What ‘Blade Runner’ got right — and wrong — about life in 2019

(CNN) — Way back in 1982, “Blade Runner” offered a bold vision of the future.

Ridley Scott’s beloved sci-fi movie, loosely based on a Philip K. Dick novel, tried to predict what life would be like on Earth in 2019. It presented a dystopian, industrial version of Los Angeles with dreary weather, humanlike robots and people living in outer space colonies.

In other words, not quite accurate. But hey, the movie is specifically set in November 2019 — a lot could change in 11 months.

Here’s what the original “Blade Runner,” almost 37 years ago, thought our society would be like in the year ahead — and how well its predictions turned out.

We’d have humanlike robots called replicants

Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, is tasked with tracking down rogue replicants — robots who look and act like humans — and retiring (killing) them. The replicants are highly intelligent and so lifelike that authorities can’t tell them apart from real people and identify them by gauging their emotional response to questions.

Verdict: We’re not there yet.

Researchers are vying for a future with lifelike robots — maybe even “Blade Runner’s” artificial animals like Tyrell’s owl or Zhora’s snake. Some labs are even trying to build sophisticated sex robots like the Pris, the movie’s “pleasure model” replicant. And computer scientists have made huge leaps in developing machines — like IBM’s Watson — with artificial intelligence.

But we’re not close to mistaking them as real.

We’d travel in flying cars

What’s a sci-fi movie without a flying car, right? In “Blade Runner” Deckard climbs into a “Spinner,” a police car that can take off vertically like a helicopter and fly like a plane.

Verdict: We have them, sort of.

We’re still many years away from commuting to work in flying cars, but that doesn’t mean that prototypes — like this one, or this one — don’t exist.

We’d be seduced by digital billboards

The Los Angeles of “Blade Runner” is full of blinking electronic billboards for Coca-Cola and other products.

Verdict: Yep, that’s our world.

Just look at today’s Times Square, where standard billboards with splashy photos are child’s play next to ones that scroll and flash and play videos. Some billboards offer to post your selfies, while others target you with ads as you drive by.

Our climate would be miserable

It rains a lot in “Blade Runner.” Like a lot a lot. And it’s dark and dreary … all the time.

Dick’s novel and the movie suggest this is because of rampant industrial pollution and radioactive fallout from a nuclear war. Scott, the director, has said it was more to hide flaws in the movie’s sets than anything else.

Verdict: Well, things today aren’t that bad. But scientists agree our climate is getting worse — with potentially disastrous results.

With its references to off-world colonies — where humans get “a chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure” — “Blade Runner” was ahead of its time in introducing the idea that there are consequences to humankind’s actions on Earth.

While we haven’t colonized another planet yet, billionaires like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are working on alternative ways to get us into space.

Companies like Pan Am and RCA would still be around

Verdict: Mixed. Several iconic brands featured in the movie don’t exist anymore. We miss you, Pan Am and Atari.

Others have been reinvented. RCA was swallowed by Sony Entertainment, and the Bell Telephone Company is now AT&T.

But “Blade Runner” bet right on the longevity of Coca-Cola, Cuisinart, Budweiser and Tsingtao.

We’d talk to our computers

“Blade Runner” showed us that one day we would tell computers to do what we wanted. In one key scene, Deckard uses verbal commands to instruct a machine to zoom in on a photograph.

Verdict: Nailed it.

Thanks to voice recognition technology, we now we have computers of all sizes to command. “Alexa, what’s the weather?” “OK Google, how long will it take me to get to work?” “Hey, Siri, set a reminder to take the trash out at 5 p.m.” Some voice assistants are even coming to some strange places, like your toilet.

But we’d go into phone booths to make video calls

Yes, Deckard can make a video call in 2019. But he must use a public phone booth to do it.

Verdict: Way off.

A couple of things to unpack here. First, “Blade Runner” seems to have totally missed the rise of smartphones. (Hello, Skype/FaceTime/every other app with video-calling capabilities.) And second, the movie didn’t anticipate the disappearance of pay phones. When was the last time you saw a phone booth?

We’d smoke like chimneys at our workplaces

In the opening moments of the movie, a blade runner puffs a cigarette as he conducts a test on one of the replicants. The room is thick with smoke.

Verdict: Not likely.

This sure doesn’t look like 2019, where indoor smoking is banned almost everywhere. It’s a minor detail, but one that makes the film seem more dated than futuristic.

Maybe Ridley Scott just liked the atmospherics of shafts of light piercing the hazy darkness.

And we’d really like wearing trench coats

“Blade Runner’s” costume designers went with a retro, ’40s and ’50s look — with some punk touches — to match the movie’s film-noir vibe. Deckard wore a trench coat, while Sean Young’s Rachael sported prim vintage suits and a puffy fur coat.

Verdict: Although classic styles have made a comeback, the movie’s fashions don’t exactly scream 2019.

The film’s shoulder pads are a blast from the past, but maybe they’ll make a comeback by November. Like they say, what was once old will be new again, right?

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up