TALKING FILMS

The eyes have it: How seeing is believing in ‘Blade Runner 2049’

Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner’ is the latest movie to explore the eyes as a visual code for character and morality.

Even a brief glimpse of Blade Runner 2049 takes you straight into Deckard’s world. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece gets the colour palette just right, perfectly capturing the tone of the original.

Achieving the look and feel of the original Blade Runner (1982) is essential because appearances, vision and eyes are key to both the experience and the story.

Play
Blade Runner (2049).

Blade Runner was ahead of the AI curve when it made sci-fi arguments about identity and philosophy a mainstream concern. Is Deckard a replicant? Do androids have souls? What makes us human?

Play
AI in the movies.

In the original, seeking answers was all about looking at the eyes. The film’s Voight-Kampff “empathy test”, used by the Blade Runners to identify replicants, now has its own special place in popular culture. The striking image of a glorious blue iris reflecting fire and light has become a cinematic icon; and Rutger Hauer’s emotional final lines when his character, Roy Batty, succumbs to death are a sublime moment in film history:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die.”

Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner (1982). Image credit: Rutger Hauer official website.
Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner (1982). Image credit: Rutger Hauer official website.

And now Blade Runner 2049 appears primed to expand the exploration of eyes and identity with mind-bending visuals. In the neon flashes and noirish glimmers, Jared Leto’s character, Niander Wallace, muses on the act of creating replicants like a blind god. His white irises have a sinister and mysterious beauty, but they also belie any sense of limitation caused by his lack of sight – even though he can’t see, he has the “vision” to create or end life.

David Bowie was actually Villeneuve’s first choice for the Niander Wallace role. Seen as an influence upon Blade Runner “in many ways”, the late singer was also well-known for his distinctive mismatched eyes that gave him an otherworldly persona – an affect Leto created in his own way with “custom made contact lenses that turned his eyes totally opaque”.

Cinema has often used eyes as a visual code for character and morality. Traditionally, damaged eyes tend to represent “baddies” and corruption – suggesting an off-kilter world seen in a dark and dangerous way. The vicious scar Donald Pleasence has around his right eye as a highly memorable Ernst Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967) helps to make him an enduring Bond villain.

Play
Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967).

The Oscar winning Chinatown (1974), meanwhile, is full of cracked lenses, broken glasses and other means of distorting vision – ending with the disturbing shot of Faye Dunaway, as Evelyn Mulwray, with her eye socket blown apart by a bullet.

And as Carl Fogarty in A History of Violence (2005), Ed Harris relishes showing his scar tissue to the camera as he recalls his eye being ripped out with barbed wire.

Play
Chinatown (1974).

Cinema also has its fair share of “old crones” with cataracts setting curses (Drag Me to Hell); blind priests who have forsaken their faith (Father Spiletto in The Omen), and “mutants” with unusual eyes spying on unwitting victims (The Hills Have Eyes).

Computers and robots add a different twist to this psychopathology. The calm red lens of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Yul Brenner’s blank metallic eyes in Westworld (1973), and the persistent red dot shining out of Arnie’s silver skull in the original Terminator (1984) all project fear through a sense of the uncanny.

If the thought of a non-human consciousness glimpsed through the eye as a “window to the soul” is consistently unnerving, it is because instead of a human connection there is something else there entirely: the terror and wonder of the unknown.

By contrast, heroes are more likely to benefit from enhanced vision. Christopher Reeve’s Superman (1978) famously has X-ray eyes, while Keanu Reeve’s “Neo” in The Matrix (1999) realises his destiny as “The One” only when he can visualise the code world and see how to change its rules from within.

Play
The Matrix (1999).

But our changing perception of eyes and how we see them is also visible onscreen. We now have popular blind superheroes like Daredevil, on film (2003) and TV (2015 onwards), and anti-heroes like Elliot in Mr Robot (2015 onwards) who “sees differently” due to a strange combination of dissociative identity disorder and next-level hacker skills. Rami Malek’s starring eyes, somewhere between the unblinking focus of a screen addict and the wide-eyed paranoia of a drug addict, add a mesmeric quality to his performance of Mr Robot’s complex persona.

Back in Deckard’s increasingly toxic world, it looks like Niander Wallace is set to become an iconic cinematic villain in a film already seen by some as a masterpiece. His cloudy eyes feel well suited to the shadowy undertones of Blade Runner 2049, while his ability to create artificial intelligence offer a dark vision of the future. However bleak an outlook Blade Runner 2049 might visualise, films that look as good as this make it hard to take your eyes off the screen – and offer a glimpse of our future.

Kevin Hunt, Senior Lecturer in Design, Culture and Context, Nottingham Trent University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Not just for experts: How videography is poised for a disruption

Digital solutions are making sure it’s easier than ever to express your creativity in moving images.

Where was the last time you saw art? Chances are on a screen, either on your phone or your computer. Stunning photography and intricate doodles are a frequent occurrence in the social feeds of many. That’s the defining feature of art in the 21st century - it fits in your pocket, pretty much everyone’s pocket. It is no more dictated by just a few elite players - renowned artists, museum curators, art critics, art fair promoters and powerful gallery owners. The digital age is spawning creators who choose to be defined by their creativity more than their skills. The negligible incubation time of digital art has enabled experimentation at staggering levels. Just a few minutes of browsing on the online art community, DeviantArt, is enough to gauge the scope of what digital art can achieve.

Sure enough, in the 21st century, entire creative industries are getting democratised like never before. Take photography, for example. Digital photography enabled everyone to capture a memory, and then convert it into personalised artwork with a plethora of editing options. Apps like Instagram reduced the learning curve even further with its set of filters that could lend character to even unremarkable snaps. Prisma further helped to make photos look like paintings, shaving off several more steps in the editing process. Now, yet another industry is showing similar signs of disruption – videography.

Once burdened by unreliable film, bulky cameras and prohibitive production costs, videography is now accessible to anyone with a smartphone and a decent Internet bandwidth. A lay person casually using social media today has so many video types and platforms to choose from - looping Vine videos, staccato Musical.lys, GIFs, Instagram stories, YouTube channels and many more. Videos are indeed fast emerging as the next front of expression online, and so are the digital solutions to support video creation.

One such example is Vizmato, an app which enables anyone with a smartphone to create professional-looking videos minus the learning curve required to master heavy, desktop software. It makes it easy to shoot 720p or 1080p HD videos with a choice of more than 40 visual effects. This fuss- free app is essentially like three apps built into one - a camcorder with live effects, a feature-rich video editor and a video sharing platform.

With Vizmato, the creative process starts at the shooting stage itself as it enables live application of themes and effects. Choose from hip hop, noir, haunted, vintage and many more.

The variety of filters available on Vizmato
The variety of filters available on Vizmato

Or you can simply choose to unleash your creativity at the editing stage; the possibilities are endless. Vizmato simplifies the core editing process by making it easier to apply cuts and join and reverse clips so your video can flow exactly the way you envisioned. Once the video is edited, you can use a variety of interesting effects to give your video that extra edge.

The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.
The RGB split, Inset and Fluidic effects.

You can even choose music and sound effects to go with your clip; there’s nothing like applause at the right moment, or a laugh track at the crack of the worst joke.

Or just annotated GIFs customised for each moment.

Vizmato is the latest offering from Global Delight, which builds cross-platform audio, video and photography applications. It is the Indian developer that created award-winning iPhone apps such as Camera Plus, Camera Plus Pro and the Boom series. Vizmato is an upgrade of its hugely popular app Game Your Video, one of the winners of the Macworld Best of Show 2012. The overhauled Vizmato, in essence, brings the Instagram functionality to videos. With instant themes, filters and effects at your disposal, you can feel like the director of a sci-fi film, horror movie or a romance drama, all within a single video clip. It even provides an in-built video-sharing platform, Popular, to which you can upload your creations and gain visibility and feedback.

Play

So, whether you’re into making the most interesting Vines or shooting your take on Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, experience for yourself how Vizmato has made video creation addictively simple. Android users can download the app here and iOS users will have their version in January.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vizmato and not by the Scroll editorial team.