DIRECTOR RIDLEY Scott's latest cinematic canvas, "Blade Runner," is the visual equivalent of Phil Spector's wall of sound.
It is a Hieronymus Bosch-like panorama on the silver screen. Paintings, models, props and actors are superimposed on celluloid in a tangled rendering of Los Angeles in the year 2019. "Blade Rrunner's" Ridleyville is the film's strength.
The seedy city is a science-fiction first, a world of the future that is unconcerned with spaceships, alien monsters and laser battles. Scott's inspiration came from artistic conceptions of past and future urban settings. He drew on Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" ("One of my hundred or so favorite paintings, but too austere for the kind of city I wanted to present.") and 1930s photographs. William Hogarth engravings were equally important. "Certainly the city based on the future would have a bustling quality that could be compared to old London," he said. Sci-fi illustrations in Heavy Metal magazine also contributed to his designs.
The result of Scott's technique is overkill. On the nightclub-sushi-bar strip, the atmosphere is crowded. Flying cars that open from the roof, old clunkers "retrofitted" with video and computers, a skyline dotted with familiar corporate logos: Pan Am, Coca-Cola and Omega. Floating billboards advertise the advantages of moving "off-world." Computer-generated voices, unfamiliar sirens, a melange of ethnic misfits jumble the landscape. The place is a combination of the worst of New York's Times Square, San Francisco's Chinatown and smog-ridden Los Angeles. Neon ads (in Japanese calligraphy) dominate.
Producer Michael Deeley acknowledges the look was "98 percent Ridley's conception," and says together they were trying to avoid making a "diagonal-zipper and silver-suit" movie.Instead, they rooted the sci-fi aspects firmly in present possibilities. Reasoning that in 2019 it will be too expensive to tear down aging buildings to build new ones, the designers "retrofitted" existing structures with all manner of higher-tech.
Each scene's effects required a combination of physical models from one to 16 feet in size, and as many as 17 other elements, painted or real. Film animation made the "spinner" cars fly. The 400-story pyramid-shaped building, a visual centerpiece, was meant to lok "egotistical," Scott said, liike something King Tut would have built. It required actual construction of five or six stories on Warrner's back lot using the well-worn New York set. The model was microscopically fitted to blend with a painted continuation. The smoke was a mist of low-grade diesel fuel that required the crew to wear gas masks.
Scott treated the matte paintings used to extend models as three-dimensional entities themselves. At times, cars soar into a frame, disappear behind the building in a painting and reappear on the other side. Puddles of painted water are made to shimmer through reflected neon. And rain shines in the lights of painted buildings with the help of light reflected off small dental mirrors.
All of the high-tech cars and street furniture were made to order; miniatures were not used. The designs were recast as filming progressed. The parking meters were originally intended as vid-phones. Later, they became beer pumps inside the nightclub. "That's the sculptural process of filmmaking," Scott said, "where you turn something on its side and it becomes something else." He credits "a thrifty art department" as well.
The producer soft-pedals the film's bleak message. "All we're saying is it's going to be even dumpier, tougher, grittier, more private than today," Deeley said. "It's set in a lousy part of town."