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How did ‘Blade Runner’ stick as the vision of LA's future?

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The sci-fi masterpiece got a few things right

Blade Runner
LA traffic in 2019 is just as bad as Ridley Scott predicted in the 1982 film.
Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection

Los Angeles, November, 2019, reads the opening shot of the 1982 film Blade Runner. For almost four decades, the masterpiece’s portrayal of the city has persisted as the Los Angeles of the future.

Director Ridley Scott and concept artist Syd Mead (who conjured up a slightly less dystopian vision of LA’s future for Los Angeles Magazine in 1988) presented a dazzling and terrifying Metropolis, where monumental skyscrapers tower above crowded streets illuminated by garish video advertisements and flame-belching refineries.

How well has that vision held up?

Just before the 2017 release of Blade Runner 2049, writer and podcast-maker Colin Marshall looked at how the original film predicted LA’s future in his excellent video essay series called Los Angeles, the City in Cinema.

Blade Runner got a few things right—we’re a multilingual city, for sure—but also made some mistakes, predicting flying cars and retrospectively hokey video-pay phones.

Marshall suggests that the endurance of its vision of LA is linked not to clairvoyance, but to the film’s use of architectural treasures from the city’s “real past” that appear in the movie, including the Bradbury Building, Union Station, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House. (In a way, Marshall says, the use of the Bradbury anticipated the adaptive-reuse ordinance that totally transformed Downtown by allowing for the reuse of old buildings for new purposes.)

Coming in at just under seven minutes, the video is a wonderful intersection of appreciation for both films and Los Angeles.

The series as a whole is worth a watch, as it explores “the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing—just like the city itself.”