by T.J. Tranchell
“In the near future” is the best answer I can give. The script tells us that from the beginning. Best guesses on when that is are fuzzy but I don’t think they moved too far beyond 1987, when the original film was released.
There are two kinds of sci-fi action flicks from 1980s: those set far into the future and those set in the near future. “RoboCop,” “The Running Man,” “Escape from New York,” “They Live,” and “Alien Nation” are among my favorites of the “near future” bunch. “Escape from New York” (1981) is set in 1997; “The Running Man” (1987) is set in 2017-19.
These films share a common trait that distinguishes them from the far-future films: People still dress like it is the 1980s.
Costume designers didn’t have to get crazy because 1980s fashions were already crazy. We had punk and New Wave music to go along with the neon colors and wild hair for the youth. For the older generation of white men in power, the three-piece suit and tie remained the standard for business attire.
You could pluck one of the OmniCorp executives out of “RoboCop” and drop them into any other movie where a scene calls for a board meeting and no one would blink an eye.
This means two things, and neither are that the costumers had no imagination. The first thing it means is that these movies had limited budgets. Filmmakers saved what they could to cover the cost of special effects and blowing stuff up.
This style of dress also meant that in the near future, people thought everyone would still dress like it was 1981 or 1987, even in 1997 or 2017.
Look around you and then tell me these people were wrong.
We call it “retro” now. Sure, other fashion trends have come and gone, but we’re living in one of those periods in which old is new and previous trends have become popular again.
I swear it’s true. Last week I saw a 20-ish guy wearing acid-washed jeans. I didn’t even know they still made acid-washed jeans. Poor guy looked like someone had an accident with a bottle of bleach.
I’m pretty sure someone said the same thing back in 1989 or so.
The good news is that the cuffs of this young gentleman’s jeans were not pegged. If you are going to go home and try to peg your jeans, let me know. I’d buy that for a dollar.
T.J. Tranchell is a journalism adviser at the University of Idaho and loves movies from the 1980s. He hasn’t tried to peg his jeans since 1992. Feel like talking about ’80s movies? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.