Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is a perfect example of how to effectively pull-off a sci-fi movie set entirely on Earth. You might be thinking: “Well you just set it in the future”. It is actually far more nuanced than that.
As much as the setting feels like another world, the plot takes place entirely on Earth. The environment feels fantastical and believable; alien and familiar, all at the same time.
The uncanny quality is achieved largely by the design. The cityscape borrows visual features from the timeline of Earth’s advancement in architecture and technology. Blade Runner’s world is a cross section of human development.
We see architecture inspired by the pyramids of Egypt, the first forward leap in human design. There are also giant smokestacks that resemble something we would see at the height of the industrial revolution, another huge advancement in industry. Giant LED screens are of course a dominant presence, the most recent technological development.
These aspects of the design don’t just bring the world to life, they support the film’s theme. Just like Kubrick’s ‘2001’, the plot involves artificial intelligence that has gone rogue. The message is that the hubris of man is dangerous. The design of the city shows us the gradual build to where humanity is now; under threat from its own creations.
The earthbound sci-fi is also achieved by creating the atmosphere of a journey into a brave new world, despite being at home. Ridley Scott achieves this right from the off.
The introductory shot is an aerial view of the futuristic landscape. The lights are effervescent and Vangelis’ ethereal soundtrack actually gives you a floating sensation. The following shot is a close-up of an eye, the lights of the city are reflected in it and we hear a piano key cascade. This scene promises the audience an adventure of neon wonders.
Ridley Scott achieves the atmosphere of a new world by blending imagination with the familiar. Many aspects of that world are not new to us but the characters allude to a life amongst the stars.