Category Archives: Film & TV

30 Years of Blade Runner

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” – Roy Batty

30 years ago Ridley Scott changed my artistic world. I genuinely believe Blade Runner was another one of those watershed moments in my formative cinematic movie going years. Although the main themes are based on Philip K. Dick’s brilliant Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which is more post-apocalyptic, and slowly paced in which Deckard is livelier and has a wife along with many other details. But I’m not going to dissect or theorise the book (I’ll leave that for others) but instead I’m going to look at why Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is such a monumentally and visually powerful film to me.
Blade Runner Spinner Police Car Future Noir
Released on Incept Date 25th June 1982, Blade Runner is considered ‘in my opinion’ one of the most influential science-fiction films of the 20th century. It was launched into my early Sci-Fi boom years when Star Wars ruled, which at that time filled me with optimism towards the future, but Blade Runner treated that outlook so much differently, instead we were shown an explosion of futurism blended with dark noir into a whole new visual style of movie making. This Future Noir, the Blade Runner look (which so many emulate today, even pop stars like George Michael with his Freak video) it was a look which lead us to one definite conclusion…the future wasn’t going to be happy place to be in. Blade Runner showed us a future where corporatism ruled, a planet in an ecological mess, and a population crushed into docile sheep, a rise of replicants more human than human, and our very perception of what’s real in jeopardy. It’s a wonder that Blade Runner didn’t twist my perception of the future and change what I am today.

It’s also hard to believe the film actual got made in the first place; when you look back how it all started, the script itself started nearly 40 years ago by a hot young script writer called Hampton Fancher in 1975 when he was given a lump of cash and told to go way and write anything, (lucky guy) but nothing materialised until his friend Jim Maxwell introduced him to Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (DADOES), which initially he didn’t like, although he could see a commercial line through it, purely about a bureaucratic detective chasing androids through a city…after all, his bottom line was just to write a script which made money. Producer Michael Deeley was pursued at the time by Brian Kelley to make a film based on Dick’s DADOES, he read the book and wasn’t interested. Kelly told Faucher this who then said Deeley was “full of shit”, so he wrote him a 5 page synopsis, which he said wasn’t brilliant but was quite interesting. Phillip K Dick didn’t like the synopsis either, he didn’t approve of a detective chasing androids, because ‘understandably’ he was really protective of the narrative within his book, mostly the themes about ‘what is human’ and ‘what makes us human’

From what I’ve read Faucher went away and wrote a smaller ‘low budget’ script about people taking in just apartments, with the threads of a planet outside that was slowly dying with biological plagues, death of animals, pollution and over population. He presented this second script to Deeley in ‘carrot-on-a-stick’ manner saying that other studios were now interested…there was no need, he thought it was “darn good” and within 24 hours it was a goer. The script at this time was called Dangerous Days, which the 1997 ‘Making of’ DVD was later called. Faucher originally wanted to call it Meccanismo after a comic book he’d seen in London at the time, he showed it to Deeley as it illustrated the grunge future style he was after, I’ve tried to source this comic book he reference’s but alas couldn’t find it anywhere. The title was later changed to as we all lovingly know it as Blade Runner after a title used by William Burroughs for a small book.

30 Years of Blade Runner The Eye ShotHere’s a great coup d’état, they all only wanted ‘one’ director at the time to film it and that was the brilliant Ridley Scott, so they went to see him while he was mixing Alien in London (I’d have loved to have seen that) but he declined, as he was moving onto Dune next, but not long after, Ridley’s older brother Frank died of cancer and not a man to mope about, the life and death themes of the Dangerous Days script he’d read suddenly appealed to him more than Dune (lucky for him), a film in-which he could get himself immersed in and forget the loss of his brother in this dark futuristic urban film noir.

On a side note: bring us to the present day 19th of August 2012, He’s about to embark on Bladerunner 2 and yet again has he’s lost another brother to cancer, Tony Scott who was his fellow business partner in Scott Free Productions committed suicide by jumping from the Vincent Thomas Bridge, which spans San Pedro and Terminal Island in Los Angeles after learning he’d got an in-operable brain tumour .. Been a superstitious type, it makes you wonder if Blade Runner is a cursed film for Ridley.

Back to Blade Runner, it was time for the money boys to come on board, and after various Dog and Pony shows with movie execs, Allan Ladd Jnr (the man behind the Star Wars money) was to lead it from the Warner Brothers side with 7.5 Million for the US Distribution rights and financiers Bud Yorkin & Jerry with the rest for all the other rights, including future DVD, which was a good move at the time, even though they couldn’t see it. They also included quite a nasty ‘over-budget’ clause.

Thankfully Ridley had his own firm ideas about Faucher’s ‘The hunter falls in love with hunter’ interior script and wanted to go outside the door to see this world that supported android tech, so he brought in some of the ace Heavy Metal comics with the works of ‘the late great’ Jean Moebius in them and said that this is the future noir we need, he also referenced other Sci-fi stylist of the time like Dan O’Bannon. It sounds like Hampton wasn’t happy at this, after all, this had been his baby for so long (10 Drafts so far) but Ridley wanted to ‘create a little bit more light in the corridors’ so they brought in David Peoples to refine the holes and fill in the dialogue, which he added the brilliant Roy Batty ‘Memories in the Rain’ closing speech which Rutger Hauer contributed to it as well. Hampton by all accounts ‘with his tail between his legs’ agreed Ridley was right about Peoples, and that the script had now become a much grittier film for the characters and the sub nature of the film…without this there would have been no Blade Runner. Yet again bringing us to the present day, it seems Hampton isn’t finished with Blade Runner, as he’s now working on a draft script for Blade Runner 2

With the script ‘finally’ in place, they needed actors, and they where so many that where on scouts list at the time, Tommy Lee Jones, Jack Nicholson, Robert Mitchum (the actor Faucher had in mind when he wrote the screenplay) Nick Nolte, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Peter Falk (laughs) and Dustin Hoffman who became the preferred choice and worked with them for a few months progressing his character, but Ridley thought it was heading in the wrong direction (thankfully), so Barbara Hershey introduced him to Harrison Ford who was filming Raiders at the time in London, he was perfect thought Ridley, there was only problem, Deckard wore a hat which they had to ditch because the Indiana Jones trademark associated with Harrison. Rutger was the easy one, he didn’t even do a screen-test and as he was the only one in the running for Roy Batty.  When it came to Sean Young, who I believe has the perfect looks for Rachael, but at the time was quite young and lacked good acting skills, so she had to be coached prior to shooting (and while shooting). The best character for me is Gaff played by Edward James Olmos, he had so much depth, and style, all of which Olmos did himself, from the wardrobe, the eyes and right down to the Gutter Speak, which he devised using a Hispanic, French and Hungarian dialect, it was so unique, nobody even knew what he was saying on set or what it meant, It wasn’t until the film came out in Hungary where they realised his opening speech to Deckard meant something completely different to them..

Ló fasz actually meant Horses Dick in Hungarian. 🙂

Syd Mead Blade Runner Concept Artwork 01
Next came the best bit for me, the designing of this Future Noir film, Production Designer Lawrence G. Paul was given a large eclectic old Warners’ backlot gangster street as his canvas to basically make his own rules, he had vintage designer Mentor Huber for the sets, Sherman Labby for story boarding and Tom Southwell for all the graphics, branding and signage, but Ridley kept saying use Heavy Metal as your inspiration. So next came his best move of all in my opinion…Syd Mead… the great futurist industrial designer of cityscapes, urban development & vehicles, originally brought in on a £1500 a day 15 day contract, working purely on a one-2-one basis with Ridley, but this then progressed into weeks and weeks of work (which alarmed the budget guys at the time). They had a seemingly elitist relationship, which worked in a way that until Ridley was happy, would any of Syd’s concepts filter down to Larry Paul’s team to progress.
Syd Mead Blade Runner Concept Artwork 04   Syd Mead Blade Runner Concept Artwork 02   Syd Mead Blade Runner Concept Artwork 03   Syd Mead Blade Runner Concept Artwork 05
Syd Mead Blade Runner Concept Sketchbook
One of the beauties of this concept work was that he wouldn’t do a single object, he had to do it institute, so his final renders also created the mood, the architecture, the lighting…he became The Blade Runner Stylist. This was precisely what Ridley needed, for his set was the Landscape to him, the “landscape proscenium” was a character to him, sometimes to the irritation of actors and one famous critic said of Blade Runner

“He seems more concerned with creating his film worlds than populating them with plausible characters, and that’s the trouble this time, Blade Runner is a stunningly interesting visual achievement, but a failure as a story” Roger Ebert June 2, 1982

You could apply the same critique to his new film Prometheus.

I’ve read that the actual filming through to the final editing was what can only be described as traumatic for everyone involved, mostly due to Ridley’s exacting ways which the American crew couldn’t get to grips with, but most of all the pressure applied by the money men Yorkin & Perenchio didn’t help with their bond completion company taking ownership of the film when it ran over its budget. There was also the wrangle at the end over the voice-over, which Ridley didn’t like, sadly this was taken out of hands and then released to the film going public without his approval. Having seen and own quite a few versions of the film myself ‘with & without’ the voice-over, it all comes down to personal preference, for me it depends on my mood at the time as I quite like both.

I witnessed my first screening of Blade Runner in 1982 at my favourite Picture House ‘The Lyric’ and was totally hooked with just that brilliant New American Dictionary description of a replicant in the opening credits.

replicant\rep’-li-cant\n. biologically produced synthetic
human with paraphysical capabilities [also (slang) rep,
skin-job, tit-job (fem.)adj. having skin/flesh culture. See
also robot (antique), android (obsolete), nexus (generic).

Blade Runner Explosion Future NoirSadly it didn’t go very well at the box office that year, with some saying it was a rather Sci-Fi ‘Art Film’, a film of future dystopia which the audience couldn’t stomach, which was no surprise as they’d just been a fed a happy comfort food film like ET. The film roster for that summer was also unusually full of ‘squeaky clean’ films like Poltergeist, Tron, Rocky III, Officer & a Gentleman, Firefox & happy Sci-Fi films like Star Trek II. The audience weren’t prepared for this future noir were everything wasn’t pristine, although I have to say Ridley’s stab at this visually stunning future is ‘still’ probably the most accurate of all future films to date.

Sub Note:

Sadly Philip K. Dick’s died on March 2, 1982, only months before it opened, but he summed up the film in this extract from a letter written to Jeff Walker following a screening he had with Ridley in December 1981 of the film’s first twenty minutes.

Philip K Dick with Ridley Scott

“Let me sum it up this way… I did not know that a work of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner. Thank you… it will prove invincible.

Cordially, Philip K Dick

Source philipkdick.com

Blade Runner Deckard Future NoirMost of the people involved were recently asked to sum up what they thought of the film and their experience, collectively it just about sums up Blade Runner

Sean Young (Actress)

“When it first came out it was too intense to let in, the darkness and the poverty and the projection of what life would be like in 2019”

Syd Mead (Concept Designer)

“What Ridley created was very intense, this Multi layered investigation into how that world might be”

Darryl Hannah (Actress)

“You have all the tools, colours, toys…everything at your disposal to transport you to an imaginary world”

Hampton Fancher (Joint screenwriter)

“It was a bitch, working every night, all night long, often in the rain, so it wasn’t the most pleasant shoot”

“The chaos of that production…everybody hated it, people don’t want to be in movies after working there”

“It’s like all those things informed us in a magical way almost”

Rutger Hauer (Actor)

“It was enormous, overwhelming, beautiful, enormous, great and …erm…I was living it”

Douglas Trumbull (Special Effects Coordinator)

“I don’t think people on this crew understood how far Ridley was pushing the medium”

David Peoples (Joint screenwriter)

“How do you prepare the audience for seeing something very different…now time has prepared them”

Edward James Olmos (Actor)

“It was so dark, and so intense and so beautifully constructed”

Ridley Scott (Director)

“I was absolutely about coordinating beauty ‘shot-by-shot’ ‘frame-by-frame’…my weapon is that camera and I will get what I want to. If your there with me, great!, if you’re not there with me.. TO BAD!”

Happy 30th Birthday Blade Runner

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Mega City One

Mega City One from Dredd 2012
The recent images and trailers coming from the New ‘Judge’ Dredd movie are quite spectacularly gritty ‘and’ in some cases the ‘Red-Band’ trailers are quite gruesome: but this is what I’d come to expect from Judge (Joseph) Dredd from my early Comic Book Days. After all, he is the most badass and famous of ‘all’ the elite corps of Street Judges that ran Mega-City One. Some of the best imagery to be released from the new film is their ‘Future Noire’ vision for Mega-City One, which personally I think they’ve got absolutely spot-on. Almost precisely how Ridley Scott nailed the visual landscape proscenium for BladerunnerMega-City One from Dredd
Mega City One Justice Department from Dredd 2012
But with such a back story…what is Mega-City One? :Well..Mega-City One is this huge fictional city-state covering much of what is now the Eastern United States in the Judge Dredd comic book series. The exact boundaries of the city depend on which artist has drawn the story. The city seems to have grown outward from the present-day Northeast megalopolis, extending down to the Atlanta metropolitan area southwards, and the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor northwards.
Mega City One and Judge Dredd from Dredd 2012
The origin of Mega-City One evolved out of a growing urban conurbation stretching from Boston to Washington, which took form in the 21st century to cope with the escalating population crisis in America and – due to the high crime rate – led to the introduction of the Judge system. Originally centered on New York City, eventually Mega-City One stretches all the way from Washington to Toronto, and down to Miami, Florida. Mega-City One was one of three major areas to survive the nuclear war in 2070, due to an experimental laser missile-defence system built not long before. Quickly growing outwards, Mega-City One swelled to hold most of the population of the East Coast, reaching 800 million by the end of the century. The population and city sprawl was halved by nuclear attack and Soviet invasion in 2104 (in the 1982 story The Apocalypse War), with the loss of the entire south in a saturation nuclear strike. It remained at around 400 million until it was reduced to 50 million in 2134 (the 2012 story Day of Chaos).
Block Wars in Mega City One from Dredd
Mega-City One has a far greater population density than any city in the present-day world. Most city dwellers (citizens) live in huge apartment blocks (50,000+), and due to this close habitat living it sometimes escalated into the notorious Block Wars, though many of the Mega City One citizens lived a perpetually nomadic existence in vehicular mo-pads (mobile homes) due to this inadequate and crowded housing provisions. These citizens travel the city via the many futuristic public transport routes available, rarely stopping. I was quite envious of some of these quite luxurious mo-pads, complete with swimming pools and countless gadgets.
Mega City One Skyscraper from Dredd 2012
Much of the city was destroyed by nuclear warheads in the Apocalypse War. A small part of the city, known as the North West Hab Zone, became separated from the rest of the city by a stretch of radioactive wasteland called Nuke Alley. The Hab Zone is connected to the main city by a bridge. A tunnel is under construction.

For administrative purposes the city is divided into 305 sectors, most of them renamed to fit the new size of the city after the Apocalypse War. Sectors 1 (the centre) to 300 constitute the main city. Sectors 301 to 305 form the North-West Hab Zone; Sector 301 is disparagingly nicknamed “The Pit” due to its high crime rate.
The Cursed Earth from Dredd 2012
Outside of Mega-City One, most of the United States has been reduced to the Cursed Earth after a nuclear war.

All we do now is wait for Dredd 3D The Movie to be released in the UK on the 7th September to see if they’ve captured the true essence of Mega-City One.

[Reference] Wikipedia & Comics from the Attic 🙂 

Prometheus Review

MilnersBlog The Concept Art of Prometheus(SPOILERS)
(Pro·me·the·us)
A figure, who represented human striving,
Particularly the quest for scientific knowledge,
And the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences.

A lot of weight rests on the shoulders of Sir Ridley Scott after 30 years hiding behind historical pursuits he’s back to show us kids how it’s done. Known for rewriting the science fiction rule book alongside Lucas and Kubrick, Scott has expectations to meet with his latest film Prometheus.

Before the viral campaign and even before the teaser trailer of the teaser trailer came out we were presented with the tag line: “They went looking for our beginning. What they found could be our end.” translation: An Alien prequel on creation. It seemed an interesting but barely touched subject in film, and with Ridley at the helm an exciting concept. It’s been a long while since a sci-fi film has a budget to match its ideas. Over the years surviving off early 90’s copycats and obvious Scott inspired pieces such as Moon, Pandorum (2009) and Sunshine (2007) we were in desperate need of our knighted director and here is back in his most successful arena…

Prometheus opens up with naturalist cinematography; panoramic shots of evolving terrain feed our appetite for spectacle making us reminisce on the Blade runner cityscapes. The grandeur score composed by Gladiator’s Marc Streitenfeld is woven flawlessly into the landscapes and works well to draw the audience in for that all important first scene. It doesn’t take long to foresee that this is no Alien, without having to wait for John Hurt to cough up his super noodles just minutes in we get our extraterrestrial, killing all hope for tension. Designed as a Titan Michael Angelo the humanoid (or engineer) is one of the films early surprises appearing briefly alongside the familiar fade-in credits. It is plain to see the film lacks the suspense of its classic origins opting out of the horror sub-genre and edging more towards thriller. Within the film we are presented with themes of humanity religion and the classic stables gender, pregnancy, nature and comradeship, parallels that can be drawn out clearly from its predecessors.

The design of the film is hard to flaw with the super visual effects company Weta digital seducing us frame by frame we can see this is going to be a treat for the eyes. Scott has more freedom technically and financially to mould his vision this time round and ultimately more power. Known for being a world-builder Riley’s Roman empires and dystopian cities have left permanent imprints in our minds. He now seeks to unveil a world that Alien could never have dreamt of, the spine-tingling claustrophobic atmospheres created three decades ago have been replaced by vivid open almost staged areas. The beloved space jockey set has been enlarged no longer needing Ridley’s kids as stand-ins as the mysterious control room is now double in size. The leading lady herself Prometheus reflects a perfect representation of the elusive Weyland company too uptight to show her bare wires a professional through and through. The eerie narrow corridors of the derelict ship have been Widened and de-fogged, improved with a few new H.R. Giger’s murals put in place for the diehard fans.

The spaciously designed sets though beautifully sculpted unfortunately kill the tone of the film; having so much to play with this time round it seems riley’s design ideas are basically Alien with hairspray losing a lot of its inherited charm. A promising department is in the costume design, Oscar-winning designer Janty Yates will defiantly be up for some more nominations next year with her sharp intricate designs shaping characters such as the elusive Meredith Vickers. Merit should also be granted to the creature design team the not yet evolved viper-like beings (though slightly ruined by Spall belittling the alien like it’s some common Jack Russell) have us drooling in anticipation for the DVD extras.

Tragically the main let down of the film is its dire screenplay written by Damon Lindelof a TV writer (Lost) who seems to have all of the major studios eating out of his predictable palm whipped us up a script both marketable and patronising. The no bullshit crew of the Nostromo have been downgraded to a laid back accordion playing captain and his betting lackeys; playing trivial one-liner types. The dialog seems to have lost all seriousness in pursuit of gaining a mass audience. Rafe Spall (the comedic spawn of actor Timothy Spall) alongside Sean Harris are pushed aside early on in the film cowardly separating from the group like cartoon duo Shaggy and Scooby making the expedition appear like some immature field trip.

The robotic ice queen Meredith Vickers played flawlessly by Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron (monster) is another let down, her hidden agendas giving us hope for a weyland-yutani company backstory instead progress to a mini family soap opera. But on a lighter note providing the film’s most shocking moment is our would be protagonist Elizabeth Shaw, The Ripley reincarnate played by iconic Swedish actress Noopi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is a god fearing scientist with a love for do-it-yourself surgery giving an on-screen c-section that us girls won’t be forgetting for a long time! The ballsy female though lacking Ripley’s butchness is one to watch. Another act that really stands out is Irish-German born actor Michael Fassbender his catalytic performance as the ‘I’m-a-real-boy’ David certainly attempts to hold the film together, the android Pinocchio models himself off Peter O’Toole’s performance in Laurence of Arabia; the character famously known for his struggles with personal identity and his divided allegiance makes a perfect preface for David’s character and themes to come.

Prometheus is certainly not a bad film the ideas and intent are clearly there; to critically shun the film on all sides would be ignorant. Were the film downgrades in story it beautifully upgrades in design deserving to be appreciated on the best platform possible: IMAX. The incomplete feelings were left with at the end of the film is muted by the arguably studio prompted sequel bait. The unanswered questions are packed away with post surgery Shaw as she is whisked away in the derelict ships twin. If the studio hits it target then Pandora’s box will hopefully be opened in years to come, so buy your cinema tickets and wait in anticipation.

VERDICT: We have jumped from a tension built Hitchcock to a shock horror Wes Craven. A design monument of the moment, certainly no classic.

2.5/5

FAMOUS LAST WORDS: “With science-fiction you have the opportunity of being able to do anything you want, with the digital assistance, and it’s up to you to not do anything foolish or silly or daft, or non-credible” Ridely Scott.