The choice between shooting in black and white and color is actually quite a significant one.
From the aesthetic end of the spectrum, choosing how a movie “looks” is choosing the psychological, emotional, and narrative space that an audience inhabits while watching the movie, and a key role of being a director artistic or commercial is choosing how a movie looks in advance and maintaining that consistent look throughout the production.
From the technical end of the spectrum, black and white “sees” light differently from color: the proof of this lies in the pink castle Joan of Arc was shot in, which we the audience cannot see because the film print gives us a rich gray tone that was achieved using that particular hue of color. Changing Blade Runner to black and white would certainly change the way many shots, even the almost completely black and white looking ones, are lit and composed.
From the narrative end of the spectrum, many ideas and concepts from the film are informed by the choice of color palette—thus why DVDs sometimes come with extras called “From Concept to…(usually some pun on the title)” or “Includes Concept Art Featurette” or whatever. But beyond DVD extras, figuring out how a movie’s story and themes are expressed involves symbolism, art direction, and applying the technical and aesthetic to a filmic grammar.
From the commercial end of the spectrum, choosing to make a film in black and white is a real box office risk no matter what the quality of the film and fame of the actors/directors, but choosing to shoot in color is more expensive. Costs must be weighed against projected gains.
In the case of Blade Runner, I believe the switch to black and white would be detrimental to all four of these considerations. Aesthetically, the neon landscape sets Blade Runner in a post-modern or cyberpunk space that engages the dialog between artifice of the hyper-real saturated colors and the rotting, blackened buildings that are the real result of that artifice (keep in mind that artifice versus reality is an essential theme in the idea of replicants as well). Technically, as dark as Blade Runner is it required a lot of very precise lighting that a switch to black and white would have changed significantly, meaning that imagining the movie in black and white involves not just taking the colors out by changing television settings, but imagining the movie with entirely new compositions as a whole—and then it wouldn’t be Blade Runner and quantum considerations of possible results that nevertheless have no basis in the reality of the issue would be the only thing left. Narratively, the sunset-colored space of the Tyrell Corporation, the neon landscape of the city, and the vegetative landscape of Deckard’s dreams set in motion the interests in play as well as the symbolic setting of the action, and would be more difficult to achieve under black and white cinematography (for instance, the Tyrell Corporation would not look so different from the rest of the places Deckard visits without major adjustments to set design). Furthermore, hint and spoiler alert, every replicant in the movie at one point or another has a red glow in his or her eyes. Check it out. Finally, commercially this was a very big movie for Ridley Scott and the studio’s interests in the outcome is well documented, from the enforced happy ending and voice over narration of the initial theatrical release, to Harrison Ford’s at-the-time star power and the influence of Star Wars on science fiction box office returns, previously not given faith because science fiction was popularly considered a b-movie affair in the first place. Setting the movie in black and white would have been box office poison for the type of feature this was and in our quantum alternative history, we probably would not be having this discussion because few of us would have seen it in the first place (and those of us who did would be pissed off that it wasn’t a more popular and widely received movie).
There may be some movies that are better for this discussion. Certainly there are many movies that were intended to be shot in black and white, but interests or other decisions took over and color was decided on instead; and probably vice versa as well. In the case of Blade Runner specifically, I believe color is such an integral part to the movie that has been achieved that changing it to black and white would significantly alter the results of the product we have, and thus change the entire movie as a whole. Whether that would be better or worse is difficult to argue simply because it just didn’t happen.
what he said!
Yes. Just yes, Polaris.
My apologies to the world of my fellow cinephiles. I know that this was far fetched but what the hell, just wanted to see what you think.
“THe problem with Blade Runner is that it lacks drama and tension, the bad guys are a bit cheesy, and there is no humor in the film.
It takes itself too seriously for the bad guys to be as campy as they are, and Ridley is not the best at drama or suspense-which is what you need in a noir, neo or otherwise."
As to the topic at hand, the color palette doesn’t date the film, the garish synth score does.
Getting back to sci-fi though: maybe Gattaca? It’s hard to say, but I’d go with any film that isn’t very expressive with its palette or is very much inclined towards a particular range of colours.
Actually, Deck, Gattaca was very strongly blue and yellow/sepia:
^ That’s true. God, I gotta watch Gattaca again, it’s been a few years.
No, the colors were right-on in BLADE RUNNER.
This does bring up another interesting question, though:
Anyone notice the color changes in the FINAL CUT compared to all previous cuts to go along with the contemporary cinematographic trend of more monochromatic washes and in general desaturated hues? I sure did. And I think it’s stupid (so, no, B&W wouldn’t be the way to go). First noticed it in a digital screening of the FINAL CUT. When I got to see a 35mm print of the FINAL CUT about a month later, the subtleties of the color palette were much broader and more interesting, but still, just comparing the discs in the boxed set, I’d take the old garish color design any day over the “new and improved” less-80s crap we’re left with.
Also, the garish synth score definitely does date BLADE RUNNER, Julio…when it’s not too busy RULING AS THE BEST SCORE EVER. But, yeah, the “Love Theme” is a bit much. To all interested, please refer to the alternate love theme used in the workprint which is a way better, more varied, and more dramatically interesting cue.
Off the topic of color and on the topic of score, here’s a good spot to get the most comprehensive version of the soundtrack (bootleg “Esper Edition” that’s in fact pretty widely available by this point):
MYERSC, your question was not ridiculous. It has stimulated thought and discussion, even though most disagree with your thesis.
The technical, aesthetic and commercial concerns that PolarisDiB discusses cover a lot of reasons that Blade Runner wouldn’t work as well in black and white. I’m not sure that the expense part is right, since almost everything is shot in color now, and I have read that there are less sources for black and white film stock and processing.
Film noir was mostly shot in black and white because most movies were done that way at the time. Color was mainly for musicals and a few prestige movies. I think that there should be a clear reason for a movie to be in black and white now. The most obvious reason would be to evoke a period when movies were usually black and white, as Raging Bull does. This doesn’t apply to Blade Runner, which is set in the future. I think the darkness and rain is meant to suggest the atmosphere of noir, although it also serves the sci-fi themes of resource shortages due to overpopulation, and possibly climate change.
I’m not a fan of the current trend of changing the color of movies to create a mood. I think this is either a meaningless “statement” or worse, takes you out of the film by reminding you that this is not the real world. My son was watching Band of Brothers a few days ago, and I was wondering whether a battle in the rain was actually in black and white, until I saw that a few objects were more or less normally colored. I guess the director and cinematographer were saying something, but I have no idea what it was and don’t really care. I just saw pretentiousness. However, the use of color and light in Blade Runner to show us that we are in a different world, and suggest something about the ways that this world is different, seems entirely appropriate.
Happy to disagree with your premise about a film that I love. I also prefer the original theatrical cut, with the voice-over narration that suggests mid-1940s film noir, don’t think Deckard is a replicant mainly because the story seems less interesting if he is (to me he seems less human than any of the four replicants, which isn’t very interesting if he is a replicant), and didn’t like “The Final Cut” very much. I believe that most people disagree with at least one of these opinions, and I won’t take it personally if they say so unless the names that they call me are particularly vile.
Timecrimes might look better in B/W. Maybe The Blair Witch Project might too.
It’s hard to say with films these days, really, because even most contemporary b&w films are shot on color stock and desaturated in post, and even if we see a classic b&w film projected, it’s projected on equipment intended for projecting color films, so certain aspects of the classic b&w aesthetic have been lost forever.
I’m thinkin this thread is dead, or at least should be put to rest. We’ve got people writing essays. I mean, really? Everyone take a deep breath, and move on.
After six days of inactivity, you posted to declare the thread dead and tell everyone that they need to move on?
“We’ve got people writing essays”
I approve. Not only for this thread, but all threads.
You’re absolutely right. Didn’t realize it’d been six days. I should get a job.
- I should get a job.-
. . . or a sense of irony.
I’m thinkin this thread is dead, or at least should be put to rest. We’ve got people writing initialisms . . .
Turn off all of the color on your tv and find out
Absolutely! They should also do “Gone with the Wind,” “The Red Shoes” and all the Douglas Sirk melodramas in B&W too.
More importantly, is BLADE RUNNER better in color or color-corrected?
Immediately upon seeing the final cut, I preferred the color palette of the director’s cut and all previous versions. Why they gotta go mucking this stuff up, because otherwise, I love the final cut?
I can hear the trailer-voice now: “In a world without warm-tones…”
I know a guy who studied film in Cuba in the mid 80s and he told us that he had seen a pirate black and white 35 mm copy of Bladerunner in an Habana movie palace. Seems that Hollywood movies were copied into cheap B/W stock in the eastern block and then sent to Cuba. He said it looked great.
the white ribbon was shot in colour …imagine what a detraction that would have been
Sounds amazing. Wish I could see that print.
Oh God! No, never. This film’s beauty relies in it’s breath-taking color (although not entirely).
“the white ribbon was shot in colour …imagine what a detraction that would have been”
Yes, but it was never meant to be seen theatrically in color. Like many films intended to be projected in B&W, it was shot on color stock and desaturated in post simple because these days it’s quite a bit cheaper and more practical to do this than to actually shoot in B&W.