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Historical Futurism


Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner (1982), pairs two of the decade’s most appealing fixtures: Robots and Harrison Ford.

The story centers around Rick Deckard (Ford), a reluctant detective who is called out of retirement to hunt down a posse of escaped replicants. A replicant—for those who haven’t seen the film—is an ultra-lifelike robot, produced to sustain our interstellar empire. Even though they’re super-human in most ways, they live for only 4-years.

When four replicants learn of their imminent demise, they hijack a spaceship and fly to Los Angeles, hoping to confront their maker, Dr. Tyrell. Those tasked with catching and “retiring” rogue replicants are called blade runners.

You get the sense that blade runners don’t have such long lifespans either, and Deckard nearly loses two of the movie’s four fights. Yet, in the few moments, Deckard isn’t fighting or running from the convict replicants, he finds time to fall in love with Rachel, an experimental replicant who doesn’t know her nature.

When the police talk about fugitive replicants, they use Cheltenham.

For all the film’s brilliance, Blade Runner’s typography is generally lazy. For a set of photographs, the designers used leftover header type from a Letraset sheet of Helvetica Medium. They seem to have cut up Akzidenz-Grotesk Extended for Tyrell Corporation’s logo. For a set of screens in a police hovercar, they used an Aston character generator. And, rather than digitizing the original sign of L.A.‘s landmark Bradbury Building, they settled for Berthold Block Heavy.

Evil companies slice Akzidenz Grotesk, while Police cars use generated type.

Art directors did include one piece of thoughtful type: When reviewing the identities of the escaped replicants, they use Cheltenham. The memorable graphics from the movie are not type, but images in the ever-present advertising. It seems that 2019 Los Angeles will be flooded with giant ads for Coca-Cola, Atari, Budweiser, Pan Am, Cuisinart, and more.

Scott’s most recent sci-fi picture, The Martian, indicates how much type has evolved in the genre. Although it owes more to 2001 than it does to Blade Runner.

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