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Blade Runner universe is packed with references to our own: cities, advertising, popular singers, political institutions, etc. It's not our universe, since we are living 2018 and we are clearly not close to the achievements of this Universe technology (off-world colonies and replicants most exemplary). The geopolitical landscape it's pretty different too.

The 1982 movie is set in the future and could suffer from being too optimistic regarding the development of new technology, as it is risky to predict/imagine the worlds state only 40 years in the future. But Blade Runner 2049 has been released with knowledge that the technology is currently not feasible and the historical events are different, so (hopefully) someone involved may have thought of a reason for the different development of events.

In Phillip K Dick's novel (by the way, while writing this right now I get the K reference), nuclear war makes a clear changing point although others are possible (the introduction of one of the novel technologies for example). I don't know if such a motive was clearly stated for the films universe.

My question is: Do we know when and how did the film's universe became so different from our own?

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    "Ridley built this movie as an extension of the late-70s. He took the main currents of the 70s-the fashion, the aesthetics-and brought them into the future. Me, I had to struggle with the problem of having to deal with a movie that was made in 1982 that talked about 2019. 2019 is tomorrow. As we all know, there’s a difference between the future world of Blade Runner and today’s reality. So I came to the conclusion that I needed to deal with an alternate universe, to start with the world of the first Blade Runner and extend it into future in order to create continuity between the films"
    – Valorum
    Jul 8, 2018 at 21:02
  • @Valorum good to know it was aknowledged
    – Ram
    Jul 8, 2018 at 21:09
  • yeah, unfortunately it doesn't answer your question. The fact that BR2049 is set in the same continuity as BR doesn't address the wider question of when our reality and BRs reality diverged.
    – Valorum
    Jul 8, 2018 at 21:50
  • Proof, if it were needed, that movies set in the future should just skip years and dates entirely if at all practical. :-) Jul 9, 2018 at 1:10

3 Answers 3

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At the latest, the Blade Runner future had split off by 1982.

During Deckerd's video-phone conversation in the bar with Rachel, you can see the Bell Telephone logo on the machine he uses.

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In real life, on January 8, 1982, Bell System agreed to make itself defunct as a result of anti-monopoly actions by the U.S. federal government against its parent company, AT&T. By 1984, Bell System ceased to exist, and by 1987 AT&T had adopted the logo that's familiar today.

There are a number of brands in Blade Runner that are defunct today in the supposed "Blade Runner curse," including PanAm which folded in 1991. But Bell is the only brand that saw its death knell before the film had even been released. Assuming that Ridley Scott didn't intentionally put in any anachronisms, it seems safe to say this is the earliest divergence from his vision of the future.

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    Great info, now you leave me imagining how Bell System evading anti-monopoly actions could led to a cyber-punk future
    – Ram
    Jul 8, 2018 at 21:04
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    Did you mean "at latest" rather than "at earliest"? Jul 8, 2018 at 21:08
  • A brand or company name can be resurrected. I don't think this is quite enough to go on (but a good try !). Jul 9, 2018 at 1:08
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    The Bell logo has been in continuous commercial use by regional Bell operating companies since the 1984 breakup. I don't see anything in that photo that indicates that it's AT&T. Jul 9, 2018 at 1:57
  • Maybe in reality, Bell downsized to a smaller company operating only the 555 area code - an action that would look like being defunct to the casual observer? Jul 9, 2018 at 6:01
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I think the divergence actually happens in Germany in the early 30s. I say this because it would appear that the Nazis may have funded a group of scientists working on early computer systems that went far beyond enigma but still came too late to help Hitler and Himmler win the war. When Americans and Russians marched into Germany, the Americans got the lion's share of the computer scientists as well as the rocket scientists while the Russians got the bioweapons, materials engineering, and chemical weapons guys.

At some point, the technology developed for military use by the Americans in the computer science field emerged as commercial tech in the mid-eighties, possibly earlier, allowing brands like Atari and Pan-Am to survive where they might have once had to die off or go bankrupt owing to government disbursement of tech for wargaming being used for actual commercialized gaming, computation and communications tech, missile and drone guidance systems reviving the fortunes of airlines like Pan-Am and management software that made even companies like Adidas rise to outshine later competitors which in this world never took off.

Plus the survival of the Soviets without the cold war ending with the collapse of the Soviet system but rather its evolution into something that clearly trades with the West like a part of a global economy suggests that the events of the cold war, as well as the development of American laws around commerce, evolved substantially differently, tending to cement old players in the economy in place rather than displace them or disrupt their grip on important technological innovations in the marketplace.

So it would seem that stuff that may have begun as merely the difference between Nazis approving and funding a project in the late thirties there that they failed to here resulted in a butterfly effect of compounding changes to the timeline from what we're familiar with until their universe develops androids and replicants and FTL drive to colonize other planets by the 2010s while we're mostly into cellphones and mass communication and disrupting finance and management systems that they managed to maintain.

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    Hi, welcome to the site. Could you break this up into paragraphs though, to make it easier to read? Dec 5, 2021 at 6:30
  • I admit, that's always been a problem I have. My brain doesn't break thoughts into paragraphs and I'm especially bad at doing so on my own. When I'm up tomorrow I'll make an edit. Dec 5, 2021 at 8:21
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    Can you provide any specific details from the films or supporting media that backs up this theory? It all sounds a bit like your own "head canon", which is fun to come up with, but not really what was asked for.
    – IMSoP
    Dec 5, 2021 at 13:25
  • I'll need to rewatch the films to back this up more. I remember that after watching the original many times and then the new one a few times that there were clues that some of the nazi philosophy regarding jews (as well as our homegrown American racism) got transferred to thinking about Replicants, specifically notable when in the first movie Harrison Ford's boss was referred to in the narration as a guy who would have been a racist back in the days before Replicants came along to become the focus of a need to discriminate against an underclass. Dec 6, 2021 at 1:57
  • From there it became something I organically built on as I watched the movie over subsequent viewings. I've queued them both up to watch as Christmas approaches, so I'll come back to this and add more later. Dec 6, 2021 at 1:57
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In the context of the first film, there is no divergence. While it seems unlikely that any reasonable technological developments starting in 1982 could have lead to the world of 2019 on screen, the filmmakers clearly took existing things (like contemporary companies) and just had them around in 2019.

Things get more complex with 2049, since it was purposefully created as part of an alternate timeline. Given the existence of the USSR in 2049, one has to assume that some time after 1982, something happened to arrest the deterioration of the Soviet Union. The fact that they are trading with the West implies an end to the Cold War (and, perhaps, a more free market economy).

As an aside, I run a Blade Runner RPG (using the Cepheus system) and as far as my "head canon" goes, I have the break point earlier, in 1969. The Russians land on the Moon first, expanding and accelerating the Space Race and sending technological development off in weird directions (vid phones, replicants and FTL travel, but no cell phones and clunky computers). But, OC, none of that is in the films.

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  • Welcome Dr Gonzo. Please take our wonderful tour and refer to the help center for guidance. Interesting first post, but it could be improved by the addition of film or franchise-specific material to support your conclusion. Mar 23, 2022 at 7:09

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