Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Memories of Nothing Green

Look 37 years into the future from, oh, 1975. You likely wouldn't picture the 2012 that we got. Most of us wouldn't have. A few correct details, maybe; mostly incorrect ideas of what would happen, almost certainly. Flights of fancy, those are allowed -- yeah, really magnanimous of me to say "Yeah, The Past, you can imagine whatever you want for what 2012 is going to be like"; do I expect the past to thank me? The past has already spoken for itself.

The designers of the wonderful, sad film Blade Runner were looking 37 years into the future when they imagined the world of that film, Los Angeles 2019. We'd be surprised if they'd gotten a lot of details right, or close to right. Of course, that wasn't their goal: they were designing towards a particular effect, a certain mood, for a city larger than a city could possibly ever be. (Just as the music of 2012 doesn't really sound like Vangelis, but by God the Vangelis music for Blade Runner is so right for Blade Runner, for the film's mood and atmosphere; realism in the music would have been a ridiculous, and unreasonable, expectation.)

An early draft of the Blade Runner screenplay set the story in "San Angeles," the idea being that the entire southern half of California, everything from San Francisco down, had developed into a single megalopolis -- hundreds and hundreds of miles of nothing but city. Come the final film, it was just Los Angeles again, but an impossible L.A., seemingly endless, developed everywhere, no green space, no lakes or even the Los Angeles River evident -- maybe there, maybe not, heck. maybe buried, plenty of rivers have been buried -- just endless buildings, industry, and neon. Presumably L.A.'s hills and mountains are still there, we just -- as far as I recall -- never see them. It's not like the city-planet Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels, built up so high (miles high) that the city is literally higher than the planet's highest mountains; Union Station is still there, as is the Bradbury Building. Ground-level L.A. still exists.

Ground-level L.A. has just been obliterated in parts, like where the Tyrell Corporation pyramids are. How big are those buildings? Each a mile square? I've seen the film maybe 10 times and I've never gotten a complete sense of how huge the pyramids are supposed to be: just that they are huge, likely the equivalent of several World Trade Centers. Probably they could almost comprise a city on their own. And as much as they dominate their part of the skyline, they are still a tiny part of this new Los Angeles.

A new Los Angeles that doesn't even show us a beach. Are the beaches still there? Are Santa Monica, Long Beach and Venice still there? Now I'm imagining this new Los Angeles possibly built out over the ocean, perhaps for tens of miles or more -- hell, it may make drilling for oil easier if you have something far, far larger than a modern oil rig from which to drill. That just occurred to me. And would even kind of fit into as world-punishing a place as this new Los Angeles is. Maybe that's why we see no mountains; we're too far west of them.

Los Angeles, the real one, has always been daunting to me. It's huge and, to me, amorphous: a seemingly endless spread, already seemingly impossible on its own, already, in the modern world, not just in one of my favorite science fiction movies. I last visited L.A. in 1995, for about a week and a half. One night during that I needed to drive back from Upland, where I'd visited a friend, to the campground where I was staying in the San Fernando Valley. I took a ramp to the wrong freeway, needed to take a circuitous route to get back on track, and logged 100 miles by trip's end. I then figured out that had I driven the correct route the whole way, I'd have gone...70 miles. Turned me off from wanting to consider Los Angeles as a place to live.

But I'd visit. Both the real Los Angeles and the Blade Runner Los Angeles.

What's on film in that film is not meant, was never meant, to be a literal Los Angeles. Much of it, of course, was a creation on the Warner Brothers studio back lot, with even more layers of production design than usual added to disguise that it was a studio back lot. Still, I keep wanting to imagine how this L.A. could be more real -- say, how it would look on a map. What is where and how it relates to what's around it; that sort of thing. (I am the sort of film fan who'd love to see a schematic of how the Rebel base on Hoth is laid out.) Heck, how could you show on maps the intricate aerial highways for spinners, blimps and other vehicles to use; that'd be a cartographic challenge on its own. Far more people would have to know how to read and use flight path maps than the number who do now.

But the world imagined for that film doesn't need it. That wasn't something the film's designers needed to do, to imagine how that L.A. could fit in the real geography of that part of California. I doubt that over a decade later, the designers of the 1997 Blade Runner computer game bothered to really detail L.A. qua L.A. Likely they mapped enough for the world to be navigable, to make sense, and to fit into the world as seen in the film; that's all. That's enough.

Now I can imagine having stress dreams of doing the impossible task of transferring Blade Runner's L.A. to a map. It would be fitting after this ramble. I'd rather just dream of the world of Blade Runner's L.A.

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