Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Alien (1979) are two movies I could watch over and over again, and I do so at least once a year, minimum. In my opinion, two of the greatest movies — slow-paced, grounded, with amazing narratives. Blade Runner being a foundation for the cyberpunk genre, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien paving the way for leading women in sci-fi, and on top of that, the visuals of both movies are striking to say the least.
The distinguished style of their environment, items, vehicles, and people — an interpretation of the future as seen from the (now) past. A retro aesthetic that combines visuals from the late 1960s to the early or mid 1980s, forming general computers, handhelds, cyber-decks, using CRT monitors, blinking lights; a monochromatic feast.
All this is best called Cassette Futurism.
Imagine futuristic space travel, but data is stored on cassette tapes, locks are secured via punch card, the flight computer is analog, blinking buttons in abundance, and if something is broken, you can open it up, solder it back together, or put some tape on it.
Priorities are rescinded
This low-fi tech in a high-tech environment, Cassette Futurism, really caught me, influencing me more than I realized for a long time. I love the style, art, movies, and games influenced by it; not every aspect of my life is, but a few are: a lot of the media I like, my keyboard, even the watch I'm currently wearing is a Casio Vintage A100.
Sharing this love, I want to give appreciation to a few movies, series, artists, and things — some more obvious than others, but all great examples of cassette futurism.
The Alien movie in the whole Alien franchise, at least for me. I know how people love the second one, Aliens, and I do too, but the first movie, slow-paced, dark and dirty, this is where my heart lies.
Some websites going into design details like typography, iconography, and spaceship design:
- Alien at Typeset in the future
- Design of the ship, the Nostromo
- Semiotic Standard For All Commercial Trans-Stellar Utility Lifter And Heavy Element Transport Spacecraft on Behance
I'm also working on recreating the Alien Bulkhead door as designed by Ron Cobb in 3D with Blender.
Alien: Isolation (2014)
The game Alien: Isolation by Creative Assembly can easily be called an homage to the original Alien, recreating environments in the same style to the extent that you could confuse one for the other. It is an astonishing-looking game even today, with an intriguing story set between the first Alien and Aliens.
I also want to recommend this small but intriguing documentation by Noclip about the difficult development of Alien: Isolation.
Blade Runner (1982)
Same director as Alien, Ridley Scott, Blade Runner hits hard on design. A dark, cyberpunk'esque, sci-fi movie. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by the way, a great author of science fiction literature.
Seeing this movie share certain connections with Alien, some would say sharing a universe — it is no wonder it tickles the same spot in my heart. I also absolutely recommend watching the second one, Blade Runner 2049.
There is a great deep dive into the used typography of Blade Runner at Typeset in the future.
Cowboy Bebop (1998–1999)
A Japanese neo-noir science fiction anime created by Hajime Yatate. Cowboy Bebop does mix a great deal of genres, but I like the description of being a "cyberpunk space western". It's an exceptional intro sequence with the song Tank! by Yoko Kanno has itself burned forever into my memory.
Rather new, Star Wars: Andor is an unexpected intriguing series that does many things right that I liked so much about the original Star Wars trilogy. Having a lot of practical sets, it is visually unique compared to other recent Star Wars entries, leaning closer to a classic, analog, low-fi tech style.
Dark Star (1974), Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Back to the Future (1985), The Abyss (1989), and Total Recall (1990).
There is not much more I will say about Ron Cobb, the artist, cartoonist, and film designer. He was one of the best, who sadly died on his 83rd birthday, September 21, 2020.
Working on Blade Runner, Aliens, and Tron, Sydney Jay Mead aka. Syd Mead, with his neo-futuristic style, was one of the most influential concept and industrial artists of our time.
Ailantd Sikowsky from Spain has a unique style that is, I think, absolutely inspiring. There is not one artwork by Ailantd that does not spark that little something, triggering your imagination.
An amazing artist, Edouard Caplain from France, who created concept art for Alien: Isolation, recreated the look and feel of the first Alien movie for the game.
I cannot fully explain what it is, but looking at COBOL code gives me the feeling this could have been used to run the Nostromo's MU-TH-UR 6000 mainframe from Alien.
This is version 2 of this article, originally published on January 11th, 2022, as I wanted to include more admiration and rewrite the intro. If you want to see what version 1 looked like, you can take a look at the plain HTML through the history on GitHub.