Some 40 years after its release, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner remains a masterpiece. A magical film set in a dystopian Los Angeles in 2019, the atmosphere that it conveys is quite different to anything we’ve ever seen. There’s a sense of tension that courses through the film, and together the visual components and the aural ones immerse us in this complex yet alluring depiction of the City of Angels, creating an emotive response that is unmatched.
Ostensibly, the film is an adaptation of sci-fi oracle Philip K. Dick’s masterpiece Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and whilst they share the same themes and some of the same plot points, the two can be regarded as two separate entities, unlike the relationship that other film adaptations have with their subject material, such as The Lord of the Rings, for example.
Fans of the book have pointed out that Dick’s novel explores a concievable future of civilisation where humanity has conquered other planets through neo-colonialism and left the unwanted, the jaded and the discarded back on Earth, which has become a dying world and wilted silhouette of its former self. Essentially a work of existential ponderance, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? explores its questions through the lens of a bounty hunter who aims to secure subjectivity by purchasing a real-life goat in a universe of clones.
However, whilst the themes it investigates are equally as deep, Blade Runner does away with this type of Nietzschean posturing and instead lets the audio-visual relationship do the talking by washing over the audience like a waterfall on LSD.
A transcendental experience, cinematographer Jodan Cronenweth’s use of chiaroscuros and neon compositions fuse the underlying neo-noir essence with an arthouse sentiment that leaves the watcher changed forever after their first viewing, as Vangelis’ score elevates what we’re seeing to a different level entirely.
In what is Harrison Ford’s finest role, he stars as a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard, who grapples with the implications of his own existence and that of those around him. His journey raises questions regarding post-humanism, ethics, violence and love by following a simple assassination mission. Whilst on the face of it, it’s a game of cat and mouse, by the end, after Rutger Hauer’s replicant Roy Batty delivers his iconic monologue about how his memories “will be lost in time, like tears in rain”, we’re left considering everything about life itself.
In fact, it is this scene where the aural genius of Blade Runner really comes to the fore, with the natural reverb and Vangelis’s powerful electronic score bringing all the themes of the film crashing into our brains, as we struggle to comprehend what our future looks like as Deckard clings on for his life, with Batty saying, “Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”
Although we’re acutely aware of it throughout the film’s duration, it is during this climactic scene that we realise just how effective the sonic choices are in conveying the themes. One would argue that this is Vangelis’ ultimate score and that Ridley Scott’s choice to utilise natural sound effects such as reverb is perhaps the best of his career, creating an atmosphere like an ellipsis in a graphic novel.
Without these sounds, it is likely that Blade Runner would not have become the masterpiece that we all know and love today, and equally why Denis Villeneuve had a hard time replicating the magic in 2017’s sequel Blade Runner: 2049. It’s a masterclass in how sound can make or break a movie and will likely be used as a prime example of this for as long as the film industry exists.
Luckily for us, YouTuber Nerdwriter1 has broken down the effectiveness of the sounds used in Blade Runner, and just how they play on the audience’s emotions. After watching, you’ll be astounded at just how multifaceted the movie’s use of sound really is.
Watch the video below.