This Sci-Fi Noir Predicts Blade Runner for Two Decades

The “tech-noir” sub-genre of sci-fi cinema is often derived from Ridley Scott’s famous 1982 masterpiece. Blade Runner. Scott’s film defines many of the elements of the genre, deftly blending the visual markers of a film noir with the mind-bending existentialism of science fiction. Blade Runner tells a tough detective story about stealthy cyborgs. It explores urban decay in a futuristic Los Angeles. The traditional saxophone beats on the track are complemented by other, enchanting compilations of the world. Scott even dressed the Bradbury Building, an iconic filming location that stands out in many vintage interiors, as a decaying relic. Blade Runner is the culmination of sci-fi drama noir.


But Blade Runner It’s not the first movie to push thought-provoking science fiction through setting a complicated detective story. Back in 1965, Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville tells the speculative story of Agent Lemmy Caution traveling to a chaotic metropolis at the edge of the galaxy to take down Alpha 60, a malicious sentient computer that controls the minds of its inhabitants.

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Of course, Godard is best known as one of the leading pioneers of the New Wave in France. His game-changing directorial debut Breathless is considered by many to be the film that started the movement (and is one of its representative works). During his filmmaking career that spanned more than half a century, Godard directed all kinds of films. A Woman is a Woman is a whimsical, brightly colored romance about a love triangle. Bande a part is a crime caper about gangster movie buffs looking to break out of their depths in a high stakes real crime situation. Weekend is an ink black comedy about a couple who are walking down the street and encounter a gang of cannibals. Considering sci-fi isn’t what he’s famous for, Godard’s crack dystopian in this genre is a gem.

Lemmy Caution lights a cigarette in her car in Alphaville

Lemmy Caution was originally created by British pulp novelist Peter Cheyney, first as an FBI agent and then as a private detective. The success of the Caution stories allowed Cheyney to quit her job as a cop and become a professional author. Although Caution is an American character created by a British writer, he has never been featured in an English-language film. The actor most often associated with this role is French actor Eddie Constantine.

Constantine’s first seven Caution films – produced between 1953 and 1963 – were detective thriller in simple noir style based on today’s context. The next three decades of Case-centric films took a turn for the more experimental, with some eye-popping comedies. Godard’s vision for the character implanted Constantine’s Caution in a distant, backward future, sending him to another planet to battle a rogue artificial intelligence.

Godard has completely changed the character in more ways than just bringing him forward at the right time. Traditionally, Caution has been presented as a James Bond-style character defined by strength, steadfast optimism, and the ability to win despite all odds. In Alphaville, Caution is expressed as an old lawyer, grizzly at the end of his lanyard. Godard used intense light and refused to let Constantine put on makeup, giving him a darker, edgier look than audiences are familiar with. Godard also dressed Constantine in the iconic style of trench coats worn by Humphrey Bogart’s PI villains (an archetype evoked by Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in Blade Runner), showing this version of Caution as an out-of-date man, unable to adapt to the future world.

Lemmy Caution and Natacha sit at the same table in Alphaville

To transport audiences into a futuristic city in the farthest reaches of outer space, Godard did not use any special effects, or even any newly built props or sets. Instead, he uses actual filming locations around contemporary Paris. At the time, the modernist-style concrete and glass structures that had sprung up around the French capital were seen as bold, unusual, otherworldly designs. Godard and crew simply waited for the sun to set and used the darkness of the night to transform the streets of Paris into the streets of Alphaville.

Alpha 60’s rule over the inhabitants of Alphaville paved the way for some interesting comments by Orwellian. The computer forbade people to experience love, and the dictionary was constantly updated to remove words that would touch the reader. Alpha 60’s voice is said to be even cooler and sexier than Douglas Rain’s unforgettable portrayal of AI traitor HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick. 2001: A Space Odyssey. The character voice provided by a man with laryngeal cancer has been replaced with a mechanical dialog. Alpha 60’s many quotes express the tenets of fascism and totalitarianism: “One should not ask ‘why’, but only say ‘because’.

Alphaville has all the hallmarks of a Godard movie: protracted, impromptu dialogue chopped into a series of fast-paced, violently obscured cutscenes that take the usual Hollywood glorification out of bloodshed . But his blend of intricate storytelling and sci-fi imagery also makes it completely unique in his movies. Must-see movie for incest sci-fi fans (who doesn’t mind reading the subtitles).

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Coruscant skyline at night
Star Wars needs to copy another classic sci-fi movie

George Lucas was inspired to create the planet-city Coruscant by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Star Wars could make its own Blade Runner-style neo-noir.

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