The Tyrell-Weyland Connection

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Cities locked in perpetual night, populated by nameless silhouettes eating prepackaged food. Reminders of corporate masters and a dying planet circle overhead, projected from technologies that rival the imagination. That’s cyberpunk, and there are only a handful of works that can truly be given credit for tailoring the style and defining the tropes that made the genre work. Certainly the works of William Gibson are considered by many to be the bible of this setting, inspiring minds like Mike Pondsmith and helping to shape philosophical explorations of these ideas through Deus Ex. But removed from that vein of inspiration, taken from earlier works of postmodernist science fiction, was the first cinematic representation of cyberpunk, and possibly the best treatment it will ever receive on film. Blade Runner.

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There’s no shortage of praise Blade Runner has received from all corners of film critique and examination, and it’s all deserved. Yet one has to wonder why this much-lauded film one of only four science fiction movies under Ridley Scott’s resume. Aside from The Martian, which was adapted from the Andy Weir novel, Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus are three films Scott set out to make unprompted, setting them apart as Scott’s original films.

Though all three are rather distinct from one another, which is no surprise given that Blade Runner and Prometheus are more than twenty years apart, allowing Scott a great deal of time to change his directorial style, there are a few things that connect them. Could it be that the worlds of Alien and Blade Runner exist within the same continuity?

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The main similarity between either film property are the characters involved. Both have casts that serve to highlight interactions between artificial intelligences, humans and humans that may be artificial intelligences unawares. By playing around with the groups, Scott questions the humanity of those the audience knows to be human and provides enough doubt that they remain unsure about the humanity of machines.

Prometheus, which is set prior to Alien, features David, who is arguably the most robotic of Scott’s androids. Viral marketing prior to the release of this film goes to great lengths to make it clear that David is a thing, but a clever thing that can interpret what it’s like to be human; he can read emotions, comprehend their impact on behavior, mimic if need be, giving him the tools needed to navigate impassioned interactions between his crew while light years away from home. Prometheus the film, however, suggests the opposite.

After exploring LV-223 David sits down with Charlie to share a drink, noticing that the scientist feels defeated after not finding their alien makers, placing his theory of intelligent design by extraterrestrials in doubt. In this scene there’s an exchange that says something quite profound about David, something hinted at throughout the film yet not explicitly stated until this moment.

David: “Why do you think your people made me?”

Charlie: “We made you ’cause we could.”

David: “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?”

For what’s supposed to be a handsome computer serving as a butler and crew member, David, in this moment, displays the most human emotion of anyone in the cast–he was insulted. And rather than use his programming to navigate the insult, coerce Charlie to think productively so the expedition can move forward, David chooses to insult him right back. Even when Charlie laughs dismissively at his comeback you can see the anger in David’s feigned grin, much in the way a person would when trying to hide their hurt from others. And it’s only after this insult that David decides to poison Charlie with the Engineer’s goo, turning him into a Xenomorph half-breed that attacks the crew later on. Was this David’s true final insult to the man who belittled him?

The idea that a machine can be insulted and want the one who insulted them to answer for that trespass is alarmingly human, so much so that it subtly posits a question to the audience about the ability of life to spawn seemingly from nothing and the limits of actual humans to be humane.

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What does it mean to be human? That’s essentially the thesis of these three films.

Alien is probably the most reserved in asking this question. Ash, the Weyland-Yutani android aboard the Nostromo, is the most lively character on the ship. Prior to the high energy that triggers when aliens burst through chests and the Xenomorph crawls through vents, it’s Ash who experiences all the agitations humans would have to suffer through when traveling through space. He gets cold, so he jostles a bit to get warm. He sees  LV-426 and marvels at the majesty of space. Ash breaks protocol to allow Kane back on to the ship, out of concern for his crew member, angering all the humans aboard the ship. Meanwhile, Ripley, the lead and effectively the top ranking officer of the Nostromo after Dallas dies, seems wooden by comparison. And that’s no accident.

Though Deckard is set up as the protagonist, it’s the Replicants who have the widest range of emotions in Blade Runner. Though their escape was violent, Roy, Priss and the others have come to earth not for any nefarious purpose but for a fundamentally human one–they want more life. Limited by science, legislation and corporate mandate, replicants are designed to live only for four years. Effectively children, the replicants gaze at the majesty of life in wonder, and when they are denied, when it’s explained to them that the science that made them possible cannot be bolstered, they turn violent, almost petulant, and throw tantrums the way children do, responding to disappointment and fear with an unrefined, yet robust, system of emotions.

In response to these children of the future seeking a way to get what’s essentially promised to all children, the ability to live until an old age, they’re met with Deckard, a man so out of touch with his humanity that he’s comfortable with gunning a woman down in the middle of a crowded street, unconcerned with the safety of those going by; he eats and drinks with no acknowledgement of the world around him; his home is cluttered and unwelcoming to guests. To Deckard, all that matters is his ability to perform his function, much like a machine.

ash roy david androids

With more androids in the cast, and them being the pillars the plot is built around, Blade Runner is Scott’s most complete work when asking his questions about humanity, what it is, who (or what) has a right to it, and whom can deny it. Were it not for corporate branding, one could easily confuse David, Ash and Roy as different models produced by the same company.

So there’s a thematic link between the three films that simply cannot be denied. Scott’s androids all share a blueprint that makes them more humane than the humans they are paired with. But what about a more concrete evidence to link these three being in the same universe?

Thanks to a pretty old and informative thread on Reddit we have some definitive proof as to the existence of a shared universe. As the Narcissus docks with the Nostromo and when Gaff pilots his spinner with Deckard in tow, we see the same update screen in either vehicle.

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Also, later on in the film we see the same exact UI in use on the Nostromo and Deckard’s own spinner.

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While this ought to be the end to the discussion, there are a few disclaimers to consider.

Firstly, Scott is known for making expensive films which has also made him a  bit frugal. Whether out of necessity or craftiness, Scott has reused footage between films in ways that are a bit obvious. So could that be the case here? Not necessarily. It could be deliberate. We do know that in the time of Blade Runner there are already enterprises in space who could use the same technology for their shuttles and ships, but it seems illogical that whatever company provides cars to an American police force uses the same user interfaces as a corporate vessel about one hundred years in the future. Between 2019 and 2122 there ought to be significant changes in technology.

But that doesn’t settle things either. There’s one more piece of information that’s most telling of all.

Prometheus went all in with its viral marketing campaign when promoting itself. A great piece they released is a TED Talk delivered by Peter Weyland himself. A lot of his talk has to do with the ingenuity of the human race, and in particular his emerging god status. His most impressive development was his most perfect son, David. While not in that talk, there is a draft of a speech, presumably this speech, found on the Prometheus blu-ray that was cut from the film. It clearly establishes a relationship between Eldon Tyrell and Peter Weyland, that they parted ways professionally, and that they both went on to be gods in their own right, creating life from nothing, coming to similar results through slightly different technologies.

Here’s an image of the speech:

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Source

If your find it difficult to read, here’s the relevant bit:

“A mentor and long-departed competitor once told me that it was time to put away childish things and abandon my “toys.” He encouraged me to come work for him and together we would take over the world and become new Gods. That’s how he ran his corporation, like a God on top of  a pyramid overlooking a city of angels. Of course, he chose to replicate the power of creation in an unoriginal way, by simply copying God. And look how that turned out for the poor bastard. Literally blew up in the old man’s face. I always suggested he stick with simple robotics instead of those genetic abominations he enslaved and sold off-world, although his idea to implant them with false memories was, well… “amusing,” is how I would put it politely.”

This seems pretty cut and clear–references to standout scenes and visuals from Blade Runner can’t be ignored in this speech–which would make some sense. History has quite a few examples of mentorships that mature into professional rivalries between great minds trying to tame grand ambitions. So why not with Tyrell and Weyland? In the case of their androids, a mentorship under Tyrell would go far in explaining why all three films continue to present machines that are more human than human.

In an interview with Movies.com, Charles de Lauzirika, who directed all the additional content for the home edition for Prometheus, was asked about this speech in Weyland’s inbox and said, “That was me having fun and being cutesy. [Laughs] I wrote all that stuff.” But is it still considered canon? Scott hasn’t answered one way or another. He’s dodged the question and refuses to give a definitive answer. But if the themes and content of his films and their sanctioned supplemental materials are to be believed, Roy, David and Ash are cut from the same cloth, seeking the same experiences, whether aboard a hostile ship or walking the decrepit streets of a sun-blocked Los Angeles.

8 Responses to “The Tyrell-Weyland Connection”

  1. Blade Runner was not one of Scott’s original films, as this article claims. It was adapted from the Philip K. Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”. There is also no question that the two films take place in the same universe. It is noted that the character Dallas previously worked for the Tyrell corporation, an invention of Philip K. Dick’s for which Scott can claim no credit.

    • Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas)

      There is no intent here to deny Phillip K. Dick credit for inspiring the film Blade Runner. That being said, the two stories are quite different. Although the two franchises have easter egg connections, it’s hard to know if that was meant to be an easter egg, or if it was meant to connect the two works.

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