May 27, 2020
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).
Here now are five of the many noteworthy aspects of Blade Runner that seem to capture the present world accurately, or not at all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.