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Tag Archive: Syd Mead


Review by C.J. Bunce

Credit for the success of Blade Runner 2049 as a worthy sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner is a shared prize for director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario), the writers, including screenwriter Michael Green (Logan, Alien: Covenant), source material creator Philip K. Dick, and original Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher (The Mighty Quinn), plus at least two dozen other unnamed creators whose early science fiction works were mined for the story.  Predictable, derivative, slow-paced, and overly long, Blade Runner 2049 still lands as a solid sequel and will no doubt please fans loyal to the 1982 film.  The beauty of the sequel is the earnest, ambitious effort of Villeneuve under the eye of executive producer and original Blade Runner director Ridley Scott to give the story a reserved touch.  The sequel has the now classic dystopian look of the Mad Max or Terminator: Salvation variety, stretching the original Syd Mead futurism and punk noir vibe into a different but logical new direction–think Blade Runner with the lights turned on.

From the first scene Villeneuve & Co. dig in to not just sci-fi tropes but cyborg heavy themes that sci-fi fans know very well from similar explorations in countless books, television series, and films since the early 1980s, when the idea of adapting something like Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? into a big budget film was something less familiar to film audiences.  The filmmakers touch on many classics–Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Pinocchio, Shakespearean tragedy–to countless episodes of the Star Trek franchise (lead character and Replicant K/Joe played by Ryan Gosling revisits several direct themes the android Data explored in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  More than ten minutes is spent revisiting the latest technology called an “emanator” that Star Trek Voyager fans will be familiar with as the Emergency Medical Hologram’s “holo-emitter,” a device allowing holograms to move around the world.  What in the early 1980s may have wowed audiences is here not so eye-popping because of the legacy Trek tech called the holodeck.  But none of these flashbacks to sci-fi’s past really take anything away from the elements re-used in Blade Runner 2049 because they are all stitched together into a clean story.  To some it will be a Where’s Waldo? of sci-fi storytelling and to others the simple nostalgia of exploring Isaac Asimov’s themes of the Robot and the Self will be worth a revisit.

Many questions are asked in the lengthy 2 hour-and 43 minute-long film, and some, but not all, will be answered, disappointing a few loyal fans of the original.  Deaths of characters and actors since the original limit the return of certain characters from the original, but where they happen it’s done right.  One scene, however, is a complete misfire–a character walked onto the screen to the gasp of this reviewer’s theater audience, only to find it wasn’t really who was expected based on the build up of the scene.  But the biggest misfire is Villeneuve’s use of sound and score.  Thankfully for the reputation of Vangelis, which scored the original film, Villeneuve turned to Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer this time, creating a dreadful use of sound in a film.  Where the use of Vangelis’s synthesized cautious, futuristic melodies took a backseat to story and dialogue in the original, here Wallfisch and Zimmer lean on dissonant John Cage-esque chords and blare noises like someone sitting on a piano or a kid plugging his guitar into an amp for the first time, over and over, at full volume–the aural equivalent of J.J. Abrams lens flares.  The poor sound really takes away from a visual work that could have benefitted by a closer reflection of the use of sound in the original.  I.e. take at least one earplug along, especially in an IMAX or other digital theater.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Syd Mead, the famed “artist who illustrates the future,” is an icon of visionary design and illustration.  No other creator has shown the world a utopian vision of a possible future in so many ways.  At the same time he has created a world we want to see develop that lies ahead, we have seen his future begin to be realized.  His aerodynamic designs have influenced auto design in recent decades from car makers including Chrysler, Ford, and GM.  He has created the look of space technology that we all accept as believable thanks to his concept art–art that has influenced the art direction of films for four decades.  A new book published this month provides an in-depth intellectual review of Mead’s style, influences, and impact on the history of design.  The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist is a college level, art design course book of sorts that takes movie concept art to an entirely new level, a serious look at his style that will appeal to serious artists in any field, and a popular work for fans of the films he has inspired.

“What makes Syd’s vision so compelling,” says the book’s author, architect/designer and professor Craig Hodgetts, “is not only the means he employs to convey it, but the acute physical and environmental awareness: the endless curiosity about how the world works; the precise level of detail and the practical engineering knowledge that he brings to even the most fantastic devices.”  Beginning with the look of the both geometric and organic mechanical villain V’ger from the year 2273 in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture to a mid-21st century casino and hotel in this year’s Blade Runner 2049, Mead’s sketches, drawings, illustrations, and paintings have inspired and influenced the art design of dozens of movie productions.

   

Mead’s most groundbreaking and memorable cinematic visionary creations came in the 1980s with four films.  Returning to our theme of celebrating 1982 films, for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner Mead was influenced by Edward Hopper’s desolate cityscapes.  To translate author Phillip K. Dick’s writings into visual form, Mead and Scott took an idea of sculpture artists Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Stankewicz and author William Gibson.  The filmmakers lay claim to be the first to use their ideas of “retro-fitting” on film–the process of creating a unique object by means of a strategic assemblage of allied components; by harvesting parts from abandoned or obsolescent “donors” and re-assembling them, a new entity is created.  In the same year as Blade Runner, Mead saw his designs realized in the very different world of Tron, modelling a convincing digital world by extrapolating from the patterns of computer motherboards and other now obsolete technology of the era.  The giant screen-filling image of Master Control, the labyrinthine pathways for the lightcycles, and Sark’s hefty transport vessel all hailed from the mind and pen of Mead.  Taking the look of James Cameron’s original Alien film and modifying it significantly, Mead skipped the “slick shapes of Star Trek” and the “greeblies of Star Wars” to create what he envisioned as a “highly-engineered, purposeful vessel” where each feature could have a function, in the 1986 sequel Aliens In the same year, Mead created what would become an iconic image of the 1980s, Number Five the robot, the friendly star of the film Short Circuit.

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Elysium-The-Art-of-the-Film

Art designers or aspiring art design students will want to pick up Mark Salisbury’s new look at creating sets, costumes and props for a world of the future in Elysium: The Art of the Film Incorporating commentary from the up-and-coming science fiction director of the geo-political sci-fi thriller District 9, Neill Blomkamp, this new large format hardcover delves into the creative process from early ponderings to the imagery that made it to the final film cut.

Like listening to the first demo tapes of your favorite band or scanning the rough sketches of your favorite artist, taking a peek at the development of Hollywood magic through various aspects of a film can teach you a lot about a designer.  Watching the development of a cyborg exo-skeletal costume from inception to final crafted piece challenges the reader to agree or disagree with what is cut and what isn’t.  What physical elements, like utilitarian tubes and pipes, plastics or metals, make us think of the visual “future”?

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