Tech-noir (also known as cyber noir, future noir and science fiction noir) is a hybrid genre of fiction, particularly film, combining film noir and science fiction, epitomized by Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) and James Cameron's The Terminator (1984). The tech-noir presents "technology as a destructive and dystopian force that threatens every aspect of our reality."
Cameron coined the term in The Terminator, using it as the name of a nightclub, but also to invoke associations with both the film noir genre and with futuristic sci-fi.
While it is hard to draw a line between some of the noir films of the early 1960s such as Blast of Silence (1961) and Cape Fear (1962) and the noirs of the late 1950s, new trends emerged in the post-classic era. The Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer, Shock Corridor (1962), directed by Sam Fuller, and Brainstorm (1965), directed by experienced noir character actor William Conrad, all treat the theme of mental dispossession within stylistic and tonal frameworks derived from classic film noir.
The first major film to work a new angle on noir was French director Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (1960), which pays its literal respects to Bogart and his crime films while brandishing a bold new style for a new day. In 1973, director Robert Altman, who had worked on Peter Gunn, flipped off noir piety with The Long Goodbye. Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, it features one of Bogart's most famous characters, but in iconoclastic fashion: Philip Marlowe, the prototypical hardboiled detective, is replayed as a hapless misfit, almost laughably out of touch with contemporary mores and morality. Where Altman's subversion of the film noir mythos was so irreverent as to anger many contemporary critics, around the same time Woody Allen was paying affectionate, at points idolatrous homage to the classic mode with Play It Again, Sam (1972). The most acclaimed of the neo-noirs of the era was director Roman Polanski's 1974 Chinatown (1974), which raised noir to a black apogee.
From 1981, the popular Body Heat, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, invokes a different set of classic noir elements, this time in a humid, erotically charged Florida setting. Working generally with much smaller budgets, the Coen brothers have created one of the most substantial film oeuvres influenced by classic noir, with movies such as Blood Simple (1984) and Fargo (1996), considered by some a supreme work in the neo-noir mode.
Science fiction noir
Beginning in the 1960s, the most significant trend in film noir crossovers or hybrids has involved science fiction. In Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville (1965), Lemmy Caution is the name of the old-school private eye in the city of tomorrow. The Groundstar Conspiracy (1972) centers on another implacable investigator and an amnesiac named Welles. Soylent Green (1973), the first major American example, portrays a dystopian, near-future world via a self-evidently noir detection plot; starring Charlton Heston (the lead in Touch of Evil), it also features classic noir standbys Joseph Cotten, Edward G. Robinson, and Whit Bissell. The movie was directed by Richard Fleischer, who two decades before had directed several strong B noirs, including Armored Car Robbery (1950) and The Narrow Margin (1952).
Cyber Noir is a portmanteau that describes the conjunction of technology and science fiction. cyber- as in cyberpunk and -noir as film noir. Cyberpunk is another portmanteau: cyber- being the prefix used in cybernetics, the study of communication and control in living organisms, machines and organisations, although usually understood as the interface of man and machine; from Greek κυβερνήτης kubernétes, a helmsman. This, combined with punk, originally African American slang for a young male prostitute, latterly an outsider in society, then the target and subject of punk music and subculture, where the keyword is alienation.
The word noir, from film noir, is the French term (literally black film) for American black-and-white films of the 1940s and 50s, which always seemed to be set at night in an urban landscape, with a suitably dark subject-matter, although the treatment is often sexy and glamorous as well as stylised and violent. Being often typified by crime thrillers with a private detective hero and a succession of attractive, deadly heroines, the genre informed a slew of crime novels, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely being two classic, indeed sacred texts of the genre (indeed, never was film and fiction more closely cross-pollinated, both in style and content); whence, detective noir.
From this derive various related and subverted terms, such as neo-noir(resurgence of the form in 1960s and 70s America); the Cold War noir (exploiting the tension and paranoia of the nuclear age); blaxploitation films, which some called black noir; Nordic noir, set in the stark landscape and apparently bland social environment of the Scandinavian countries, yet revealing a dark legacy of cruel misogyny, brutal sexual repression, and murder. From the same stable comes cybernoir, also called tech noir, which deals either with dark shenanigans in the world of computers and hi-tech supernerds; or the virtual landscapes of a techno-generated underworld; or both.
Cyber Noir is often used to describe the genre of: books, cinematographic shorts, videogames, photographic exhibitions, etc.
Development of tech-noir
The cynical and stylish perspective of classic film noir had a formative effect on the cyberpunk genre of science fiction that emerged in the early 1980s; the movie most directly influential on cyberpunk was Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott, which pays clear and evocative homage to the classic noir mode (Scott would subsequently direct the 1987 noir crime melodrama Someone to Watch Over Me). Strong elements of tech-noir also feature in Terry Gilliam's "dystopian satire" Brazil (1985) and The City of Lost Children (1995), one of two "Gilliamesque" films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro that were influenced by Gilliam's work in general and by Brazil in particular (the other one being Delicatessen). Scholar Jamaluddin Bin Aziz has observed how "the shadow of Philip Marlowe lingers on" in such other "future noir" films as 12 Monkeys (Gilliam, 1995), Dark City (1998), and Minority Report (2002). The hero is subject to investigation in Gattaca (1997), which fuses film noir motifs with a scenario indebted to Brave New World. The Thirteenth Floor (1999), like Blade Runner, is an explicit homage to classic noir, in this case involving speculations about virtual reality. Science fiction, noir, and animation are brought together in the Japanese films Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004), both directed by Mamoru Oshii, and the short A Detective Story (2003), set in the Matrix universe. Equilibrium (2002) is another film that could be considered part of this genre.
- Hurtgen, Joseph. "Sci-fi Noir: The Terminator and Tech Noir". Rapid Transmission. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
- Auger, Emily (2011). Tech-Noir Film: A Theory of the Development of Popular Genres. Intellect Ltd. p. 21. ISBN 978-1841504247.
- Aziz (2005), section "Future Noir and Postmodernism : The Irony Begins".