Richard Edwards relives Blade Runner’s opening sequence.
Blade Runner is essentially one great big iconic moment of a movie. It’s one of the most imitated sci- fi films ever, a perfect melange of visual styling, hard- boiled cop drama and plausible dystopian future. But as great as “tears in rain” and poring over clues to Rick Deckard’s replicant status are, the scene that’s always stood out for me is the movie’s very first. Sorry Star Wars, but the initial frames of Ridley Scott’s sci- fi classic could well be the greatest establishing scene in the history of cinema. Eighty dialogue- free seconds tell you everything you need to know about the permanently overcast Los Angeles of 2019.
Massive balls of flame shoot into the sky from giant factory chimney stacks. A taxicab “spinner” flies past the camera. Lightning crackles from the clouds. And beneath them lies an expanse of streetlights. It’s a stunning view unlike any we’d seen before, a futuristic urban sprawl littered with oddly shaped skyscrapers and – eventually – the gargantuan shrine to ostentatiousness that is the Tyrell pyramid. As a piece of world- building it’s sublime, and – with the whole cityscape created as a six- metre- wide miniature – a wonderful testament to pre- CG model- making. But it’s also a work of art. The fireballs, flying cars and lightning bolts; the arty, seemingly random shots of an eyeball reflecting back LA; the camera zooming in on a window in the Tyrell building where Blade Runner Holden is about to test a potential replicant… Everything is choreographed to perfection against Vangelis’s synth score, music that’s simultaneously uplifting and melancholic, futuristic yet nostalgic for the past. If you meet anybody who fails to get an emotional response from such a sublime minute of cinema, you may just have caught yourself a replicant.