Monday, March 3, 2014

Character Design in Blade Runner

Though I was disappointed that Ridley Scott left out the majority of the themes that I loved in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I can accept that the laws that govern the making of good movies are different than those that govern the making of a good book. The science fiction aspects of Blade Runner were driven by music and imagery rather than by the psychological states of the characters. The interesting points made by Blade Runner can be found in the design and cinematography. My favorite part of Blade Runner is the way the character design of the replicants blurs the line between human and replicant in the way Dick blurred the line between human and android.
            Ridley Scott’s replicants appear in costumes ranging from completely normal to very strange, according to how human the character is. Rachel has a chic hairstyle that you might find in any other 80s movie while Pris Stratton’s hair looks like a cat that has been attacked by a straightener. Everything about Rachel is soft, while Pris wears black makeup and a studded collar. Rachel wears furry coats and business dresses while Roy Batty wears sharp black coats… or just his shorts when he’s feeling too much emotion. These costumes establish a gradient of humanity placing Rachel as the most human of the androids (which makes sense because she has always thought that she was human) and Pris and Roy as the least human. Had Pris and Roy looked less like albino punk rockers, the audience would have been better able to sympathize with their plight. After all, all humans struggle with the concept of mortality.

            I also enjoyed the way some of the humans’ costumes resembled technology. Hannibal Chew is the best example of this. When we see him in his lab, he is wearing an oversized fur coat that is attached to something (conceivably a heat source) with long tubes that look like wires. It’s almost as if he’s an android that is recharging itself. Tyrell also has the air of a robot about him. Half of the time, we can’t see his eyes because they are obscured by some of the thickest glasses I’ve ever seen. The light reflected by the lenses calls to mind the lights one might see in the eyes of a robot. These choices in character design provide us with the dehumanization of humans that we see in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Instead of mentioning inventions like mechanized religion and the Penfield mood organ, Ridley Scott shows us how humans have incorporated technology into themselves through analogy and costuming.

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