Blade Runner, photography and predicting the future

A scene from Blade Runner

“Did you get your precious photos?”

That’s what Roy asked Leon. Look past the futuristic wizardry and you’ll see that photography has a significant role in this cult classic. That’s what I noticed when I recently watched the fully remastered Blu-ray version of Blade Runner.

Back in 1982, when released to theaters, I was in high school. I was mesmerized by the flying cars, the glittering city and the technology. But it wasn’t the near-human replicants, the video phones or gravity defying vehicles that were the most memorable. For me, it was the futuristic voice assisted computer that analyzed photographs in the movie’s pivotal scene.

A scene from Blade Runner

Understand that our current technology has far exceeded Deckard’s computer. With simple flicks of the mouse replacing cumbersome voice commands, all of us photographers do sophisticated image processing that would blow the minds of the fictitious characters in Blade Runner. Oh yeah and if we wanted to issue voice commands, we can do that too, via Siri. In fact, our portable smart phones are all that Deckard would have needed.


We’re a mere 4 years from when the movie is supposed to take place. What other technology “predictions” haven’t worked out as planned? The biggest is flying cars, though honestly even back in 1982, I never thought that would happen. Genetically engineered animals and humans, probably not for at least 20 more years? Off world colonies? Other than the Moon and Mars, that may never happen.

A scene from Blade Runner

But when it comes to computer technology, the movie was quite conservative. We already established that a PC with Photoshop or even a smartphone will blow away Deckard’s computer. Video calls? We can do that from our cell phones too. Yup, the movie has sorely under predicted the power of the hand-held computer.

A scene from Blade Runner

And our ubiquitous hand-held devices have other story line implications. We no longer print our photographs but carry them electronically. Blade Runner’s entire representation of photography no longer fits our modern world. The movie was set 37 years in the future from when it was released. If we re-made Blade Runner today, set for Los Angeles in 2052, much of the story will need to change.

A scene from Blade Runner

Scaling up our current technology, I suppose in 37 years, all the surveillance will automatically identify and track any perpetrators. The power of images and photography scaled up to an infinite and scary degree. Blade Runner’s quaint notion of printed paper photographs is as far-fetched as flying cars. But don’t get me wrong. Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching this classic.

The movie opened to mixed reviews but most of my high school buddies and I loved it. Only a few didn’t. Wikipedia has an extensive entry and indicates that the movie has stood the test of time. Several noteworthy groups have included Blade Runner in their greatest movie lists.

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8 thoughts on “Blade Runner, photography and predicting the future

  1. Genetically engineered animals are already around. Cloned, too. But it’s only quasi-legal because (what a surprise) a fair number of people (me too) have serious qualms about it as — forget about religious objections — it sounds like a really terrible idea. They are already messing up our veggies and fruits. Lord only knows what they will do to our chickens, cows, and pigs — if they aren’t already doing it.

    I didn’t think the flying cars would happen either. I had an image of traffic jams up there and vehicles falling from the sky as they overheated and ran out of fuel. Nah.

    Which brings me to the bigger question: Have you seen the pre-order advertisements for the “Olympus Air” — clearly a cell phone fused to a lens? I have no idea if it works, but it has got to be the ugliest, nastiest looking camera ever. What ARE they thinking?

    1. Yes, genetic engineering has been around for a while but not to the extent portrayed in the movie. That level would take a while, I’m sure.

      The Air is Olympus’ version of Sony’s QX series which was released nearly 2 years ago. The Air’s advantage is that any micro 4/3 lens can be used along with a larger sensor. I’m not sure what problem it’s supposed to solve, which was the same issue with the Sony.

  2. Actually you are completely missing the total awesomeness of Bladerunner’s high tech photography and mad image processing skills. There are two amazing (and subtle) details that I think people overlook, that have always fascinated me…

    1) In the scene where Deckard is using his computer to look for clues, the photograph is clearly in 3D. He looks around an object to capture a reflection not visible from the default point of view. (Which now that I think about it, you can do with a Lytro photo – Something I never thought I’d see in the real world!)

    2) The scene where he’s looking at the photo of Rachael on the porch as a child (in the screenshot above) when the camera zooms in for a closeup in the next shot, the image is actually alive. While the people are still, the shadows of the trees are clearly moving.

    So to summarize, Bladerunner’s prints are in 3D and have video. Must be some sort of ePaper… 😉

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