Christopher Nolan's Blade Runner Homage In Batman Begins Wasn't Intentional

Christopher Nolan is known for shooting as much in-camera as he can. In a behind-the-scenes documentary, Zack Snyder praised the director's Dark Knight trilogy and its practical approach, saying, "It's a craft, it needs craftsman to do it. There's a tactile feeling about the movies, that's really palpable, you feel it when you watch them."

No more is that obvious than with the first entry in the trilogy, "Batman Begins." In general, "The Dark Knight" is thought of as the best of Nolan's three Batman movies, helped immensely by Heath Ledger's incredible performance as The Joker. But for me, "Batman Begins" is the standout. Nolan has spoken about how each of his Dark Knight movies has a genre, the first being a "hero's journey," the second being a "crime" film, and the third being a "war" epic. But whereas "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises" felt like Nolan doing his best impression of genre movies "Batman Begins" felt like its own thing, and truly represented that "tactile" and physically constructed feel.

With "The Dark Knight," Nolan redesigned Gotham from the ground up, shooting mainly in Chicago and relying on real-world locations to stand in for Gotham. For the follow-up, "The Dark Knight Rises," he chose to shoot in Pittsburgh. But "Batman Begins" used a mix of real-life locations and sets built at the UK's Shepperton Studios and the Cardington airship sheds, which allowed for a much more stylized version of Gotham City. This is part of what makes Nolan's first Batman film so distinct.

But while "Batman Begins" created a wholly unique world, that doesn't mean it didn't take inspiration from other sources. In particular, Nolan looked to Ridley Scott's 1982 classic "Blade Runner" when constructing his degraded environments.

Real world vs sets

In "The Dark Knight," there are numerous Chicago landmarks visible throughout, including the Chicago Board of Trade Building, which was repurposed as Wayne Enterprises' headquarters. But in the film prior to that, "Batman Begins," there aren't nearly as many obvious real-world locations. In fact, Christopher Nolan's first Batman film was notable for its use of miniatures and hand-built sets that gave its Gotham a feeling of being almost like a real city, but not quite.

This was reminiscent of production designer Anton Furst and his approach to Gotham in Tim Burton's "Batman" back in 1989. For that seminal comic book adaptation, Furst told TIME magazine (via Architizer) that he and Burton wanted to "make Gotham City the ugliest and bleakest metropolis imaginable. We imagined what New York City might have become without a planning commission." That calls to mind Nolan's comment in a making-of featurette for "Batman Begins" where he says, "We wanted the look of Gotham to have a recognizable texture, of a sort of New York on steroids."

That approach to building Gotham as a heightened version of reality, rather than just using reality itself, has led to the best on-screen versions of the city. Anton Furst's industrial hellscape in "Batman," Bo Welch's oppressive gothic/fascist architecture in "Batman Returns," and Nathan Crowley's "New York on steroids" in "Batman Begins." These are the best examples of Gotham City being brought to life for the big screen. And in the latter's case, Nolan and Crowly made sure to draw from "Blade Runner," which itself had been built across sound stages on the Warner Bros. backlot using a similar heightened reality approach.

A world beyond the frame

With "Blade Runner," Ridley Scott and production designer Lawrence G. Paull took a practical approach to creating their vision of a future Los Angeles, largely due to the film having a tiny VFX budget. But it resulted in a truly immersive world. As Nolan said in a Director's Guild interview:

"The atmosphere of 'Blade Runner' was also important, that feeling that there was this whole world outside the frame of the scene. You really felt there were things going on outside of those rooms where you've seen the film take place. That's something I've always tried to carry with me. Every film should have its own world, a logic and feel to it that expands beyond the exact image that the audience is seeing."

The director clearly kept Scott's method in mind when crafting the world of "Batman Begins," telling Forbes, "On 'Batman Begins,' unlike 'The Dark Knight,' we found ourselves having to build the streets of Gotham in large part. So I immediately gravitated toward the visual treatment that Ridley Scott had come up with." What resulted was a version of Gotham that felt lived in, full of texture and "tactile" in the way that Zack Snyder described.

The "Blade Runner" influence was perhaps most obvious in The Narrows, a particularly run-down slum in Gotham where Christian Bale's Batman ventures to hunt Cillian Murphy's Scarecrow, and which later becomes blanketed in fear-toxin during the film's climax. This degraded landscape of urban decay, where it's constantly raining, mirrored much of the techno nightmare constructed by Scott and his team back in 1982. In that way, rather than simply being informed by the production design on "Blade Runner," this particular location seemed almost like an homage to the film. But according to Nolan, that wasn't case.

Minimizing artifice

In his Forbes interview, Christopher Nolan explained how he and his team applied specific elements of the way "Blade Runner" was shot to "Batman Begins." He said:

"Immediately we started looking at the rain, the handheld cameras, the longer lenses. [...] We started to throw all of that into the mix of how you can help the look of something, how you can create texture, as Ridley Scott has always been the absolute master of. Creating a texture to a shooting style that maximizes the impact of the set, and minimizes the artifice"

But that didn't necessarily equate to a straightforward homage, with Nolan adding:

"It's hard to say what was conscious homage, and what was my analysis of why 'Blade Runner' was so convincing in its production design and in the way it uses its sets. [...] We definitely tried to emulate that style, and I think in doing so we actually created homage, particularly where we used the rain very much."

By using similar techniques to Scott and the overall principle of wanting his on-screen world to feel as if it continued beyond the boundaries of each individual frame, Nolan ended up creating an homage to "Blade Runner" somewhat unintentionally — which ultimately led to one of the best cinematic depictions of Gotham City we've yet had.