiction author. Watching Blade Runner is an experience in total immersion. Without the benefits of modern digital effects, Scott created a dark, dirty, crowded world that convinces. It's a film of infinite detail, from the lighting, architecture, costumes, and sound effects, to the haunting score by Vangelis. You can almost smell the food cooking in the outdoor food stalls, and the pollution in the air.
Adam Savage, who was a special-effects model maker on two Star Wars episodes, on the Matrix films, AI, and Terminator, still counts Blade Runner as one of his favorite films. He says "25 years later there are ways in which Blade Runner surpasses anything that's been done since. Watching the theatrical release DVD ... reminded me of Scott's genius for creating stunning effects with simple technology."
Many of the effects which would be done today with CGI were done in-camera. The depth of detail in some scenes depended on up to 16 passes of a motion-control camera, each pass adding a new element. "And all that layering is what makes you feel you're in a totally complete world, yet one that's completely alien."
Alien, yes, but also familiar. One feature of Blade Runner and many films that followed it was the way in which familiar aspects of the 20th century mingle with advanced technologies. Instead of the 50s visions of a future in which everything old was swept away, to make room for shining cities and a sky full of personal air cars, the old persists, usually in a state of decay, and mingles, sometimes uncomfortably, with the new. In Brazil, Terry Gilliam created a dystopic fantasy world with much the same mixture. Science fiction novels take the mix for granted now, and you'd be hard put to find anyone writing about space ships and heroic astronauts these days.
"Some scenes have almost a 1930s look to them, while others are totally futuristic. But all the technology they designed — like flying cop cars they call "spinners" — meshes perfectly with your idea of this world. It's one of the reasons this movie has stayed at the top of my list. It just doesn't date."