Science-Fiction with an Angle

By Maria Caldwell

Bladerunner is a science fiction film that is focused on the human struggle for identity. While Bladerunner is science fiction, the movie is also a means of communicating complex ideas, such as "What defines the human?" A science fiction movie that attempts to convey such messages to the audience needs to fulfill certain criteria to be effective.

One of the most important components of a science fiction film is that it is grounded in technology and techonology's effect on the future. Technology is essential for a science fiction movie because it is an integral part of the "science" in science fiction. Bladerunner fulfills this criterion because technology is a fundamental aspect of the plot. The main characters in Bladerunner are Replicants, products of advanced technology. The problems that arise from this technology are the focus of the film's action. Technology has made the Replicants so similar to humans that the even Bladerunners like Deckard, who are hired to kill Replicants, have a hard time distinguishing them from humans. It takes a complex analysis of verbal responses and bio-feedback using the Voight-Kampff machine, also created by technology, to make the distinction between the artificial life and the human.

Technology has not only created the problem of the Replicants, but it is also used to eliminate them. For example, Deckard uses a voice controlled machine to zoom in and focus on the indistinct background of a picture he found in a Replicant's apartment. He contacts Racheal using a telephone that has a screen to allow the users to see each other. Creating the illusion of Bladerunner's advanced technology is aided through the use of special effects which are the second criteria for a good science fiction movie.

Cool Cars, Big Explosions, and other Neat-O Stuff

A good science fiction film should make use of special effects without overdoing them so that they become the focus of the film. Special effects are necessary to give the illusion of the future because people expect that life in the distant future will be different from life today. The effects are the means of portraying the advanced technology that is needed to make the film futuristic. The special effects in Bladerunner are not used prominently, but too many effects would have detracted from the story line and taken the impact out of the movie's messages. The most dramatic use of special effects in the film are the spinners, such as the one Deckard rides in to the police station. The low, flat design and black body give the vehicles a look of authority and speed as they fly through the air.

Other less spectacular uses of special effects include the makeup, such as that used on Sebastian's Keiser Wilhelm. Special effects also includes the elaborate set that creates the backdrop of the city, smaller effects such as Priss sticking her arm in boiling water, and the array of machines that are presented throughout the movie. All of these elements help make the movie believable, which is the third criteria for a good science fiction movie.

The Believability Factor

Perhaps the most important component for a science fiction film is that the plot is within the realm of reason. The audience must be convinced that the future that is portrayed in the movie is a possible outcome of today's society. Because the technology in Bladerunner is grounded in scientific research that is currently underway, the prospect of human clones is altogether believable and terrifying enough to make the film engaging for the audience. Movies such as The Blobor Attack of the Killer Tomatoes have antagonists that are so unrealistic that the movie becomes a comedy or horror film, even if it has great special effects and a plot based on science/technology.

In addition to these characteristics, the film should use symbolism through multimedia if its intent is to transmit messages to the audience. Symbolism is necessary to project the messages without distracting the audience from the action in the movie. Overt messages may result in the destruction of the illusion of reality that has been created by the movie. An example of a message presented through Bladerunner's use of multimedia is anti-Japanese sentiment. The fear of Japan's increasing global power is displayed through the use of dialogue, color, and imagery in the film. A huge video screen looms over the city and displays a Japanese advertisement. The language used on the streets is mainly a mix of English and Asian languages. There are also several prominent shots of the Atari sign on a large building, suggesting that it is an important business in the city. In this still, bright neon signs displaying a symbol language dominate the city, giving it the look of a futuristic Tokyo. The "Japanesed" future portrayed in Bladerunner gives an intentional message. The movie was made in the early 1980's, a time when the United States main competitior was (and still is) Japan. Bladerunner uses symbolism through multimedia to show the audience the effect that a strong Japan will have on the future of the United States.

Bladerunner is a good science fiction movie because it fulfills all four of the stated criteria, but it is a good movie because it uses these criteria to create a movie that can be experienced on many levels. The conflict that has been created by technology brings up many topics that the viewer can internalize and take home with them long after the film is over. For example, the relationship between the Replicants and Tyrell, their creator, has been likened to man's relationship with God. The use of Replicant animals suggests that wildlife will be extinct in the future, a reference to modern society's abuse of the environment. The use of a hired mercenary as the hero brings up questions concerning good and evil. These subjects are presented in a skillfull manner that allows the viewer to take what they want from the film. Whether that is complex analogies or just plain adventure depends on the viewer's needs.

Written by Maria Caldwell

Copyright Maria Caldwell, 1998.

Image artwork by filipehattori