Extract from Teacher's Commentary: 

(DVD Chapter 1/2/3/4: 11 min’s)
Let the film roll until the camera cranes down into Bryant’s office

The film opens to the sound of an explosion that lasts only an instant. A high pitched musical theme follows with notes that seem to fall downwards from a great height. The credits roll as these two motifs interchange. On the screen a scroll rolls upwards giving the audience details of developments that the Tyrell Corporation has made in robot evolution. The capitals give the company and the machines status. The latest phase of robot is virtually identical to humans and is referred to in red font as Replicant. Red is the colour that signifies danger in European culture. The Nexus 6 Replicants are superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to their human creators. They are used as slaves in the exploration and colonisation of other planets. All of this information is given in the past tense getting the audience to read itself into a future time setting. All Replicants are declared illegal on earth after a bloody slave revolt led by a Nexus 6 combat team. Special squads of police, referred to as Blade Runners, were established to deal with any of them who returned to earth. Their orders were to shoot to kill and this exercise was referred to as retirement. The eerie musical theme includes clanging warning bells and sirens as this information scrolls up the screen. The film was first released in 1982. To the sound of multiple explosions the setting in time and place is given to the audience: Los Angeles. November, 2019. We know the city, and the date is not too far into the future. The conceit is that the audience is viewing the action from a time even further into the future than this.

A night-time cityscape appears on the screen and the source of the explosions is made clear to the audience: huge emissions of gas are being belched out of towers that are situated in the city itself, it seems. The city is vast and seems to be covered in a smoky haze of pollution. The camera tracks slowly over it and two towers can be seen rising above the other buildings. They look like Mayan pyramids and have beams of light shining out of their interior into the hazy night air. (The Mayans ruled to the south of Mexico and also used slave labour.) Flying machines travel overhead. A series of low angle shots emphasise the shape and huge size of one of the pyramids. There is an alternating series of cuts to an interior and a man smoking. This is Holden. The camera zooms to a closer shot of a window in one of the towers. The close-up of the eye might suggest to the audience that it is Holden’s or it may be read as a symbol of the function of this building: it rises high above Los Angeles looking out on the city. (The eye will form a major part of the imagery as this film develops the theme of seeing clearly.) This has been a classic establishing shot, very like the opening shot of e.g. Psycho: the place and time are designated and one feature of the opening image is emphasised as the location for the action that will get the plot rolling.

A female voice on the public address system announces the arrival of the next subject for whatever is going on in this part of the building. He is Leon Kowalski and he has been employed in the company for six days in the waste disposal department. An alert in Zone A, Sector 9 is announced as Leon comes to Holden. The camera cranes down to a chair suggesting that this is to be Leon’s place. The movement also establishes Holden in a position of superiority. As Leon takes his seat there is a repeated security alert for the Replication Section. As Holden sets up his Voight-Kampff machine, which concentrates on Leon’s eye, the latter looks around nervously and asks if he can talk. Holden tells him curtly not to move. We can see the name of the company, Tyrell Corp., emblazoned on the seat as Holden cuts across Leon telling him that reaction time is an important element in the test. The camera alternates between each of the characters as they speak. Once Holden begins the questioning, though, we cut to a closer shot of them both. When Leon asks if Holden is making up the questions the sound of a heartbeat comes on the soundtrack. We cut to a bigger close-up shot of Leon. There is a red glow in his iris. The camera holds on him in a long take as Holden’s voice, distorted with reverb, sounds from off-screen. A cut away from Leon shows a big close-up of the image of his pupil on the Voight-Kampff machine. As he leans back to explain that the purpose of the test is to produce an emotional response in the subject, Holden is at his most benign since the scene began. Leon relaxes and the heartbeat and menacing sound effects fade from the soundtrack. The easing of the tension is reinforced by the camerawork and editing when we cut back to a wide shot of the two men facing each other across the table. Leon reacts suddenly and violently, however, to Holden’s next question about his mother. Holden has got his emotional response. The reaction comes as a shock to the audience, as we have been positioned by the mise en scène to read the atmosphere as being calm again. Leon stands up to assert himself and fires a second shot to dispatch Holden. This image stands in stark counterpoint to the shot in which the camera craned down to show the seat that Leon was to occupy at the start of the scene. The power situation has been reversed. We are being positioned to view him as unstable and violent in the extreme. An enigma has been set up for the audience that requires answering: who is this man? what is motivating him? why is he so tetchy? and what issues has he regarding his mother? We might recall the warning that came over the public address system as he came into Holden’s office and wonder if Leon had anything to do with the security breach in the Replication Section.

In a picture on a huge video screen an oriental woman dressed as a Geisha shows a red pill and then places it in her mouth. A roof-top neon sign for PANAM lights up on the left of the screen. As a Coca-Cola sign flashes, a blimp crosses the screen from right to left. The lower part of the screen is lit with bright neon advertising signs. A cheerful voice announces: A new life awaits you in the Off-world colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure. The reference to Off-world colonies reminds us of the scroll at the start of the film: at this time in human history people have mastered space travel and have started to colonise other planets. They have developed robots to help in this endeavour by acting as slave labour. Los Angeles, the City of the Angels, is being presented as a place that has been destroyed by pollution and over-industrialisation so this kind of an option would appeal to people.

As the camera cranes down to street level we are presented with the glaring neon signs of shops and a noodle-bar. Rain pours down. (This will become a standard feature of the environment.) Crowds of people, many of them oriental, move along holding light-stick umbrellas. Others drink and dine at the counter of an on-street food stand. The camera tracks through the crowd and picks out one man. The tracking stops and the camera holds on him in the centre of the frame reading his newspaper. This is another establishing shot that works to get the audience to read the privileged position that is being given to the man reading the newspaper: he is being differentiated from the rest of the throng on the screen. This is a fairly conventional way of introducing the protagonist in a film. Though the street is crowded he sits alone waiting for a seat at an outdoor food stall. There is little of heroic status about him in this scene. The man is Deckard. The headline in his paper is saying something about “farming” and “moon” as the blimp re-appears advertising the Off-world possibilities for the citizens of Los Angeles. We get further information about what life is like in those colonies. To help on these new worlds there are "… Custom tailored genetically engineered humanoid Replicants designed especially for your needs." The cheerful voice continues with its sales pitch by chauvinistically admonishing the populace: So come on America, let's put our team up there! Deckard folds his newspaper once he is called by the chef in the noodle-bar. He has trouble with the language barrier, however, as he tries to get his order across.

Two figures appear behind Deckard as he waits for his meal to be served. We can see a badge on the man on the left who addresses Deckard first in a language that is referred to by the director, Ridley Scott, as Cityspeak. It is a mish-mash of European languages. When the man on the right, Gaff, speaks we can make out monsieur and bitte. Deckard doesn’t understand what they are saying and gets the chef to translate. The old man tells him he is being arrested and that he is a Blade Runner but Deckard gives no heed to what is said until the name Captain Bryant is mentioned.

Deckard is taken to a police car and Gaff flies him across the city to Police Headquarters. The musical theme starts up as the spinner, as Scott calls the vertical-take-off-and-landing squad-car, rises above the street. Announcements are made in German as Gaff pilots the vehicle. The musical theme plays through the journey and adds a sense of awe to the flight across the city skyline. This is reinforced by the graceful camerawork and slow editing. We are being given time to observe and marvel at the technological advances of Los Angeles in 2019. Huge screens on the sides of buildings advertise powerful corporations, PANAM again and RCA. Finally, there is a dissolve to the interior of Police Headquarters and the camera cranes downward through the vast interior to show Gaff and Deckard walking to Captain Bryant’s office. 

Extract from Student's Guide: 

Read the following questions and then let the film roll until the camera cranes down into Bryant’s office

What is a Replicant? How is this word presented to the audience? How did the Nexus 6 Replicants compare to the engineers who created them? What is the name of the company that created them? What were Replicants used for? What was their social status? What was their status after their rebellion? What orders had Blade Runners? What was the term used to describe the action they carried out? How are we being positioned to view Replicants? Where and when is this film set? Do you know when it was made?

What impression do you get of the city as the film opens? Do any features stand out for you? What do you think of the building that the camera is approaching? Does it remind you of any type of architecture you have seen before? What do you make of the big close-up* shots of the eye? Whose eye could it be? Might it be read as a symbol? Why does the camera zoom in on one feature of the building?

Who is next for the test? How long has he been with by the company? What is his function? What announcement is being made as he takes his seat? What aspect of him does the Voight-Kampff machine concentrate on? What favour does he ask for? How is he feeling? What request has the interrogator, Holden? How would you describe his behaviour towards Leon? Describe the camerawork as he refers to walking along in the sand. What do you make of the soundtrack as Holden tells Leon he is not helping the tortoise? Describe the editing at this point. How is it affecting the tension in this scene? List the cinematic codes that go to build up the tension in this scene. Describe Leon’s eyes as Holden talks on about the turtle. What is the purpose of the Voight-Kampff test? How does Leon react to the question about his mother? What do you think of this reaction? How were we prepared for it?

What is happening on the giant video screen in the next scene? What companies are advertised in other signs? What is being announced by the voice from the blimp that crosses the screen from the right? How does this fit into the narrative?

Describe the camerawork when the camera gets to street level. How does this type of camerawork position the audience? What further details do you pick up of the announcement from the blimp? Can you make out the reference to humanoid Replicants? How does the man, Deckard, get on with the old man serving the food?

Can you make out anything of what the men that appear behind Deckard are saying? Can he? What has the old man to say? What word does Deckard respond to? Who are these men?

Sample Comparative Mode



This mode refers to the world of the text:
- what kind of people live in this world?
- what sense of place is built up and how is this achieved?
- in what period is it set (time)?
To re-read the film in this mode you should choose a number of key moments (i.e. scenes or sequences) that feature the world of Los Angeles in 2019. You need to examine the power structures, attitude and values, rituals and customs of the people who inhabit this world - the ethos of their society. There are two sets of characters in this film: humans and Replicants. The scroll at the start of the film positions the audience to view the Replicants as slaves whose lives are of no value. Bryant tells Deckard that human society consists of police and “little people”. There is a lot of prejudice and hatred of the other in this future world. Many have abandoned earth and gone to live in Off-world colonies. Some people live high up in tower blocks. Others seem to live their lives in the grimy streets that are crowded with people of different races speaking different languages.

Make a list of the different characters presented to us in this film using headings like: the Police, the Tyrell Corporation and people who work for them, the “Little People”, the Replicants. List the settings that are associated with each group. Make a note of the people who move between the different groups in the city.

Choose three to five key moments that highlight features of the world of Los Angeles in 2019. Examine them by asking yourself what we learn about this * world under various headings e.g. values, manners, power structure, morals, lifestyle, occupation, home-life, attitudes etc.

* Get familiar with the key moments you have chosen by watching them again and answer all the questions in Stage One that relate to the Social Setting/Cultural Context in these key moments.

* People
Make a list of the groups that are presented to us in each key moment you have chosen. Ask yourself questions about them like:
How are the people in this key moment presented to us?
How are we being invited to view the people in this key moment?
What is the main concern of the people in this key moment?
Who has power in this world? How is this power maintained? How is that power used in this key moment?
What values do the people in this key moment see as important?
How do the people in this key moment behave towards each other?
Do all the people in this key moment behave in the same way?
Is there such a thing as freedom in this world?
What is the attitude of the people in this key moment to outsiders?
What attitude have these people to the society they live in?
What quality of life have the people in this key moment?
What levels of expectation have the people in this key moment?
How do these people compare with people in our world today?
Take note of the people that move between the different groups in the city. Ask yourself how do they do this and why.

* Place
Make a list of the settings we see in this film and link them with the groups you made above. The setting in this film is important. Architecture is used to show status: some people are high up and others low down; some settings are lavishly furnished and others are shoddy in the extreme. So place exists on a symbolic level in this film.

For each key moment ask yourself questions like:
What are the main features of this setting? What goes on here?
What is the atmosphere like here?
What kind of people do you associate with this place?
Is this a suitable place for what goes on in it?
How are we being invited to view this place?
Would you like to live in this place? Why? Why not?
Is anyone out of their normal place in this key moment?

* Time
In the key moments you have chosen what indications are there of the period in which the
action is set? How different is this world from ours of today?

* Repetition
A director may repeat dialogue, actions, camera angles, music etc. for a number of reasons. What examples of repetition can you spot in the key moments you have chosen? Do they form a pattern? What is the director’s purpose in such repetition? What effect has it on the audience’s view of the people and places in this key moment?

* Imagery
How is the mise en scène - costume, camera, dialogue and editing - used to get the world of the film across to us?
How are we, the audience, positioned by the camerawork, lighting and sound to view the people of this world?
Do aspects of the setting work on a symbolic level in this key moment?
Do any of the props take on a symbolic role in this key moment?
How is the lighting used in this key moment?
How is the soundtrack/musical score used in this key moment?