Welcome to the future.
Two classic science-fiction films — “Blade Runner” and “The Running Man” — are both set in 2019, and although the films envisioned a few details that aren’t a reality right now, many of their themes nailed current modern life in America.
“I call science fiction ‘reality ahead of schedule,’” Syd Mead, the celebrated designer behind “Blade Runner,” tells the Post.
Watch these films now, and you can see many parallels between their fictional worlds and the real one we’re living in this very year.
Ridley Scott’s 1982 film “Blade Runner” told the story of a detective (Harrison Ford) tasked with hunting rogue humanoids known as “replicants,” played by Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer. “The Running Man,” which hit theaters in 1987, concerned a police officer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) falsely imprisoned by the totalitarian state and made to perform on a top-rated game show, which forces convicts to run from heavily armed pursuers through a dystopian maze.
While the events of the films are too exaggerated to be real, the two movies are set in a world affected by climate change and technological upheaval, both of which can be seen today.
“‘Blade Runner’ was meant to be a warning about how our climate was changing, how our pollution was destroying the world, how industry is taking over the environment,” says Gray Scott, a New York City-based futurist and host of online show “Futuristic Now.” “All of those conversations we’re having now.
“I looked at San Francisco a few weeks ago, and those people were forced to wear gas masks because of the forest fire. It looked just like ‘Blade Runner,’” Scott says. “The sky was orange. I don’t want to live in that world.”
Not everyone has to. Another detail both films correctly predicted was the widening gap between the rich and poor.
The world of “The Running Man” is rife with shantytowns filled with the homeless and destitute, recalling pockets of modern-day Los Angeles and New York City. Meanwhile, the rich travel in limousines and live in gleaming skyscrapers. While today’s New York is cleaner and safer than it’s ever been, the wealthy increasingly live in ever-higher towers — such as 432 Park Ave. — making the division between rich and poor more stark and visible than ever before.
The same is true in “Blade Runner.” Super-tall buildings dominate the skyline, while the streets below them are chaotic places choked with people and traffic.
“I knew that Ridley wanted to produce a city that was congested visually and architecturally because the decent people never got below the 40th floor,” Mead says. “The city streets were like a basement.”
The shortage of food and fuel depicted in “Blade Runner” thankfully hasn’t come to pass in the US. In fact, we now have a glut of oil and fewer people are going hungry today than in any time in history. And yet, in some parts of the world, people do live like this.
“I really found ‘The Running Man’ interesting because of the idea of a global economic collapse,” says Katie King, a New York-City-based futurist. “This makes me think of Venezuela. Food shortages, they’re having issues with natural resources and there’s also the police state. It’s straight out of the movie.”
Perhaps the best detail that both movies got right was our more immersive relationship with the media.
Back in the 1980s, there were three television networks and the Internet was still just being used by a couple researchers. Unplugging was the default.
Both films also imagine a world where cameras are ubiquitous, filming us whether we like it or not. There’s also the merging of propaganda and news — something seemingly impossible back in the days of the three trusted news anchors.
The Los Angeles of “Blade Runner” is covered by gigantic digital billboards and blanketed by blimps floating overhead streaming ads on an endless loop. “The Running Man” similarly cloaks its city with building-sized screens, so programming can be watched at all times. There is no escape from information. Government runs the network and controls the message, often spreading misinformation to further its cause.
“Running Man” director Paul Michael Glaser said his movie reflects our current media environment. “It mirrors people’s perception of the entertainment industry, their perception of the news,” Glaser told The Post. “It captures the feeling that we’re all being manipulated and lied to. Those are huge things that people live with every day.”
“The lines have blurred between reality and news and propaganda and entertainment,” the movie’s producer George Linder agreed. “All that did not exist at the time ‘The Running Man’ was made.”
While the Japanese influence in America isn’t as strong as “Blade Runner” predicted, another innovation: a universal language combining pieces of existing tongues, like the “cityspeak” used in the movie, is already happening online. Emojis, for example, are understood universally.
“We’re moving back towards the Egyptian hieroglyphs,” Scott says. “I can send an emoji to my friend who speaks Japanese and they’ll understand.”
And then there’s the emergence of reality TV. “The Running Man” perfectly predicted the America of 2019 and our obsession with watching “regular” people become iconic.
“We have a reality star as a president. I don’t know how much more we need to say about it,” futurist Scott said. “We’re not killing each other for ratings — yet. I think if your culture would allow it, we would. I’m not saying we won’t.”
“I do wonder what would make Americans decide to take the worst of the worst [criminals] and turn it into a show?” King said. “Could it be these big media companies start failing and a way to save their channels is to do something new that could be something like this? It very much could happen.”
We’ve already taken baby steps.
“One of the producers of ‘American Gladiators’ confessed to me that he sold that concept to the network by simply copying scenes from ‘The Running Man’ off a VHS and playing it in the pitch meeting, saying, ‘We’re doing exactly this — except the murdering part,’” Steven de Souza, “The Running Man” screenwriter, told The Post.
One thing both films failed to predict is the collapse of major corporations like PanAm and Atari (both of which advertised in “Blade Runner”) and the rise of the smartphone.
“When I came on the film, they asked me if I wanted a phone in my car,” Glaser says. “Even then, I don’t think I had much of an understanding of where our phones were going.” And some of the ideas from both movies haven’t quite arrived, like the flying cars seen in “Blade Runner.” They’re on their way, though.
“There are actually multiple companies working on this,” Scott says. “If you have an extra $700,000, you can purchase one now.”
Uber is one of those companies, working on an autonomous air taxi that the company says will be available by the mid-2020s. We’ll see.
“I do think we’re some ways off,” King says. “ ‘Blade Runner’ might have jumped the gun a little bit.”
Same goes for the movie’s “replicants.” Though it’s never explicitly clear what they are, the film’s opening scroll says they’ve come about through an “advanced robot evolution,” though they are completely organic.
While lifelike humanoids are decades away, scientists are working on 3D printing live tissue and could one day make artificial organs. And some companies, including New Zealand startup Soul Machine, are trying to bridge the gap between human and machine by making AI more lifelike and emotional.
“It could happen by 2050,” King says.
And what about those implanted memories that make the replicants believe they’re human?
“In the laboratory setting, there are studies showing that we can influence memory in the brain — you can delete and replace memories,” futurist Scott says. “But it’s nowhere near commercial. We’re still far away from being able to take a pill or sit down in a chair and zap your brain.”
The prescience of both films makes them still popular today, even though both received a lukewarm reception upon release. “Blade Runner” flopped at the box office, and “The Running Man” was dismissed by many as popcorn nonsense.
But as the years went by, appreciation grew, as the divided world both films predicted increasingly became our reality.
This fracturing of society will become even more true as time goes by, Scott said.
“In some areas of the world, we’ll see dystopian nightmares,” he said. “And yet in other parts of the world, we will see pockets of utopia where greed and government corruption is nonexistent because of emerging technologies like the blockchain, automated farm robots and affordable housing made by machine.
“I see a much more fractured future,” he added, “where the extremes are more obvious and delineated.”
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