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Afternoon Delight: Backstage at 'Blade Runner'

by Jerome Weeks 2 Sep 2011 12:59 PM

With director Ridley Scott saying he’s considering a return to the future-noir world of Blade Runner, we take a look at a behind-the-scenes featurette made in 1982 on the set of the groundbreaking film.


Afternoon Delight is a daily diversion for when you’re just back from lunch, but not quite ready to get back to work. Check back Tuesday at 1 p.m. for another one.

Lately, director Ridley Scott has been talking about returning to the world of Blade Runner, his 1982 film adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The sci-fi film noir mostly bombed with audiences when it was first released (with a studio-demanded voiceover dubbed by star Harrison Ford); it was the home video version that helped make Blade Runner a film-design landmark, one of the most visually influential films of the ’80s. (The most ferociously complex shot in the movie, as special effects director Trumbull explains in this video, is just the interior of the “spinner,” the flying police car.)

More human than human, as the slogan of the Tyrell Corporation goes, the maker of the movie’s biomechanoid ‘replicants.’ Blade Runner foregrounded one of the central issues of subsequent anime and cyber sci-fi (like Ghost in the Shell or Terminator): When technology can duplicate human appearances and responses, what, then, is human?

In effect, Blade Runner is an elaborate Turing Game, devised by computer-pioneer and codebreaker Alan Turing, who posited a human at a terminal asking whatever’s on the other end questions to determine what or who it is. If the computer can convince the questioner it’s a fellow human responding, does that mean the computer qualifies as human? Why not? (Essentially, this is what we see as the film opens: a Turing Game gone violent.)

Given the ominous (promising?) rumbles from Ridley, we thought it was worth taking a gander at this 16 mm ‘featurette’ or “convention reel” that was made in 1982 as a publicity advance, designed to tour various sci-fi and movie-fan conventions. It features interviews, not just with Scott, but with Syd Mead, the ‘futurist designer’ behind much of the look of the technology in the film, and Trumbull, the legendary visual effects pioneer (2001, Close Encounters) whose most recent work is in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

Just a reminder: Blade Runner takes place only eight years in the future. LA has 106 million people and even with robot slaves, work has only gotten worse. Have a happy Labor Day weekend.

(a tip of the hat to Future Noir)