Where are our flying cars? Why Blade Runner's future will never come

Where are our flying cars? Why Blade Runner's future will never come

In 1982, Ridley Scott’s cult science fiction classic Blade Runner showed us a future full of flame-belching towers, flying cars, LED umbrellas and robots (or "replicants") barely distinguishable from human beings.

It was set in the Los Angeles of 2019, which will have to work extremely hard over the next two years to look anything like it. Denis Villeneuve’s new sequel, Blade Runner 2049, moves things further ahead by 30 years, exploring many of the same themes, and the world, of course, becomes less recognisable yet.

Using “accuracy” as a measure of science fiction’s value would be an unbelievably limited way to approach it. Like many films in the genre, both Blade Runners posit an alternative future with its own internal realism, rather than seeking to prophesy, with some pedantic obsessiveness, the one we’ve actually got coming. If we watched them and every speculation had come to pass, what would be the point?

Even so, guessing at the shape of our future, and marvelling at its possibilities, has been a preoccupation for cinema since its earliest infancy. The famous short A Trip to the Moon (1902), by the French pioneer George Méliès, fantasised about manned space travel long before we’d taken any steps towards achieving it – albeit space travel which ends up taking the moon’s eye out.

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), meanwhile, looked ahead to a dystopian robot age with human society oppressed and afraid.

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Every film which has ever used time travel as a device would look foolish if this was taken, in itself, as a scientific prediction, but that’s not to say it isn’t a fascinating game to play. The Back to the Future movies have a lot of fun with where trends seemed to be pointing us. The 2015 of Back to the Future II is a silly, cartoony place with hoverboard chases and wacky “directional” fashion (and flying cars, again). And they’re still using payphones! And have fax machines everywhere!

Funny little things, though, it hits on the head near-accidentally – such as Biff paying for a cab ride using his thumbprint (sans smartphone, admittedly). Computer-controlled door locks, check. Voice-controlled TVs, absolutely. When you brainstorm this many potential gadgets, you’re bound to strike gold with a few of them.

Alongside the myriad ways in which Blade Runner doesn't match up with 2019 Los Angeles, there are stray aspects of its aesthetic which accurately showed the way forward. Take the giant electronic billboards, for instance – an idea floated by JG Ballard in his 1957 short story “The Concentration City”. (Piccadilly Circus didn’t go digital until 1998.) Or the scenes of Facetime-style video chat between Deckard and Rachel.

Brand names are always a headache for the art department – which corporations will last the course, and which won’t? Blade Runner landed on its feet with Coca-Cola; rather less so with the long-defunct Pan Am and Atari, whose collapse has created the meme of a “Blade Runner curse” over the years.

Deckard and Rachel's video chat

Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002) had its own ingenious solution to product placement, when Tom Cruise got targeted commercials – Lexus, Guinness, Gap – piped into his vision. We might be a long way away from 2054, “precogs” or black market eye transplants, but anyone on Instagram knows that adverts are already stalking you based on your entire social media profile.

Films don’t just take pot-luck guesses at where we're headed, but actively shape it through copycat inspiration, too. 2001: A Space Odyssey had an immeasurable influence on 1970s design trends, while failing entirely to grasp that women of the future could have roles other than Pillbox-Hat-Wearing Stewardess – your one option if you’re in that film and female.

2001: A Space OdysseyCredit:Time Life Pictures

Even the robot helper HAL is male, despite being an obvious precursor to Siri. Who’s to say all the handheld comms devices and headsets in Star Trek didn’t speed up the mobile phone revolution? And if you think self-driving cars are a bad idea, at least they don’t come with that creepy Johnny Cab driver from Total Recall (1990) behind the wheel.

John Underkoffler, the science advisor on Minority Report, explained how the “guesses” there essentially became self-fulfilling prophecies after the film’s success. “It ended up as a kind of shopping list for venture capitalists of all stripes. Almost every future technology you see has led to start-ups or big company initiatives, to put those ideas into development.”

Whether Blade Runner 2049 becomes the next of these conceptual bandwagons remains to be seen. It needed a flying equivalent of Minority’s Lexus 2054 concept car for Ryan Gosling to swoosh around in, but the chosen make we see emblazoned on its dashboard (very mild spoiler!) is one of its most amusing touches: a Peugeot, of all things.

Villeneuve’s film also takes a cue from Spike Jonze’s Her in imagining an artificially intelligent companion for replicants – albeit one gifted with lifelike holographic form, not just Scarlett Johansson’s voice.

Siri, the ancestor of these characters, has strong views on Scott's original film. Ask her about the plot, and she’ll say, “It’s about intelligent assistants wanting to live beyond their termination dates. That doesn’t sound like too much to ask.”

Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/flying-cars-blade-runners-future-will-never-come/

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