I’m an avid reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy. I also enjoy the occasional scientific text for those of us who aren’t physicists or biologists. I’m also (to the surprise of many) not a big Star Trek fan.
And I have a bone to pick with certain SF television shows and movies and what they’ve done to the collective unconscious as far as alien life is concerned. No, not just Star Trek is guilty of this, I know. It’s a broader problem.
It seems that these various institutions consider aliens to be . . . pretty much just like you and I. The average badly imaged SF alien is just some guy with a thin coat of blue paint on and a few candy corns stuck in various places. They’re typically motivated by extremely un-alien emotions, like jealousy, rage, greed or love.
I mean, these are aliens we’re talking about, right? Isn’t one of the very definitions of ‘alien’ to be unlike a human in just about every way? so why is it that aliens are constantly portrayed like futuristic Blue Meanies? One argument I get a lot is it’s a problem with the budget.
Sure not everyone has a couple of million bucks to blow on spectacular CG effects. But when it comes right down to it, I think that’s a pretty lame excuse.
Take an extremely alien, cold, almost unthinking killing machine that will stop at nothing to bring down the protagonists – not because it’s evil, not because it’s motivated by revenge, but because it’s hungry. Doesn’t that sound just a little alien to you? Now think about what this thing would look like. It can move fast, exists in an element that’s toxic to humans yet that we insist on invading, and it’s big. Four, five times the size of you or me easily. It’s been spending millions of years evolving into a super predator. Think that would be a tough creature to make? A hard one to portray? Well Steven Spielberg did it with a few hundred pounds of leaky rubber in a little movie called Jaws.
Bruce (the shark in Jaws) has more alien qualities than most on-screen aliens I’ve ever met. And Spielberg did a well thought out, tense, well paced and suspenseful movie while barely showing Bruce to us at all! I think that does pretty well for the budget argument for lame aliens.
Perhaps another reason aliens are portrayed as so human is that it’s really, really hard to think like something other than a human. Really. Give it a try. Think about what you’re life would be as a giant, ambulatory hot dog. Or a scattering of energy across a million miles of void. That’s not easy. It’s doable with some heavy creative energy and a lot of work, but easy it’s not.
Even scientists fall prey to this. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I’m watching some show on the Science channel and a scientist type comes on and says “no life could possibly exist on a planet like this.”
When they say that no life could possibly exist on this planet, what they really mean is no Earth like life could exist there. They say nothing of a silicon based entity name Vrokkkth who subsists on radiation and completes a single thought in the span of a year.
What about sentient robots that have self evolved. I mean come on, I’m just one guy with a passion for neat things and no one is giving me a budget to produce massive SF films. Can’t someone else think like this?
Or maybe they don’t want to. The kinds of aliens that I’m talking about (both the human/alien and the alien/alien) abound in modern Science Fiction, so why not on the movie screen? Perhaps it’s because the people in charge of making movies – by this I mean those who hold the purse strings, think that we the movie going public are just too dumb to want that.
[tags]alien, aliens, SF, science fiction, literature, movies[/tags]