Of course, Blade Runner 2049 “bombed” in its first weekend. ($31.5 million can buy you a lot of explosive devices.) The original Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott, was both a box-office and critical disappointment. It took almost a decade for Scott to recoup his reputation, and probably longer than that for the movie to achieve its present eminence.
But that’s all past, and I’d like to dwell on how futures change. We love to catch up on futurists’ predictions; it’s like a retrospective test on another moment’s imagination. In some ways, Scott’s vision has proven itself more ridiculous than that of Fritz Lang, who’d at least had the good sense to set Metropolis a century in the future. Scott only leapfrogged 37 years—to the almost-tangible 2019—and yet limned a City of Angels that’s overrun with gargoyles. He transformed the sine qua non of late-20th-century exurban sprawl into a plaque of scrap-metal trenches: a reverse biosphere belching exhaust and throttling anything organic. Structures that look like they’d have taken three decades to build seem to have been derelict for twice that long. To be fair, seven years after New York City teetered on bankruptcy, it would have been impossible to imagine the next generation coveting New Urbanism, or that dreams of public transit would supplant those of flying cars. Scott transferred gentrification “off-world” and off-screen.
Like Back to the Future II, however, for all that Blade Runner got wrong about the nuts-and-bolts of 2010s technology, it got a lot right intuitively, and this is expressed in visual terms. It’s difficult to make the experience of social media cinematic; to my knowledge, nobody but Spike Jonze has seriously tried. But Scott’s future is nonetheless evocative of our present, at least on a symbolic level. Prison-camp searchlights invade apartments like laser sights on rifles, anticipating the decay of privacy and personal space. Airborne neon billboards foghorn sales pitches from Atari, Pan American, and Coca Cola, anticipating ads that don’t intrude upon our homes as noise pollution, but which we invite in with our personal devices. Scott augured global warming by presenting L.A. as drenched in rain; it’s a painful irony to behold when much of California has been engulfed in flames.