Here’s why there are no cell phones in ‘Blade Runner 2049’

One of the biggest differences between science fiction and other fiction genres, such as fantasy, is that sci-fi often strives to make predictions about how the world will look in the future. The accuracy of those predictions depends on the work in question. Whether spot-on or not, influential works of sci-fi often define how generations think of the future and few works as influential as 1982’s Blade RunnerOne prediction that the movie failed to make was the ubiquitous use of cell phones and digital data.

In 1982, no one questioned the use of pay phones in the film, but the movie’s sequelBlade Runner 2049, launches in a world where many people bought their tickets on cellphones. CNET  asked director Denis Villeneuve about the lack of such devices in his new movie. The director actually gave two answers to this question. The first was a tongue-in-cheek response that there was no Steve Jobs in that world, and thus no iPhone or other smartphones.

Of course, with or without Jobs, someone would have popularized the modern concept of a smartphone, but it is Villeneuve’s second answer that we find more interesting, as it sheds light on the way technology can both aid and hinder modern storytelling.

“The virtual world is a very powerful universe but is not necessarily very cinematic,” Villeneuve said. “There’s nothing more boring than a detective behind the keyboard looking at Google.”

The Oscar-winning director went on to say that a world without Apple or Google allowed him to put his “[detective’s] hands in the mud” and “travel in the world, identifying clues.” Villeneuve’s answer turns one of the original’s most obvious slips into a strength as it allows the movie to showcase classic detective work that might get otherwise lost when so much information is just a few clicks away.

Looking back at the original Blade Runner with modern eyes is a fascinating look at how people used to imagine the future, but the sequel is interesting for a different reason. Villeneuve himself describes Blade Runner 2049 as a “movie that has the romanticism of old sci-fi.” As modern technology continues to outpace a lot of the predictions made by classic sci-fi, there’s something oddly comforting about a movie that is willing to embrace old sci-fi despite its flaws.

Aside from that, there’s the added bonus that it’s simply a good movie.

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