Blade Runner reimagines the future and seamlessly marries film noir and science fiction. In the film, humanoid robots have become self-aware and decide that it is unjust for their short, four-year lifespans to be calculated by those that created them and have to find a way to override their self-destructing programming. In Blade Runner, a small group of humanoids, referred to as replicants, escape from their off-world and flee to Los Angeles hoping to find a way to escape their fate. However, since humans have determined that it is illegal for replicants to be on Earth, Rick Deckard, an experience blade runner, is contracted to assist the Los Angeles Police Department to exterminate the replicant threat. In the "Chinatown" scene, the audience is able to see how science fiction and film noir come together in terms of cinematography and mise-en-scene, and are given better insight into Deckard as an individual.
Blade Runner incorporates many elements of film noir into a futuristic world. Stylistically, Blade Runner is able to combine film noir elements with science fiction through the use of retrofuturism, which can be defined as the future seen from the past or the past seen from the future ("Retrofuturism"). In this case, both definitions can be applied to the film as it continuously references the past through its film noir elements and because it attempts to provide insight on how the world will be in 2019, approximately 37 years into the future from when the film was first released. Retrofuturism is used in the film's costuming, scenery, and technology such as the flying cars called spinners. Traditionally, film noir draws much of its influence from German Expressionism and its use of chiaroscuro, which create harsh contrasts, and its mise-en-scene, which includes costuming, dialogue, and characters. Despite the fact that the film is shot in color, as opposed to the German Expressionist black and white. In the film, chiaroscuro can be seen through the abrasive contrasts created between the dark and light, which includes the incorporation of the futuristic neon lighting that permeates the city. Because this "Chinatown" scene takes place at night, chiaroscuro effect is reversed. Whereas light is used to create harsh shadows and contrasts in traditional film noir, the overreaching darkness of night highlights the neon lighting and forces the lights to stand out from the rest of the scenery. The overabundance of pulsating lights also creates an atmosphere of overindulgence, a concept that continues throughout the film. These amounts of lights used emphasize the overreliance humans have on technology. Furthermore, because there is no natural light in this scene, it makes it appear as though there is a clear disconnect between technology and nature, a recurring theme in Blade Runner. The overall unnatural lighting of the scene emphasizes the unnatural state of being in the film. There is a clear unbalance between technology and nature, yet the film is dependent on having Deckard finding a balance between the two.
Blade Runner also references film noir through its characters and costuming. In Blade Runner, Rick Deckard fulfills the role of the traditional hard-boiled detective or private investigator. As Deckard's job as a blade runner had been eliminated, he was forced into retirement, however, is brought back into active duty when four replicants begin to terrorize Los Angeles. Deckard embraces the role of hard-boiled detective through his character, including his dialogue with the Asian chef and his costuming. In this scene, Deckard is shown wearing a London Fog type trench coat under which he is wearing a suit, which reminiscent of the costuming often found in 1940s films noir. Additionally, Gaff, who is escorting Deckard to see Captain Bryant, is also seen wearing costuming similar to 1940s film noir. In addition to the "traditional" trench coat, Gaff dons a black fedora, successfully completing his look. The juxtaposition of retro costuming coupled with the highly technologically advanced background, while risky, proves to be successful. This success is further facilitated by the fact that while the costuming style is referencing the 1940s, the materials and styling has been updated to compliment the futuristic environment. In the "Chinatown" scene, the marriage of between traditional and futuristic can also be seen through the extraneous characters' styling. For instance, throughout the seen, characters are shown utilizing light-up umbrellas to protect themselves from the environment.
The camera movement of this scene is used to drive the action and draw the audience's attention to Deckard, the central focus of the film. Film noir is known for its use of low angle, wide angle, and Dutch angle shots, in addition to distortion, disorientation, and deep focus. The "Chinatown" scene begins with a wide-angle shot capturing the cityscape above Deckard's location. This opening scene allows the viewer to see the futuristic elements, which are represented by man's ability to take over the sky (in addition to his conquest of land). The shot then transitions to a low angle shot that looks up to the stormy skies. This shot creates a depth effect that minimizes the viewer and makes it appear as though Los Angeles is towering overhead. These establishing shots are intended to overwhelm the audience and distort their perception of themselves. No longer are they an individual, but rather they are consumed by the mass of people surrounding Deckard. These low angled shots are also used to emphasize the angular scene construction that parallels German Expressionism and allows the viewer to better understand how light and darkness are used to create a feeling of tension and unease, which further distorts the scenery and disorients the viewer. This scene is continuously interspersed with low angled shots that emphasize the floating distractions overhead, yet another reminder that man has also conquered the air above him in addition to the land around him. As the scene transitions from the introductory cityscape shots into a high angled shot that slowly pans down to the street level and terminates with a medium close-up shot of Deckard sitting and reading a newspaper, the focus shifts from the anonymous city to the individual.
Deckard is an interesting character and continuously makes an effort to separate himself from the world around him. As is demonstrated by film's introduction to Deckard, he stands apart from the crowd. Additionally, it is clear that he has difficulty assimilating into the world around him, as he is unable to clearly communicate with the chef preparing his meal. While he is eventually able to place his order, his inability to clearly communicate exactly what he wants and instead eating what the chef gives him demonstrates that Deckard has become complacent with his place in the world, accepting the fact that he, at this point in the film, cannot make a difference regardless of how much he tries. Deckard's refusal to integrate into the world is also emphasized through his refusal to speak to the police officer and Gaff, and his reliance on the chef for a translation of the conversation. While the world changes and cultures become more integrated, Deckard still remains on the outside, which allows him to better differentiate between right and wrong instead of living in moral ambiguity.
Additionally, the mise-en-scene is significantly transformed as the shots transition from scenes that are unfocused in purpose and generally gray to scenes that are more focused and colorful. The panning and camera movement also guides the audiences' attention and forces them to pay attention to Deckard, whether they want to or not. When Deckard is finally called over the restaurant, close up shots of Deckard and the chef are used to emphasize the interaction between them, jump cutting from one character to the other in rapid succession. It is only after Deckard is able to somewhat communicate what he wants from the chef that the shots slow down and…