“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die” – Roy Batty
Blade Runner as a Secret Cinema experience was always going to be unique.
Blade Runner is not the crowd-pleasing, mass appeal adventure that Back to the Future or Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back had in abundance. It was always going to be a different environment. Blade Runner represents the highbrow of science fiction, a film once misunderstood that through the benefit of time, analysis and research has become the niche staple of the genre. Its legacy of a dystopian future of a neon-lit society, blended cultures, authoritative rule, classism and cyberpunk designs have long defined the essence of creative inspiration. The question going into that experience is whether Secret Cinema could live up to those standards.
It most certainly did.
This was my third time doing Secret Cinema so in some ways I feel like a fanatic veteran! Yet every experience has left me stunned. It’s not every day you get to live and breathe your favourite movies with a sense of theatricality and involved presence. Yet with its high-level productions, role-playing and accurate detail, Secret Cinema over the years has manoeuvred its way into the public consciousness as the truest art of immersive cinema.
The event started off in classic fashion. Prior to the occasion, you get your tickets, your identity and dress code. True to the nature of Blade Runner with its segregated regimes, if you had the cheap tickets, the chances are you was a scavenger. So that already puts you at the bottom of the food chain in terms of any authority. So, it didn’t come as a surprise upon arriving at the secret location in London with my party of friends (who were also scavengers) to be briefly reprimanded by the LAPD! One female officer accused me along the lines that a “dreamer” was not a job! Hey, I didn’t make the rules but we were sent to the pen anyway.
It’s a clever strategy by the organisers and depending on your ticket type you certainly got a different experience. The theory is the more you pay, the more luxurious it became. But as a scavenger we were not treated with such indulgence. After forging a “mass breakout” of the pen whilst hurling obscenities towards the police, we snuck into the city awaiting further instructions.
For many eagle-eyed viewers of Blade Runner, there’s not much of a build-up that leads into the adventure for Secret Cinema to exploit. For example, Star Wars Secret Cinema had a natural transition. By recreating Tatooine and re-enacting moments from A New Hope successfully set everyone in the mood for The Empire Strikes Back. Blade Runner certainly took inspiration from its sequel, Blade Runner 2049 and as scavengers we had important roles to play. We were going to bring the world to a halt and reset it, reclaim our data and cause a blackout.
It’s a topical conversation considering the current nature of the world today. From social media, fake news and even the not so subtle influence of Big Brother and Cambridge Analytica, Secret Cinema wanted us to wake up from our nightmarish slumber. They wanted us to notice the oppression, the inequality and unfair rules and systems in place. Scavengers were part of the movement to bring about that change. With our clandestine meetings, secret and interactive messages to our supporters to even making instruments out of recycled beer cans, the path through the city of Los Angeles 2019 felt engagingly and authentically real. Once the mission had been assigned, releasing you unto the world, it is only then where you get to revel in the scale of the production.
Neon lights, advertisement screens (e.g. Atari, Pan Am), shops, bars to even the noodle stand where Deckard eats when we first see him the movie were beautifully and faithfully recreated. It was even raining, matching the desperate bleakness of the film. I didn’t have a raincoat or a neon umbrella so decided to take inspiration by reacting like Joi when she first felt the rain in 2049 for a brief smiling moment.
It was impressive by how much Secret Cinema organisers managed to cram in a condense space with its two levels of exploration with plenty to see and do. If you happened to encounter a passing stranger, you were given a new mission to follow and solve (even though you never quite complete the tasks). Some would say this is just to kill time until the film starts but in reality, it shows off the adaptable intricacy of Blade Runner‘s world. Even when you’ve journeyed to the upper levels you suddenly realise the difference in class, just as portrayed in the film. The upper levels (which included a police department, a departure lounge and Hannibal Chew’s laboratory) are a little brighter and high-class in comparison to the graffiti underground of the lower levels. Even as a scavenger we were not welcomed, already feeling out-of-place. Nearby police would ask us to move along – no loitering.
Probably one of the most surreal moments of the evening was encountering “Roy Batty” and “Pris” and full credit to the actors for being spot on in terms of their characteristics as it was part intimidating and part me being starstruck. We followed them through the back streets of the city, recruited to help find “Zhora”. We had an important message to deliver – “time was running out”. We were his “eyes and ears”, ensuring nothing got in the way. Once “Zhora” was located, after a brief conversation with “Roy” she ran off. Our gang couldn’t keep up, losing her in the overcrowded and bustling city, almost reminiscent of Deckard’s chase in the actual film.
As the night drew closer to the main event, so did the intense build-up. The news was spreading about the imminent blackout. A live action protest emerged and naturally became a part of it. The world plunged into darkness, neatly proceeding to the screening for a remarkable and one of my favourite sci-fi films ever made. Blade Runner due to its beautiful cinematography was always worthy of the big screen and being part of a crowd that cheered at something mundane as the opening credits is worth the smile alone.
If there were two disappointing moments then it sadly belonged to the screening itself. It’s traditional to put on multiple screens but the scavenger sections had a cramped seating arrangement. Therefore, if you had long legs or if you’re an individual who easily gets restless, then the seats offered little to no salvation. The live re-enactments were also disappointing. With exception of two scenes (Pris meeting J.F. Sebastian and Zhora’s death), the experience was quite limited. A lot of the time, it happened off-screen (or staging area), beyond anyone’s sight line. Actors would walk into view but their “scene” took place in front of another audience which instantly made you feel you was missing out and disconnected from everyone else.
But do the disappointments take away from the actual experience? The simple answer is no. Secret Cinema is all about engagement. The more you participate, the more rewarding the event is and Blade Runner is precisely that. It’s fun to forget about reality for a few hours and embrace something different and otherworldly. Yes, it is pricey. Secret Cinema is effectively a premium escapade. I have no photographic proof besides exterior shots. But like a manifesting dream about unicorns, I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe and it was totally worth it.
Secret Cinema runs until 30th June 2018. Visit https://tickets.secretcinema.org/ for more information and tickets.