Sunday, 16 October 2011

Les extraterrestres extraordinaire, or: the best aliens

After watching Cowboys & Aliens, I was disappointed in the film's aliens. How can an alien race that manages to do interstellar travel, resort to drooling, growling and chasing little kids around naked on Earth? I realize that the realities of extraterrestial civilizations and their behaviour is a really nerdy thing to be concerned about. But movies tend to have aliens that all look alike, act alike and still look an awful lot like us humans. If there is intelligent life in space, I'm sure that it doesn't look anything like humans. I mean, evolution is based on life forms developing over the living conditions. As the living conditions in an outer space planet can't be exactly the same as in Earth, the extraterrestial life forms must have all sorts of evolutionary developments that differ from ours. And also, aliens sure won't act either like us humans do, or like wild animals do. If a race has been so developed as to be able to travel the stars, there must be huge culturical differences to ours.

Nevertheless, in movies there has been a considerable amount of cool aliens, and thus I present to you my ten favorite races. No Star Wars or -Trek creatures here. They are not showcased enough in their movies, or are just as boring as the whole (Trek) series that has them. I favour creatures from horror films, science fiction tales and other creature features where they are the undoubted stars.

10) Ro-Men from Robot Monster

Let's kick this list off with some old-school B-movie monsters. This cult movie is famous because its creature work is notoriously crappy. The film's alien race, Ro-Men, look like space gorillas with a diver's helmet with a TV antenna coming out of it. But let's stop and think that previous sentence a while.

Isn't that actually awesome?! Hell, I've seen B-movie monsters that look like the director's cousin put on a rug. In that context, and for that budget, Ro-Men are actually pretty cool. In the film itself, they have wiped all humans from the face of the earth. All humans? No, a small family still has picnics by a cave and resists the might of the Ro-Men army. One R-Man is sent to wipe them out, but in the course of the film, he learns about love and comes into conflict with his superior officer's orders. Ro-Man's also easily distracted by soap bubbles. Also, there's some stock footage lizard-dinosaurs, and the film's plot turns out to just be an annoying little kid's dream. Or does it?

If one Ro-Man can bring all of humanity to its knees, that guarantees a place on this list. It's a fun movie to watch snippets from (not the whole thing, though), so it's recommendable to be playing on the background of a Halloween-themed party.

9) Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Speaking about totally preposterous alien races, the one that really takes the cake (to the face) are these creepy little bastards. They seem to have modeled their civilization according to our earth circuses, so they fly to the planet in a big circus tent, look like clowns, have balloon dogs as bloodhounds, kill people with popcorn and venomous pies, and of course are murderous bastards who want to wipe out all human life from Earth.

This is, of course a total parody of the kind of alien films they used to have in the 50's. But in fact, murderous space clowns are no more ridiculous than most of the creatures they tried to pass off as space aliens back then. Every sane person on earth would also tell you that clowns are scary in their own right, let alone these twisted little creatures with pointy teeth and bags full of tricks to capture unsuspecting humans.

So perhaps the circus motive is just an adaptible alien race's way to get people's attention? This would explain why the klowns look so strange. Their plan involves wrapping people up in cotton candy inside their circus tent. It's not exactly clear why, perhaps the clowns will eat them if they fall asleep. At least the gigantic klown king seems pretty hungry, and what else should such a monstrosity eat but human cotton candy? For the teenagers arriving to the rescue, the circus tent/spaceship of the klowns is full of deadly surprises, too. It would ruin a lot of fun of the film to reveal them all, but suffice to say, the klowns are more than a lottle deranged and really take their circus-theme seriously. But they manage to be banished and we never have to endure such horrors again. Or do we? No, the film never got a sequel.

8) Mars Attacks! Aliens

While Klowns might be mischevous, they also need their plan to eat. In Tim Burton's most underrated film, the Martians who stop by are essentially Gremlins, in that they cause mayhem, destruction and murder just for laughs. The big-brained, bulging-eyed bastards start the film off by setting a herd of cattle on fire. Their pranks get even more elaborate and murderous from there on.

Humans, particularly government officials, are pretty clueless in the film. Even though the quacking aliens send them threatening video letters, they believe the aliens are coming on a mission of peace. The overtly political correct world blames a single hippie's released dove as a message of war. In reality, it's just a ruse for the aliens to go around making our world their playground and to kill off a bunch of celebrities. Or in Pierce Brosnan's and Sarah Jessica Parker's case, do some weird medical experiments on them. Burton has assembled an impressive cast of stars, who mostly become victims of the martians' practical jokes. This sketchy disaster film has taken it's best ideas from a ground-breaking bubblegum card series, as silly as that sounds. But it works. The Martians wreck up every city on the planet, be it Las Vegas, Washington D.C., Paris or some midwestern town. For sheer effectiveness and having fun doing so, the martians would earn a higher spot on the list. But in the end, they are pretty easily disposed of. But hell, they at least wore their space suits all the time, and didn't die from any sort of viral disease.

7) Bad Taste Aliens

In Mars Attacks!, the Martians attempted to infiltrate the human society by dressing up as Lisa Marie with giant hair. In Peter Jackson's debut feature film, they have an even more cunning disguise: they look a lot like a bunch of twentysomething newzealandaise kids, who could be friends of Peter Jackson. But when they show their real form, the aliens are actually grotesquely bulging, bloaded lard-asses, who have trouble running. But they do work for an interstellar hamburger company, after all.

Yes, the plot of the aliens in this splatter flick is that they have come up with a delicious new treat to sell their customers: human burgers! They land on a small town in New Zealand and start chopping the inhabitants up. They chop them in such small pieces that the meat from the entire village fits in a few bloody cardboard boxes. Luckily the government knows just who to call and the aliens have to deal with The Boys, a crack commando unit of extremely violent mercenaries, who don't like aliens on their beautiful island.

But the aliens are tough: even if you run them down on your Beatle-truck and cut them in half, they will still throw pine cones at you. They for a sort of cultish movement that follows their boss blindly. Most of the aliens are third-grade workers, just doing the killing to pay off the bills. But at least the job has the benefits of free puke-tasting evenings. For weaponry, they favour hammers, mallets and other bashing weapons over rayguns, and rightly so, because they are terrible shots with Earth weapons.
Their space ship, which resembles a flying country house, is also pretty memorable. But they can't hold a candle to Derek, 'cause Dereks don't run.

6) They Live Aliens

For the award for the aliens that have managed to infiltrate the human society the best, look no further. Why, they could be sitting right behind you, now. In John Carpenter's bitter letter to the yuppie era, aliens have taken over our world already, we just don't know it. They control the banks and the economy and the governments and the police forces, while normal working-class people can't find a job or a home to call their own. The aliens also control the climate change, turning up the planet's temperature to suit their species better. When they've used up all of our resources, they move on to the next planet. And who knows how long have they been here already.

The hard-lucked Nada (Rowdy Roddy Piper) happens to find a box of sunglasses in an evicted house. He soon realizes that these sunglasses allow their bearer to see the world as it is: just a ruse to lure people into consuming in order to make the rich aliens even richer. He soon joins the underground resistance. Lucky for him, the aliens have some problems, and one is that they are pretty poorly organized. When Nada starts mass-murdering them, even their own police force only sends one squad car at him at a time. Even though the aliens have wrist-communicators (that look like Rolexes), they rarely report any sightings of Nada to the authorities. Nada doesn't even change his clothes and he can still walk the streets pretty freely. As a counterweight the aliens have the advantage of having lured some greedy, greedy humans to their side, too. They also control the media, and use it to keep the brainwashing going on. Seeing as the divide between classes has only grown steeper since the 80's, one can guess that Nada ultimately failed in his attempt to bring the extraterrestials down. Maybe you can do better?

5) War of the Worlds Martians

Martian from the 1953 version.

The original extraterrestial world-conquering plan, against which all other plans are measured, comes from the classic novel of H.G. Wells. It's been filmed many times, the most notable versions coming from Byron Haskin in 1953, and Steven Spielberg in 2005. Even Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin's 1996 blockbuster Independence Day uses the same story as a template (and has really sick aliens to go with the needlessly giant explosions and inspirational speeches). The basic plan of the invasion remains the same.

A meteor shower hits the Earth, and actually contains malicious aliens. They take out the world's electricity (if the film is set on modern times) and bring out their tripodded kill-machines. When they start to zap a lot of people to death, no amount of human military weapons can even scratch them. Cities are in panic and most of the civilizations lie in ruins. The aliens start to grind captured people to farm some sort of vegetation from their home planet. In the end, they fail with their plan, not because people were the superior people, but because the Earth has so many small virae that the aliens can't handle the athmosphere. Thus, they would've won, if they would've done more tests on climate, or would've used more protection.

Maybe this is E.T.'s big brother, out for revenge on the society, but easy on fractured nuclear families.
What makes these aliens stand above many others that try out similar things, is that these are creatures developed to thinking, not fighting. Indeed, the actual aliens are small, squishy and vunerable, just like humans are. We are both designed a large brain size in mind. But the aliens usually use an exoskeleton, such as a tripod, that makes them nearly invincible. WoW is a great story (even if the Spielberg one over-emphasizes the importance of a family's unity), and works as a lesson in warfare as well. Let's hope no alien satellite can pick up a version from the internet.

4) Prawns from District 9

Easily the most fascinating alien race of recent years, District 9's insect-like aliens become quite symphatetic by the end of the film. More so, that the humans in the film, in fact. So, it's a bit like Starship Troopers, then. After all, both films feature satiric commentary on the ills of an overtly right-winged, racist society. It's easy to feel sorry for even the most inhumane creatures, if they are treated as badly as the prawns are.

The prawns are all lower middle-class. Without a queen or upper-class to guide them, they've drifted through space and stumbled to Johannesburg, South Africa. Of course, a group of people that are used to being abused is going to be easily abused where-ever they go. So, us earthlings allow the drones to stay, but within the confined quarters that comprise the titular District 9. As the aliens there have no jobs, no homes and no way to mingle with the rest of civilization, a shanty-town rises there. Criminals see it as a way to make money. Pencil-pushing bureaucrats, such as Wikus Van De Merwe see it as a nuisance that should be cleaned off with brutal measures. Of course, once he gets a taste of his own medicine, his attitude starts to change.

The actual prawn civilization is only hinted at in the film. The prawns do have a highly developed culture, where each worker is valuable. It does resemble more of the insect kingdoms on our Earth than our human civilizations. Interestingly a human can also turn into a prawn by an infection. This may be due to the species' different mating habits, but it still creepily reminds me of The Thing. It might be a good idea to keep the aliens quarantined and not be allowed to mibgle with people, after all. Much can also be read into the fact that prawns have brought hyper-destructive weapons along with them, but lost them to human scientists. The goal for the prawns is to get back home, and they attempt to accomplish this by getting their society back on Earth. This might mean trouble for us humans if they ever will return.

3) John Carpenter's The Thing

The most inhumane and horrifying alien comes from the best horror remake of all time. The original, overrated 1951 Thing From Another World saw a Frankenstein-like monster (who was actually a hyper-evolved carrot) chase scientist around an Antarctic Outpost. Nothing about the design or behaviour of the creature was very original, save from his vegetal evolution. Thank Space Pope for John Carpenter, then, who went back to John W. Campbell's original novel, Who Goes There? to get inspiration for his creature, rather than the original film version. So, Cold War paranoia in the same vein as Invasion of the Body-Snatchers has been partly replaced by... something else entirely.

The best idea about the Thing is that while the creature is a shape-changer, it has no real form. It is more akin to a parasite, that can take over its host organism and make it act according to its whim. For the movie, the creature can also grow fangs, tentacles, feet and other creepy appendixes. It is also very, very hard to kill. Any tiny part of the creature can take on a life of its own, and work on its instincts to survive and to spread the disease. The Thing can spread from person to person in a matter of seconds, so there's a deep fear that it gets to the outside world.

Thus, the Thing is really more of an apocalyptic threat than a multi-dimensional representation of an alien race. It does come to the planet on a space ship, but for all we know, it could've been built by another alien race that Things have wiped out and are looking for new ground to spread. Of course, for a film made in the heat of the 80's, Thing also contains plenty of AIDS allegories in decomposing bodies and lacking the immunity to resist a new kind of virus. But the real strength of the film is it's delirious paranoia that piles up as the film progresses. Really, the Thing can be anyone, even your best friend. And thus he can murder you when you least expect it. Keep watching your friends.

Like most of Legolamb's Musicals, this features the entire plot of the film, so it contains spoilers, but is brilliant.

2) Predators

There are three official Predator movies. In each of them, we learn something new from our vagina-faced rasta friends. Yet still, wisely, the aura of mystery still shrouds them. It's good, because if they were to be too thoroughly explained, I would lose interest. As they are, Predators live, die and behave according to their own species' code of conduct. In John McTiernan's 1987 film Predator, we learn all the basics. Predators are an alien race that hunts for sport, and have been hearing good things about man being the most dangerous game. Predator proves his own dangerousness by taking out a team of elite commandos in an Earth jungle, but loses to the almighty power of Arnold Schwarzenegger at his pride.

However, it is not until Stephen Hopkin's 1990 sequel Predator 2, that we learn a whole lot more of the species. Most Predators have a honor code (not the one in the first, obviously, because he rather blew himself up than would lose a fight to Arnold). This means they won't kill people who aren't carrying arms, aren't of age or aren't bastards. Luckily, this still means that LA is crawling with prey from drug-dealers to gangstas to Gary Busey. Predators also like to take trophies from their victims, such as skulls, bits of spine, or skin. When Danny Glover manages to best a Predator in a fair fight, he is allowed to live, and handed a pistol from the 18th century as a trophy. Apparently the species also lives long and does regular trips to our planet. Hey, it's not like people are an endangered species.

Finally, in Nimród Antal's 2010 film Predators, we learn that Predators come in different tribes that like to hunt their own ways. They also seem to have competitions on who is the better hunter on a jungle planet. For the race, they kidnap a group of dangerous people from Earth. While it's cool to see a samurai vs. Predator show-off, one can't wonder why they only want to hunt humans. I mean, a xenomorph skull was seen in the last movie... on second thought, don't answer that.

The Predator is an iconic character, a little campy, but also a little threatening. It's no wonder Stan Winston's original creature work has stayed so relevant to the modern day. Also every film has brought something new to the table for the character, which is something not a lot of such franchises have the right to say. Then again, for a 14-year-old series, theree films isn't really that lot.

I couldn't resist. I'll just use another video on the next Arnold Project.

1) Xenomorphs, The Alien Saga

Really, could #1 be anything else? The xenomorphs are a thoroughly though-out bunch of nightmare creatures, that actually function in their own twisted logic. There are some forms of insects that lay eggs inside their enemies (such as tarantulas). The larvae then eat the host animal alive. This natural phenmenon turned on people. Alongside that and the horrifying, Freudian appearance of the fully grown xenos make the films work on a subconscious level. We all fear of being sexually assaulted, penetrated by something alien, and not being able to control what outside forces do to our bodies.

The Swiss artist H.R. Giger has done a massive body of work of nightmarish visions where bilogical and mechanical beings are connected. Yet nothing he has ever made has quite captured the imaginations and horrified people so intensily as the Alien. Most of the trick of how they work is that they are fast, silent, and move around in the shadows. Nothing is more frightening than the unseen.

Except maybe facehuggers. Those creepy bastards.
The biology of the aliens is always fascinating, and have created memorable visuals. From the ominous egg in the original film's poster to the terrible spider-like facehuggers, to the chest-bursting larvae are examples of biology at its worst. But things get even more ominous as the chestburster grows into a full-sized penis-headed nightmare overnight. The great thing about aliens is that you can get scared from either seeing just one part of it, and not knowing what exactly it is, as well as seeing a billion of them crawling up the walls readying to eat the faces off some colonial marines. And killing or wounding them is also tricky as they have goddamned acid as blood. The series would be good enough with this sort of creatures, but the first two also manage to create a library of believable, three-dimensional characters who you wouldn't want to get eaten by aliens. Except Burke the yuppie, of course.

Not as scary, but a great end opponent for our heroine.

With video games, bad video game adaptations like Aliens vs. Predator, comic books and god knows what, there should already be the time to retire Aliens altogether. Their appearance is already known, and they just can't shake audiences like they used to. Ridle Scott seems to realize this, because his would-be Alien prequel Prometheus seems to have ended up as something else altogether. When the inevitable Alien remake comes around, I hope that the makers have enough artistic vision to take their horrifying appearance to the next level and would hire another artist to work on them. As of now, we don't need another nghtmare. But still, the time may be soon. They mostly come out nights, mostly.

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