vulture lists

Every Major Sci-Fi Influence in Altered Carbon

Photo: Netflix

The first season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon has already thrilled sci-fi fans with its story of betrayal, identity, and murder. Created by Laeta Kalogridis, the show’s main inspiration is Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 novel of the same name, but it also layers on plenty of other inspirations, references, and sly shout-outs. Like the setting of Bay City itself, Altered Carbon is a melting pot of styles that recalls Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Wachowskis, among others. If you’re curious about the unique titles, the cinematic inspirations, and even a cool Easter egg that (kind of) connects this world to that of a hit HBO show, look no further. We’re here for you like Poe is for his clients at the Raven Hotel.

Hollywood noir

All ten episodes titles refer to classic noir films, some of which directly reference the action of the episode. “Rage in Heaven,” for instance, features an action set piece in the skyborne Head in the Clouds, while “Man With My Face” features Takeshi Kovacs fighting, well, a man with his face. Others titles were clearly chosen because the plot of the film mirrors what happens on the show: The title of episode eight, taken from the 1952 Fritz Lang film Clash by Night, nods to the fact that both film and show center on a brother-sister relationship. And if you’re looking for classic movie recommendations based on Altered Carbon nods, don’t miss Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place, which it references in episode three, or The Killers (made and remade a few times, but Don Siegel’s 1964 version with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson is the one to see), which gives the show its title for the closing chapter.

Blade Runner

Visually, it’s impossible to deny the influence of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on the aesthetic of Altered Carbon. Of course, both sci-fi properties deal with identity and control on philosophical levels, but it’s also the way in which both weave noir dialogue, fashion, and storytelling into their futuristic worlds. Don’t forget the superficial ties, either: It’s in the trench coats and the never-ending rain, as well as the workmanlike way Kovacs investigates his case, not unlike Rick Deckard going about his business. One can appreciate Altered Carbon without having seen Blade Runner, but it’s better if you’re familiar with the sci-fi classic.

The Matrix

Of course, Deckard never jumped like Reileen Kawahara. Altered Carbon weds the noir style of Blade Runner to the action of the Wachowskis’ landmark 1999 film, and it’s easy to see the influence of the gun-fu style of Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity in the choreography. Look at the battles at the Head in the Clouds in the last few episodes and compare them to the climax of The Matrix — and then consider how much The Matrix franchise plays with clones, or how Neo’s fight with the Agents Smith in The Matrix Reloaded relates to the brawl between Ortega and the Rei clones in episode eight. Even the way that “sleeving” works in Altered Carbon recalls entering the Matrix itself. Blade Runner is clearly the main influence on Altered Carbon, but this is a close second.

Edgar Allan Poe

This isn’t so much a subtle influence as a direct one, but you may not have caught all the references within the character of Poe, the helpful AI who saves Lizzie Elliot and provides shelter for Takeshi Kovacs. It’s not just that he looks and speaks like Poe, but that he references the author’s work directly. Yes, the Raven Hotel is named after one of his most famous poems, but did you realize that his dying words come from another Poe masterpiece, the unforgettable “Annabel Lee”? And although it’s not a direct reference, Poe saying, “There were no rats feasting on the corpses” in episode two sounds an awful lot like something his namesake would include in a macabre short story like “The Fall of the House of Usher” or “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Poe can’t really be dead in the world of Altered Carbon, no matter what happened in the season finale, right? We need more of his unmistakable style.

Did you spot the Easter eggs?

The creators of Altered Carbon also seemed to be playful with their set dressing. As spotted by eagle-eyed Redditors, episode three features a shot in which we glimpse a stained-glass window featuring a seven-pointed star — a symbol that will look very familiar to fans of Game of Thrones. It’s worth noting that the director of Altered Carbon’s premiere episode, Miguel Sapochnik, has also helmed four episodes of the HBO hit, including “Battle of the Bastards,” which earned him an Emmy nomination. Maybe Sapochnik couldn’t resist the urge to inject a little bit of Westeros in Bay City? Redditors also caught a possible musical nod to HBO’s Westworld (another show about identity and agency), as well as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it inclusion of Connor MacLeod’s sword from Highlander. What else might hiding in the background of Altered Carbon?

Other movies and video games

Altered Carbon is a tossed salad of cinematic sci-fi references beyond the shout-outs to Ridley Scott and the Wachowskis. There are elements of the Tom Cruise action flick Edge of Tomorrow in the way that people can become essentially immortal by backing up their consciousnesses. The cloning technology calls to mind Duncan Jones’s excellent Moon, starring Sam Rockwell. It even seems like Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence influenced the look of Bay City, as well as how the show plays with identity and history on a philosophical level.

Of course, the world of Altered Carbon also brings to mind futuristic and fantasy video games. The Thunderdome-esque setting of Fight Drome could fit in a future iteration of Borderlands, and the saga of Laurens Bancroft and his mansion in the sky could make for an expansion of the Bioshock franchise. Come to think of it, an Altered Carbon video game would be pretty cool. Maybe next season?

Every Major Sci-Fi Influence in Altered Carbon