With a new Star Wars movie on the way, and a Resurgence (see what I did there?) expected for Independence Day in 2016, it’s probably fair to say that science fiction as a genre is as strong as it always has been. However, all this talk about space and aliens and whatnot got me thinking about one of my favourite topics…aliens. They’ve made a strong trope in sci-fi since the genre itself existed, and whilst we still haven’t made much progress in discovering if they actually exist in the real, tangible world, we’ve at least gone to mesmerising feats to bring them to life on the big screen. Below is a list- in no particular order, it has to be said- chronicling my favourite movie aliens.
The Prawns (District 9)
If you haven’t see District 9, then the first thing you need to do, after you’ve finally got wi-fi for that cave you undoubtedly live in, is go and watch it. It takes the ‘alien invasion’ idea to a whole new level- the aliens are not invaders so much as they are visitors, but, unlike visitors, their ship is broken and they’re unable to return home. It just so happens that their ship broke down right above Johannesburg in South Africa, meaning that the aliens are rounded up, thrown in a shanty town and largely forgotten about in what is a perfect parallel to apartheid and the underlying racism that exists in the country. Neil Blomkamp’s movie, since, have been hit and miss, but this movie is a must see.
What makes the aliens, nicknamed the prawns by humankind due to their appearance, so appealing is that they have very human traits. Their faces are alien but their expressions are human. You can see the pain, surprise, shock and horror on their face in the same way you can on a human. Also- as we discover from the lead alien’s son- they have family values. They care for their children in the same way we do and they mourn their dead. They’re clearly from a societal structure similar to ours. Christopher Johnson, the alien character we follow through the movie, has been given a human name because, according to the humans themselves, it makes him less terrifying and threatening. However, as the audience can see with their own eyes, despite their ability to rip a man to pieces with their sheer strength, they are a peaceful race who just want to go home…or at the very least, peacefully co-exist with the rulers of this planet.
The Xenomorphs (Alien saga)
The Xenomorphs are a must for this list, because alongside being the most horrifying outer space creatures in movie history (arguably), they literally come from a movie saga called Alien. The clue is in the name.
The Xenomorphs are the evil antagonists on these movies, and if you’re a sci-fi fan, they need to introduction. They are born through a ‘face-hugger’, a type of space crab that latches itself onto the face of its victim and lays its egg down their throat and into their belly. Later, after a worryingly short gestation period, the alien baby hatches from its host. Interestingly, depending on what living thing is infected, a slightly different alien can be created- we even see a Xenomorph that was born of a dog and has adapted canine qualities. If it wasn’t for the Xenomorphs, the world would be sorely lacking a classic movie scene…one that involves John Hurt, an awful lot of screaming and panic, and an alien bursting dramatically out of his chest like a stripper from a cake. What makes these aliens so scary is that they’re intelligent. They may not have weapons, but they can sneak through air vents like champs, and they have acidic blood which means that even killing one is a risky undertaking.
In fact, if it wasn’t for Sigourney Weaver, a flamethrower and a big stompy walking robot thing, the world would have long since been doomed.
For those of you who have played Dead Space, you may have noticed at least a passing resemblance between the game’s antagonists- The Necromorphs- and that of the Alien movies. That’s no coincendence. The Dead Space developers openly admit to having been heavily influenced by these movies. Although probably just the first two. We don’t talk about the others…
The Predators (Predator saga)
For years, the science fiction world has consisted of two lots of fans- those who love the Xenomorphs and those who love Predators. In fact, so strong has this passion been that it spawned a movie and video game seemingly from nowhere- the atrocious (at least in the movie sense: the games are pretty good) Alien vs Predator monstrosities.
The Predators, in their own way, aren’t an entirely bad race. They have their own code of honour that they like to live up to. They’re hunters, and when they visit planet Earth, they understandably test themselves against the dominant force on the planet- mankind. That is why the original movie sees Arnold Schwarzenegger battle a lone Predator in a battle to the death, and why Danny Glover has to do the same in the inferior (although not entirely terrible) sequel. In the latest version, a ‘reimagining’ produced by Robert Rodriguez, the ‘finest’ human hunters on the planet are beamed up to the Predators’ home world where they are hunted.
Despite being technologically advanced- capability of turning invisible, using heat seeking devices and being tougher than old boots- the Predators are an honourable race. They only hunt for sport and they have no intention of all out conquest. A male lands on a planet and, in order to prove his worthiness (it’s a sort of ritual, a rites of passage deal), hunts some of the native species and then leaves. That means that the human race is largely safe as a whole- but that isn’t much consolation to the poor individual that the Predator has chosen as its target. They aren’t invincible, though, and if it suits their survival needs, they’re not even entirely against the idea of teaming up with humans. Their civilisation is just different to ours. Very different.
The Na’vi (Avatar)
Okay, so there was a lot of negative things to be said about James Cameron’s Avatar, one of which was the simplistic plot and lack of character development. They are, without a doubt, accurate criticisms, but people who raise those points are missing what the movie’s intention was. It was nothing but an excuse to put the latest computer imagery effects to the test and we all shamelessly went along and avoid a movie that was absolutely the best visual feast you could ask for. In that aspect it didn’t disappoint.
But perhaps the most interesting fictional creation of this movie are the Na’vi, the race of blue aliens that look close enough to people to be sympathised with, but different enough so as to be exotic and exciting. Unlike most aliens in movies, the Na’vi are a peaceful race who have primitive technology. They rely on nothing but spears and athletic ability to hunt, and they survive by having a natural affinity with the nature of their planet.
This makes them the victims as when the humans come to mine the living daylights out of their planet, they are forced to watch as huge areas of their rainforest-like home is destroyed. They are being invaded, rather than being the invaders. In fact, for me, this was the most interesting part of the movie. We were dealing with an alien race who, far from being the aggressors, had actually been living out their peaceful lives on their planet, unaware of humankind’s existence until we rather rudely landed on their doorstep and promptly began harvesting their home. It portrayed humanity as the ugly, mysterious and violent invading race which, when you look at our history, is actually a pretty accurate description. It is always totally feasible that we would behave in such a way upon discovery an alien planet with a valuable ore on it. It scares me to say that it may be the only way humanity would be expected to act in such a situation.
The Ewoks (Star Wars)
If there’s one thing that E.T taught us, it’s that aliens can be adorable and very, very cuddly. However, nothing comes quite as close as that of the Ewoks, who appeared in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and, perhaps accidentally, became the unsung heroes. When Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers touch down on their home planet, the primitive Ewoks, covered in fur and resembling overgrown space teddy bears, are in awe. However, it soon becomes clear that the Empire doesn’t want to be their friends and an aggressive expansion soon begins. When the Rebels land, the Ewoks, who have lived in squalor and in primitive ways, are equally as amazed. They end up capturing CP30, for crying out loud, and treating him like some sort of Cyber Jesus. It soon becomes clear that the rebels are no threat and in fact want to help end the Empire’s tyrannical grip on the galaxy. That’s when the Ewoks get their finest moment.
With nothing but spears and rocks, the Ewoks help the rebels fight back, managing to kill more Storm Troopers in the ten minutes of fighting than the rebels manage to kill throughout the entire trilogy. They even manage to take over one of the AT walker droids, turning it against the Empire. What made the Ewoks so timeless- timeless enough, in fact, to get their own (truly horrendous) spin-off movies and a Christmas special- was that, like the Na’vi, they were a peaceful race forced into war. And they were hopelessly ill-prepared, armed with nothing but ingenuity and their will to triumph. Audiences love an underdog. Especially one that is fuzzy and adorable.
The Autobots/Decepticons (Transformers)
Now, this one may seem a little random, and maybe even incorrect. After all, everybody and their mum knows that the autobots are robots. But, if we’re dealing with the term ‘alien’, then we have to give the Cyertronians their due. They are, by definition, aliens. They have come from a planet that is not Earth. Sometimes it helps to think outside of the box.
The Michael Bay movies may not be the best tribute to the transforming robots that we know and love, but they at least look visually stunning, even if they’re about as culturally relevant as my last bowel movement. And there is something inherently wonderful about robots that can change their form into a vehicle- especially when they nearly all have undeniably good taste by choosing sports cars or kick ass big rig trucks. The Autobots come from Cybertron, their home planet, where giant punchy robots are commonplace. The planet is in the middle of a civil war between the peace-loving autobots and the violent, ruthless Decepticons, and it is only when their war spills over to Earth that the transforming abilities play an important role. Optimus Prime, the legendary leader of the autobots, is a predominately good character, although as we see in both the cartoons and the movies, he has a ruthless streak. If an enemy Decepticon harms or attempts to harm a human then the consequences are very severe for him/her/it.
That’s the key part to why the Autobots are actually awesome characters, even if you ignore the awesome powers they possess. They are Earth’s protectors, and when a threat to the human race rears its ugly head (and the Decepticons can be pretty ugly), they are there to fend it off or die trying. They’re welcome aliens, and for once, humanity seems to working with them rather than trying to destroy them.
Humans (The Martian, Prometheus…)
So here I am thinking outside the box again. You see, whilst the majority of ‘alien’ movies portray the aliens as strange, incomprehensible beings, it is fair to say that in some circumstances, the aliens are actually humans. Again, you have to look at the definition of the word, but if you do, you’ll find that humans are actually the ‘aliens’ in a lot more movies than you’d originally suspect.
In The Martian, Matt Damon gets left behind (accidentally) by his crew on a mission to Mars, and he ends up stranded in space, on a harsh planet that isn’t forgiving to human life, trying to survive for as long as he can. He has essentially colonised a small part of the planet, thus making him an alien. He doesn’t belong there, but throughout the movie- based on a popular, wonderfully written book- he manages to beat the odds and hang on in there. Although the movie does put arguably too much focus on his frankly unnatural love for potatoes and the use of human waste as fertiliser. The very title of the movie is a play on words, as instead of the little green men you’d expect from the term ‘martian’, you instead get Matt Damon…who probably looks nothing like an actual martian.
And Prometheus does the same, too, as humanity takes it first steps into other galaxies, discovering planets left, right and centre. When they land on a mysterious planet, THEY are the aliens, setting foot in a landscape that isn’t made for them…where they don’t belong. Avatar also runs with this idea, with the native Na’vi seeing the humans as aliens. Who’d have thought that overgrown blue creatures with tails would find us strange to look at?
The Martians (War of the Worlds)
Spielberg’s version of War of the Worlds, whilst a far cry from the novel it is based on, at least touches upon the key themes that HG Wells did in his original work. Arguably the reason that aliens have capture the imagination in the way that they have, Wells’ novel portrayed a race of aliens who had observed humans for years and, when they had learnt all they could of our ways and culture, they launched at attack.
In both the book and the movie, they are horribly advanced. In the book, they are not invincible, but as they choose to invade during the Victorian era, there is very little that human muskets and cannon can do to bring them down. In the movie, which pits them up against highly advanced fighter jets and tanks, they have a different advantage- actual functioning forcefields that render them largely indestructible (unless you’re Tom Cruise armed with a grenade). In both versions, though, the meaning is the same- these aliens are highly advanced and humanity represents nothing but ants to them. They look down at us with curiosity from their huge tripod machines- three legged walking vehicles that outsize anything our current military has to offer- and occasionally they fire their emulsifying lasers at us. Interestingly, the Martians have progressed differently to us, in a technological sense, because even though they have weaponry and armour far surpassing anything we have to offer, they have at no point discovered the use of the wheel. And that hasn’t slowed them down in the slightest. They have made it to the same point as humanity, and past that, despite having discovered things in a different way.
Of course, even though they give humanity a good kicking, they are ultimately defeated by the smallest of foes- the common cold. The virus infects them and as they’ve never had the illness, their immune systems are unprepared and they all perish. Later, this idea would be copied in Independence Day in a very tongue-in-cheek way, although this time the virus in question is one from a computer, and not one transmitted by snot.
So it turns out that all we need to defeat aliens is an immune system, a little bit of luck, and a combination of Scwarzenegger, Cruise and Weaver…with a little bit of help from the Transformers!