Wednesday, 8 November 2017

SF&F Questions: What is Tannhauser Gate?

In the first of an occasional series, we address long-standing questions and mysteries from different science fiction and fantasy franchises. First up is a long-standing question from Ridley Scott's 1982 proto-cyberpunk movie Blade Runner.

What is Tannhauser Gate?
At the end of Blade Runner, Rutger Hauer's character, Roy Batty, saves our antihero Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) from certain death, despite Deckard trying to kill him. Batty realises he is about to die, his mandated four-year life-cycle about to expire, and chooses to end his life with a moment of mercy. Before he passes he gives a memorable speech about the nature of death:
"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 Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."
As is well-known, Hauer improvised these lines on set on the day of filming, with Ridley Scott's approval. As is less well-known, Hauer didn't actually create them from scratch: instead he adapted lines from the original script which he felt were quite clunky. The shooting script (the draft dated 23 February 1981) is similar:
I've seen things...
(long pause)
seen things you little people
wouldn't believe... Attack ships
on fire off the shoulder of Orion
bright as magnesium... I rode on
the back decks of a blinker and
watched c-beams glitter in the dark
near the Tanhauser Gate.
all those moments... they'll be gone.
More than one person has wondered what the heck the Tannhauser Gate is since then. It's been referenced by bands and in songs, and the iconic video game Homeworld has a mission set in a region of space called "Tannhauser Gate" in tribute to Blade Runner.

The Blade Runner script was originally written by Hampton Fancher, based on Philip K. Dick's short novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Fancher's original drafts do not feature any mention of Tannhauser Gate. This was added in rewrites undertaken by David Peoples. Fancher, annoyed, left the project but later returned at Scott's request to undertake rewrites of Peoples' rewrites. He later co-wrote Blade Runner 2049 along with Michael Green (David Peoples, who has effectively retired, was not involved with the sequel).

David Peoples, then, is the one who came up with the term. Intriguingly, he reused it in his script for the 1998 action movie Soldier, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Peoples hit on the idea of Soldier being set in the same universe as Blade Runner, with Kurt Russell playing a soldier fighting on one of the offworld colonies (Arcadia 234) who is made redundant by a replicant soldier. Although Warner Brothers produced both movies and a Spinner (flying car) from Blade Runner can be seen in some scenes in Soldier, the term "replicant" was removed from the script and the idea of the two movies coexisting in the same setting was restricted to some comments made by Peoples during marketing for the movie.

This decision also saw references to Tannhauser Gate and even a special effects recreation of the "Battle of Tannhauser Gate" cut and removed to the special features section of the DVD release. This sequence indicated that Tannhauster Gate was a "warp station", a space station which facilitates FTL travel between Earth and its out-system colonies.

It had been assumed, given the near-future setting of Blade Runner, that the "off-world colonies" were other worlds in the Solar system: Mars, Europa, Titan etc. However, Blade Runner 2049 confirms that the off-world colonies are actually around other stars. Wallace says that the extended lifespans of the Nexus-8 replicants has opened up nine new colony worlds for humanity and the planet Calantha is mentioned as the site of a major war.

As a result, it now appears we have an answer to the question from the person who invented the original term, although the answer is not necessarily canonical for future instalments of the Blade Runner series.

Answer: Tannhauser Gate is a "warp station" which facilitates faster-than-light travel between Earth and some of the offworld colonies.

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wps said...

Fantastic post!

Alex said...

I'd be more interested to know why he strips down to his underpants before going after Deckard myself :)

Adam Whitehead said...

Replicants produce more heat than humans and will sometimes strip down to their paints to provide superior synthetic testicular ventilation.

Danny Blitz said...

In the new Transformers War for Cybertron Siege series in episode 2 I think, it sounds like when Ultra Magnus is talking to Megatron he asks if he remembers the battle of Tannhauser Gate.

R M said...

HG Tannhaus is a character in the German made Netflix series 'Dark' who accidentally creates a time travel loop