Ready set design

Blade Runner has some fascinating set design. It seems like most science fiction up to that time either presented a clean futuristic utopia or a primitive post-apocalyptic dystopia. In Blade Runner, it’s dirty, chaotic, run-down and overcrowded. The shiny and new exists alongside the old and decrepit, like in the real world. If we just look at the opening scene, we see a large city at night, with towering plumes of flame coming out of I don’t know what. There’s spaceship-type hover cars going into some massive building.

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Inside, it’s normal office space. The smoking man and the ceiling fan actually make it look dated to me. It could easily come from the 40s, except for the computer screen. But that makes it look dated too. It’s interesting how they thought transportation would advance, but video displays wouldn’t.

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The Voight-Kampff testing machine looks steampunk to me, although steampunk wasn’t a thing back then. Perhaps Blade Runner’s mix of the archaic and futuristic helped inspire steampunk.

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The set design raises issues of what is lasting and what is fleeting, nature and artifice – issues that are explored in the script. That’s design thinking at work – the decisions made in set design weren’t made for appearance or atmosphere but rather to support the message of the movie.

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