5 things Blade Runner got right and wrong about 2019

On New Year’s Day 2001, I saw an article in my local newspaper comparing the world as it was then with the world that was presented in Stanley Kubrick’s classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. With this in mind, I decided to ring in 2019 by writing an article comparing how the world is now with what’s presented in Sir Ridley Scott’s classic film Blade Runner, which takes place in the current year.

Science fiction always runs a bit of a risk when it sets specific dates for its stories. After all, when Blade Runner was released in 1982, the year 2019 seemed so distant, just as the year 2001 seemed so far away when Kubrick’s movie came out in 1968. But as 2001 has come and gone, and with 2019 just now beginning, it’s amazing for some to think that we’ve made it as far as those movies said we would (more on that in a moment).

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Here now are five of the many noteworthy aspects of Blade Runner that seem to capture the present world accurately, or not at all.

1. Product Placement

As anyone who’s seen the film knows, the action takes place in Los Angeles. We see numerous advertisements of all sorts of things everywhere, from companies such as Pan-Am, Atari, and Coca-Cola (not to mention those famous shots of geisha girls), to those blimps promoting how living in one of the colonies in space is preferable to living on Earth. While we don’t have colonies on the moon or elsewhere outside of Earth now, this does make one think of how some people own more than one home or even time shares on houses; I know numerous people with time shares in other countries. Also, product placement is still as dominant as ever in society today. And while one is more likely to see signs for PS4 rather than Atari in 2019, Coca-Cola is as strong as ever.

2. Travel

Like the aforementioned 2001, Blade Runner shows us a world where space travel seems to be the norm. Alas, 2019 itself hasn’t come quite that far, with some even now claiming that the moon landing (which took place one year after the release of 2001) was a hoax. Still, the recent news of China successfully sending an unmanned probe to the moon gives one hope that work in that field will resume—although hopefully Trump’s proposed “Space Force” won’t get far. Sir Ridley’s film also gave us flying cars years before Back to the Future Part II. We have yet to see those in the real world as well, although cars that can drive themselves are already a reality.

3. Police Action

Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard is the title character, who’s a specially trained policeman with orders to shoot to kill any Replicant seen on Earth. The title crawl of the film informs us that Replicants are super-strong, intelligent androids created primarily for manual labor in the colonization of other worlds. Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the head of the corporation responsible for creating the Replicants, prides himself on his company’s motto: “More human than human.” When some Replicants violently revolt, the decree becomes that they’re banned on Earth and any who set foot on the planet should be instantly terminated. The heart of the film comes as Deckard reluctantly resumes his former occupation as a Blade Runner and soon begins to regret it. Not only does he find himself falling in love with Rachael (Sean Young), who turns out to be a Replicant herself, but his final confrontation with Replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), who we learn led a small contingent of Replicants to Earth in order to find a way to increase their limited life spans, takes a moving and some would say ominous turn.

Batty essentially drives home the “more human than human” motto at the film’s end, as he mourns the death of his fellow Replicants, including his love Pris (Daryl Hannah), and even when he murders Tyrell after the latter claims he has no way to extend Batty’s life span. The later cuts of the film would add to this with the suggestion that Deckard himself is a Replicant. In comparison to the real world, police brutality has never failed to make headlines. Sadly, the recent news of the deaths of immigrant children while in custody is a reminder that it’s still present in 2019.

4. Environmental Issues

The first shot of Blade Runner is the Los Angeles skyline. We see fire and even lightning coming out of buildings before getting a look at the city itself. For basically the rest of the film, Los Angeles is not only dark but rainy. The only times we see daylight are when Deckard goes to to meet Tyrell in his office (and even there, the sky is overcast) and in the final scene of the original cut of the film where Deckard and Rachel drive off together (which is actually stock footage from Kubrick’s The Shining). Perhaps it’s not surprising that many, including Scott and Ford, disliked this contrived upbeat ending, which led to the two subsequent reissues (the Director’s Cut in 1992 and the Final Cut in 2007) giving us a more ambiguous, more satisfying conclusion.

The constant rainy weather in L.A. can be seen as how the state of the environment has changed by 2019. Just like today, we see machinery basically everywhere. It may be safe to say that we can all recollect going to a restaurant at least once and seeing a group of people focusing their attention entirely on their cell phones. For decades now, many have said that this over-reliance on technology has had bad effects both on society and the environment. Indeed, we don’t see much interaction between human beings in this movie, other than Deckard questioning people. Hence, this aspect of the film rings true today as society becomes more and more dependent on machinery.

5. Communication

If there’s one thing that’s gone beyond leaps and bounds in the real world over the decades, it’s the manner in which people communicate with each other. The internet alone allows people to communicate with anyone instantly, whether the person you’re calling is next door or in the next hemisphere. I just returned from a trip abroad visiting relatives and one of them has a girlfriend living in this country, whom he met online. Long distance relationships such as this are becoming more commonplace in this day and age. This isn’t even taking into account all the kinds of packages that cell phone companies have for when one travels overseas.

This is actually one aspect of the real world that exceeded Blade Runner‘s predictions. In the movie, there are phones where you can actually see the person you’re talking to, which has been a staple of science fiction for a long time. But society has actually taken that concept further than that by making the world more interconnected than ever. Some would say that this isn’t always a good thing, given how hackers and the like can potentially break into whatever system one is using. One thing that’s always staggered me is “swatting”, which is when people are playing video games at opposite ends of the world only to have one player call the police on their opponent in order to beat them at said game. I love video games too, and have nothing against playing with others who are in another country, but swatting is the definition of insanity. Still, this aspect that was minimally addressed in Blade Runner has come to be one of the defining aspects of society as a whole today.

There are some other aspects of Blade Runner that have been examined from the beginning. A major one being the idea of genetic engineering and man’s desire to play god regarding the Replicants. These themes were previously explored in other works, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But the specific date of the story naturally had some pondering just where the world would be when said date arrived.

As most everyone knows, Blade Runner was an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Like many artists, Dick struggled for most of his life and only achieved a status of greatness after his passing. In fact, the author died just before Blade Runner‘s release. But the film’s subsequent impact would make him a household name, and two other classic science fiction films—Total Recall and Minority Report—would later be made from his work. Many have said that Dick’s work reflected the cynical, paranoid view he held of the world. All three of these films do his work justice by reflecting this view.

One could say that the numerous revisions of the movie have also led to other filmmakers putting out revised cuts of their work. The main reason for the 1992 Director’s Cut of the film is that both Scott and Ford were displeased with the original ending, as well as Ford’s narration, which the studio insisted on in order to make the film more comprehensible. An amusing side note: Ford reportedly gave the narration in a dull, uninterested tone hoping that the studio would find it unusable. Personally, I was indifferent to the narration myself, but was pleased with both the subsequent reissues.

Just five years after that Director’s Cut came George Lucas’s infamous Special Editions of the original three Star Wars films. Lucas would actually proceed to tamper with those films numerous times up to their release on Blu-ray. However, unlike Scott, Lucas was quite stingy when it came to releasing the original cuts on the format. The closest we’ve gotten is a limited DVD release of those original cuts in 2006. But since Disney now owns Star Wars, maybe things will change down the road.

Also like 2001, Blade Runner would eventually get a sequel. Blade Runner 2049 was released two years ago to good reviews, although like 2010: The Year We Make Contact, for all the film’s good points, its predecessor will always be more prominent in the minds of people everywhere.

Rob Kirchgassner

Rob is a blogger, critic, and author. His latest novel is The Thoughts of a Proud Nerd: A Story of Hope, available now from Amazon.

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  • Deneb T. Hall

    It’s often surprising how many accurate predictions of the present can be found in older science fiction. It’s also kind of depressing, since a lot of the things they’re predicting are BAD things, or things that we now take for granted but are arguably negative. I mean, if people were saying ‘don’t do that; it’ll go wrong’ way back in the ’50’s, and we wound up doing it anyway and it IS going wrong, how well does that reflect on our intelligence as a culture?

    • Murry Chang

      On the plus side, this is basically the best possible time in the entire history of the world for the average human being to be alive.

      • Deneb T. Hall

        Depends very much on your criteria. In terms of standards of living and the basic comforts available, this is indeed an excellent time to be alive – at least, if you live in a relatively prosperous area and have access to proper housing. And there’s no denying that there have been great leaps forward in terms of civil rights and the like. Going by all that, this certainly should be the greatest era in human history.

        But then again – we have an entire generation or more of people so addicted to aimless electronic wandering that they can barely carry on a standard human conversation. We have world leaders and corporate tycoons who are so short-sightedly greedy that they refuse to put a stop to practices which are almost certainly going to cause massive, irreversible harm to the planet within a fairly short time, changes which their own children and grandchildren are going to have to deal with. Our oceans are already choked with debris, and natural disasters rage out of control thanks to the worsening climate change – my family lives in northern California, and we’ve narrowly escaped having our house burned down by three gigantic forest fires, two of them in almost direct succession, and probably with more on the way. Summer isn’t summer anymore – it’s ‘fire season’. Social media has stoked the flames of political acrimony to the point where America, at least, seems poised on the brink of another civil war. Meanwhile, a small but influential amount of the people who might be in a position to stop this do nothing but contribute to the ever-growing cancer on the landscape that is identity politics – I’ve never felt so disconnected from either left or right as I do right now. Sizable chunks of the world’s population have been forced to flee their homelands and live as refugees, while terrorism continues to be a considerable concern (albeit a bit less than a few years ago, but still). Mass shootings, once a rare horror, are now so relatively common that I’ve lost track of them all. I could go on, but I won’t.

        Of course, objectively it’s impossible to tell the ultimate quality or impact of these times – that will be for history to decide. And every period, of course, has its seemingly insurmountable flaws – ask a guy back in the ’60’s if he thought the End Times were coming, he’d probably say yes. I’m just pointing out that for a lot of people, me included, no, this is not the best possible time in the entire history of the world to be alive. I’d gladly trade a creature comfort or two for some basic security in the fate of the planet, thank you very much.

    • Murry Chang

      I can’t see your reply to reply to it for some reason, but by basically every measurable criteria we are far, far better off. I guess you can call modern medicine a ‘creature comfort’, but I will very much argue for the goodness in not dying from a minor cut getting infected, because that was a very real thing that happened to millions of people before we invented antibiotics. I’ll argue for the goodness of pulling 300,000 people out of poverty worldwide every year. Vaccines that do away with so many diseases that decimated populations in the past. Child survival rates that make it so people don’t have to have 10 kids in order for 1 or 2 to survive. I’m talking about fewer wars worldwide than any time since the damn 15th century.

      You’re WAY off if you think I’m talking about ‘creature comforts’ in any way, I’m talking about this literally, factually, being the best time to be alive as the average human being in the history of the world. You think social media makes it hard? You think we’re actually close to having a civil war because of what a few hundred thousand people out of the hundreds of millions of people in this country bitch about on social media? Seriously?

      • Deneb T. Hall

        Yeah, I can’t see it now either. I think some posts just have a bad habit of disappearing.

        As for your points – yes, all right, that’s fair; medical advances have progressed significantly, and they do indeed save a huge amount of lives. Of course, there are still a very large amount of people who need said advances, but don’t have access to them, but still, fair point. And you may well be right about the wars; I’m no historian, although I would argue that the wars we do have now are far larger and more destructive than the zillions of mini-wars we used to have. The two World Wars were not that far back, considering, and they changed the face of the world in staggering ways – and we’ve progressed considerably since then.

        But I stand by my earlier points. I’m not just talking about social media (although I do think that is a bigger problem than you give it credit for; those ‘few hundred thousand people’ can reach and influence a massive amount of others), I’m talking about social attitudes. We’re reaching the point where the left and the right barely agree on anything, and the few centrists who do are growing fewer and fewer. When the two dominant schools of thought in a culture refuse to do anything but clash, what is that but an invitation to civil war? I mean, it’s just a theory, and I hope I’m wrong, of course, but still.

        Let me put it this way: you may well be right that, for the average citizen, this is one of the best times to be alive – so long as nothing goes wrong. But when it does go wrong, it goes seriously wrong. I find it difficult to accept this as ‘literally, factually the best time to be alive’ when the stakes are as high as they have been recently.

        • Murry Chang

          More people have access to medical advances than any time in history. The past 20 years have been the most peaceful in 500 years and no, fewer people die in modern wars than did the last 2 World Wars.

          People barely agreed on anything before, they just have a way to express it now. If you think this is bad you should learn more about how things were leading up to the actual Civil War.

          I am right. The ‘so long as nothing goes wrong’ that people had to deal with before were things like ‘you’ll live a long an happy life so long as nothing goes wrong like getting a minor injury or any kind of disease or dying on the boat ride over from Europe(or wherever you came from) or getting your village raided and burned by an invading army then having it raided and burned by your state’s army(repeat as necessary over the course of hundreds of years) or getting impressed into military service or having rickets your entire life because you don’t even have the chance to have a balanced diet or I stole some bread to feed my starving family and got hanged for it’.

          “I find it difficult to accept this as ‘literally, factually the best
          time to be alive’ when the stakes are as high as they have been
          You think the stakes now are as high as they were during the Cold War, where the end of the world could have literally come about at any given time? I feel like you’re a younger person who was born after the Cold War ended because if you weren’t you must have missed quite a bit of stuff going on from the ’50’s to the ’80s.

          • Deneb T. Hall

            Look, I’m not saying that things haven’t been bad before, and I’m also not saying that the stakes have never been higher. Of course they’ve been higher. (And as a matter of fact, I was born during the Cold War, although you’re right in that it ended before I was really aware of it.) I’m just saying that the stakes now are nothing to sneeze at, either.

            ‘They just have a way to express it now’? People have had a way to express themselves since the development of the vocal chords and the invention of the printing press; it’s just that for most of that time, most people had to think about what they were expressing, because said expression was not always easy – and even when they did, there was no guarantee that said expression would reach people. There was, in other words, a form of quality control in place, for good or ill. Now, any nitwit without a brain filter can blast an uninformed, inaccurate opinion across the world which will be taken as gospel by potentially millions of followers and followers of followers before (to quote Mark Twain) “the truth can get its pants on”. And yes, these twits are still a relative minority, but they can be hugely influential, and that is worrying to say the least.

            And, I would venture to point out, war is not the only benchmark for massive societal badness (though it’s certainly a prominent one). Have you looked at what’s going on in Zimbabwe lately – or Venezuela? Or some of the horrible stuff that China has been getting away with lately, or freakin’ North Korea, or the worrying state of current Brazilian politics that everyone fears might lead to much worse?

            If you told one of the ‘average citizens’ in one of these places that this was ‘literally, factually the best time to be alive’, they would horse-laugh in your face and kick you out of their house – if they had one. This support system of modern medical advancements you keep touting? More human beings than you can possibly imagine do not have access to it, or only limited access that they have to pay through the roof for. The whole ‘stole some bread to feed my starving family’ business you mentioned? That is still happening. I hear about it still happening. I mentioned Zimbabwe earlier because my Mom happens to be from there originally, and still keeps in touch – and ye gods, the things she’s heard from her contacts, and witnessed herself on a recent visit. Inflation is exploding, and police are kicking doors down. That poor country is run on bribery, starvation and violence – and this is after they kicked out the dictator who was originally behind it all, which everyone thought would turn things around.

            Now, of course these aren’t huge parts of the world (well, except China), but they are part of the world. They have to be factored into the equation. They are worrying examples that say to bad leaders ‘hey, change just a few things in your own country, and you too can get away with horrible things with few repercussions.’ And yes, of course these things have always happened to some degree; I’m not saying they’re endemic to the modern world, but they’re still there, and show no signs of getting better. And unless some big changes are made pretty soon, climate change is most likely going to boot everyone in the ass, and if that doesn’t kick off a fresh new wave of this crap, I’ll be surprised.

            I’m an American, and this is still one of the best countries in the world to live in – I’m not saying it isn’t. But it’s far from the best, and it’s getting worse. Despite how I may be coming off here, I don’t want to be Mr. Doom-and-Gloom. I do genuinely try to be optimistic about the state of the world, I do recognize all the benefits you’ve mentioned, and I do hope that we’ll be able to straighten all this crap out – but will you at least acknowledge that I, and many other people, have reason to be concerned?

        • Murry Chang

          Again your last reply isn’t here for some reason, weird.

          Anyhow, it seems like you’re trying to get me to validate your feelings or something. No, life isn’t necessarily a walk in the park for everyone, but it’s definitely better on average(not for the average citizen of Venezuela, for the average person in the world) than it ever has been.

          I honestly don’t think America is getting worse. Race relations, while still not great, are far better than they were even 20-30 years ago(I’m old enough to remember riots in LA on the news). Gay people can get married. Pot is legal in many places. People are basically free to express themselves in many places where they would have literally been beat for being what they are 20 years ago. The news media makes it seem like things are getting worse because bad news gets eyeballs on the screen and none of them are out to do anything but get eyeballs on the screen so they can pump up their ad revenue.

          Sure, you can be the victim of a violent crime, but the odds of that happening are far lower than they would have been in, say, 1985 unless you live in one of a very few specific parts of the country. And yes, your family is in Cali which sucks because bad land management practices stretching back decades along with global warming does make it more of a risk that your house might burn down, but on the bright side our country is FAR less polluted than it was 20-30 years ago.

          Looking at facts instead of the fear mongering media is a good idea. You’re not wrong to be concerned in general, you can drop dead right now, but the need for concern is far less than it was 20 years ago.

          • Deneb T. Hall

            Well, I can see it this time. Maybe the Agony Booth forums are just eccentric somehow.

            Just to clarify – I agree that getting your news solely from the ‘fear-mongering media’ is not a good idea, but I actually don’t do that; I make it a habit to avoid the news whenever I can get away with it, simply because it’s way too depressing these days. Anyway, I think I’m far less blitzed by such things than many people are these days – I don’t have a TV hookup, I don’t subscribe to social media news feeds (which just tell people what they want to hear, anyway), and while I do read online news, I do so with a grain of salt. My opinions are basically just my own, as supplemented by those of a few Youtubers who seem sane enough that I trust what they have to say. I do my research, in other words.

            I think in some ways we’re both right here – things can get better in some ways and worse in others. Society is complicated like that. In other ways, we’re simply going to have to agree to disagree – I have what I see as very good reasons for my opinions, and I’m sure you have equally valid reasons for your own. Let’s just leave it at that.

          • Murry Chang

            I’ll agree that things can get better in some ways and worse in others, but looking at all the facts, I can’t see any kind of a valid argument to be put forth that living as an average person in any other time period in history would be a better choice than living as an average person today.

          • Deneb T. Hall

            Other times had their pluses and minuses just as the current one does. The 1920s, for example, were an amazing time in terms of culture, but they also had Prohibition, the beginnings of the Great Depression, etc. I wouldn’t want to give up any of the advances we’ve made in terms of civil rights and so forth, but there are other things that I would give up in a heartbeat if it meant returning to a society where accidentally causing offense meant apologizing and moving on from it instead of automatically being expected to grovel and beg for forgiveness, or risk losing your job. The trick to finally achieving something like the perfect society, in my opinion, is not to be complacent about the present; it’s to use the past as a field manual to see what has been proven to work, and what hasn’t, and then make improvements as need be.

  • rpdavies

    According to one website parts of Shanghai now look like the Chinatown in Bladerunner.

  • Just to make a point. All the rain was beautifully atmospheric, but was not done for purely aesthetic reasons. According to Future Noir, the rain was to had the LA background. So we would not see the houses other suburbs behind the sets.

    I always found it kind of wonderful that one of the great moments in atmospheric cinematography was mostly due to practical reasons. Serendipity reigns in film-making.

  • GreenLuthor

    There’s one other shot with sunlight: when Roy dies, some doves are seen flying away. They couldn’t get the doves to fly in the rain, so they ended up filming that shot when it was sunny.

    Also, just to be nitpicky: “swatting” isn’t limited to video games. It’s a general “get the police to raid someone’s house/business/whatever”, but the reason can be anything the asshole who does it wants (including just because they thought it’d be funny).