But there's something besides style that "Blade Runner" has in common with subsequent science-fiction movies: It reflects misgivings about the moral consequences of biotechnology.
The plot of "Blade Runner" revolves around genetically engineered humans known as replicants. The replicants are "superior in strength and agility and at least equal in intelligence" to the humans who designed them. And like us, they have emotions: fear, hate, love. We are also told that replicants are used as slaves to perform tasks deemed too hazardous for humans. Eventually, the replicants revolt and are declared illegal. Any replicant caught among the humans is immediately executed, but the film euphemistically refers to this as "termination."
In resorting to euphemisms, you see, the filmmakers are making a point: They are saying no one is willing to face the moral issues raised by biotechnology. Using the word "execute" would force them to recognize that we're talking about human beings, but our culture doesn't want to do that.
The world of "Blade Runner" is like ours in that people are so eager to reap the benefits of the latest biotech wonder that they postpone thinking about consequences until it's too late.
"Blade Runner" is hardly unique in its misgivings about biotech. With the exception of Star Trek, it's nearly impossible to name a film where cloning or any other biotech advancement is depicted as unambiguously good. It's as if the filmmakers know something that scientists and political leaders choose to ignore: Cloning and other biotechnology is fraught with peril.
These misgivings are so strong that they even emerge unintentionally. In the most recent Star Wars film, "Attack of the Clones," the republic faces a threat from a group of rebels. Just when it appears that all is lost, deliverance comes from an unexpected source: an army of clones. The good guys win.
Happy ending? Not at all. That's because the audience senses something that the characters in the film do not: The clone army will one day become the storm troopers who replace the republic with a dictatorship.
This, as a colleague of mine put it, makes the cinematic "Attack of the Clones" a nearly perfect metaphor for our current debate over cloning. Just as in the movie, the characters see the clone army as salvation, so in our culture we expect cloning and biotechnology to defeat our enemies: diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. And like characters in Lucas's epic, we are so eager for rescue that we won't stop to consider the potential price we pay for the momentary "victories."
It should not come as a surprise that we find truth in science fiction. An unsentimental view of human history and human nature, including our capacity for evil, is characteristic of much of the genre-which makes this one of those rare times that Christians can turn to the movies for moral guidance.