- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Alex Lynchehaun
The week past saw the release of Battleship, a movie concerning a group of United States sailors who come across a massively advanced alien ship almost boringly set on conquest. Later this year Ridley Scott will be unveiling Prometheus which, although not really about an invasion of Earth, is a prequel to Alien and will probably contain… well… yeah… Last year there were no less than sixteen alien invasion movies including Monsters, Cowboys and Aliens, Super 8 and, unfortunately, Battle: Los Angeles.
We really should be thankful for the stupidity of Battleship’s premise (for those of you who don’t know it is genuinely based on the board game.) It offered the blankest possible slate – the movie had to somewhere contain a ship and it had, preferably, to commit to battle. The writers chose to fill this with aliens. Why? And how once again did the homicidal aliens come into contact with Americans? The answer to the first one at least is that aliens are one of the easiest enemies to have in a movie. They have no set characteristics and so can fulfil whatever role the writers have in mind for them- from the tripods in War of the Worlds to the even creepier people-shaped Bodysnatchers. No matter how much Stephanie Meyer has tried you can’t rewrite stock characters like vampires, werewolves or Nazis in the way you can aliens.
Hollywood was strangely slow to pick up on the potential for aliens in movies though (with the exception of the magnificently titled Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe in 1940). The thing-from-another-world genre really began in the 1950’s with The Man From Planet X, The Day the Earth Stood Still and (appropriately enough) The Thing From Another World. As clichéd as it was these were all movies born of the general terror of living during the Cold War. Later entries into the genre from the 50’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Blob dealt with the fear and suspicion of living in Red Scare America. The Blob also featured a giant pile of goo going around eating everyone. That’s not to say that these movies had profound political messages any more than the current generation of gritty reboots of superhero movies do. They were movies born of the feelings of the time. The notable exception to this is The Day the Earth Stood Still which dealt with an alien that threatened to wipe out mankind unless they could all learn to get along – that movie may have had a message.
The 60s and 70s weren’t as productive in churning out alien invasion movies although two deserve mention entirely on the basis of their name: The X From Outer Space (1967) and The Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975). An interest in aliens as villains would come back with a vengeance in the 80s, however, with classics such as Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Predator, Cocoon and They Live. However these largely existed to provide the hero with an excuse for going crazy big-time style – notably in They Live when Roddy Piper wanders into a bank and opens fire, but it’s okay because everyone in there is an alien. The exception to this rule is the chestbuster from Alien which obviously exists to remind us all that it looks very much like a penis.
Independence Day, you magnificent abomination. Finally we got back to aliens coming in and trying to kill everyone. You were the po-faced ying to Mars Attacks!’s yang. This was back to good old fashioned everyone-but-the-dog-is-doomed territory. A groove which we haven’t really bothered getting out of this year’s releases are to be trusted.