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, amazing narrative. 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 the visuals of both movies are striking to say the least.
The distinguished style of their environment, items, vehicles, people — an interpretation of the future as seen from the (now) past. A retro aesthetic that combines visuals from the late 1960s to early or mid 1980s, forming general computers, handhelds, cyber-decks, using CRT monitors, blinking lights; a monochromatic feast.
All this 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Priorities are rescinded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 realised for a long time. I love the style, art, movies, and games influence 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 waring 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 for 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 a homage to the original Alien, recreating environments in the same style, to an extent 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 sharing 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 at 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 exceptional intro sequence with the song Tank! by Yoko Kanno has itself burned into my memory, forever.
Rather new, Star Wars: Andor is an unexpected intriguing series, doing many things right 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 itself 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, 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 of Ailantd that does not spark that little something, triggering your imagination.
Through Reddit's r/cassettefuturism I found Fabien Daubet aka. PenguinkStudio, from Denmark. His artworks and illustrations, made with ink and alcohol markers, fit right into cassette futurism.
An amazing artist, Edouard Caplain from France, who created concept art for Alien: Isolation, recreated that look and feel of the first Alien movie for the game.
A programing language, yes! COBOL ("common business-oriented language") is a programing language designed in and was partially based on FLOW-MATIC by Grace Hopper.
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 at the 11th of January 2022, as I wanted to include more admiration and rewrite the intro. If you want to see what version 1 looked like you can have a look at the plain HTML through the history on GitHub.