Study Guide

Blade Runner Setting

Setting

L.A. or Hell. A.?

Even when critics didn't like Blade Runner, they usually complemented the filmmakers on creating an amazing setting. Los Angeles in November 2019 is a dark, mysterious, decaying, and chaotic muddle. While it seems like a hellscape most of the time, it also has a weird, terrifying majesty to it—it's like some ancient Sumerian Empire, founded on slave labor. This is particularly true of the scenes where we see the expanse of the city—gigantic torches burning, Tyrell's ziggurat rising in evil splendor, huge electronic billboards hawking Coca-Cola, and Deckard's car landing on the police station.

But when the cameras take us down to street level, we get a different perspective. This future version of L.A. is a truly global city—people from all parts of the world are gathered together, and the city's street language is a mixture of many different tongues. However, the filmmakers don't make this look like a paradise of diversity; it's more like a world of struggle, with various groups all competing in a giant underclass.

The smaller, micro-settings add a lot to the movie too. The décor in Deckard's apartment is almost uncomfortably technological—like living in the tomb of a futuristic movie. The club where Zhora works, the sushi shop where Deckard eats at the beginning, and the cold eye-design lab where Hannibal Chew plies his business all showcase the city's diversity and sprawl. All different varieties of people are visible on the street—from people wearing traditional Chinese garb to punk rockers.

Credit Where Credit's Due

There were a bunch of artists responsible for the innovative set design and general look of the movie. Ridley Scott sought help from Syd Mead, a pioneering futurist who became the movie's lead designer (he also worked on Aliens and Tron), while also citing "Hong Kong on a very bad day," the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks, and the work of the French artist Moebius as important visual inspirations. A guy named Douglas Trumbull did the special effects. Critics have also noticed similarities to Fritz Lang's silent sci-fi classic Metropolis (source).

For the record, the movie actually was filmed mostly in L.A. (including in the actual Bradbury Building, where J. F. Sebastian lives) and in Warner Bros.' studios in Burbank.

SCORE: A Dude, Not a Band

If you happened to watch the credits (and who doesn't, right?), you might have noticed that Vangelis composed the music for the film. That sounds like a band name—but it's not. It's actually the stage name of a famous Greek composer whose full name is Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou. Like Cher and Madonna, this guy only needs one name. He tends to compose music with synthesizers and electronic instruments—but in a refreshingly not corny way.

Vangelis's most famous composition might be the immortal theme for the Oscar-winning smash Chariots of Fire. Feel free to run on a beach while you listen to this. When you've hit it that big, you can pretty much cash in and go home—but Vangelis stuck around. He composed the music for Oliver Stone's Alexander and Carl Sagan's TV Series Cosmos. But Vangelis's Blade Runner soundtrack is considered one of his greatest accomplishments.

Thesoundtrack to Blade Runner deliberately heightens the mystery of the movie. Vangelis doesn't really focus on the gloomy and decay-ridden side of the movie's world; he edges towards something like "teasingly mystical." He uses soaring synths and tinkling chimes to summon a feeling of eternal mystery, which helps give dimension to the pursuit of "more life" and true humanity that make up Roy Batty's quest.

At other times, Vangelis uses his score for more noir-ish purposes, for example when he gets into Rick Deckard's melancholy universe on "Blade Runner Blues." Take a listen—you can just feel the world of Blade Runner coming through.