Alien Arrival Films
In a sneak peak at the Venice film festival, film critic Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian described director Denis Villeneuve’s new alien encounter film Arrival (2016) as being “dreamy, freaky, audacious” and a “big, risky, showy movie” which provides the viewer with spectacle and fervent romance. Early reviews from the Telluride film festival describe the film to be provocative in establishing an intelligent model for communicating with an extraterrestrial species.
Steven Spielberg employed the use of musical tones and color in CE3K (1977), and in Arrival linguist Dr. Louis Banks (Amy Adams) refers to an actual concept known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (in-depth description) aka the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis which states that there are certain thoughts of an individual in one language that cannot be understood by those who live in another language (Banks refers to conveying the differences between a tool and a weapon to the alien species).The hypothesis further states that the way people think is strongly affected by their native languages.
We see attempts at communication outreach in alien arrival films (AAF)(this is my term, btw, and I realize most of these films are more eloquently classified in other sci-fi sub-genre) as early as Howard Hawks’ production of The Thing from Another World (1951), with Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) pleading inferiorority to a “thinking carrot” (James Arness), except there is no alien reciprocation other than a swift Thing-Chop to Carrington’s clavicle. In the same year, film-goers watched an evil astronomer Dr. Mears (William Schallert) forcefully squeeze secrets of the universe from a benevolent visitor in Edgar Ulmer’s low budget gem The Man from Planet X (1951). During the 1950’s, alien arrival films almost invariably resulted in poor communication, misunderstanding, conflict, and elimination.
We see several manifestations of alien conflict in the 50’s:
- Transmogrification and absorption in It Came from Outer Space (1953), Invaders from Mars (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Blob (1958), and I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958).
- Blood-letting in The Thing (1951), It the Terror from Beyond Space (1958) and Night of the Blood Beast (1958).
- Good old-fashioned disintigration in The War of the Worlds (1953), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), and I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958).
- Mind-control by weird telepathic bat-like entities in It Conquered the World (1956) and Not of this Earth (1957).
- Crushing by way of a pulsating thumping accumulator thing in Kronos (1957)
- Forced inebriation in Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957).
- A nice right hook in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
From the 1950’s through present day, it is rare to see a peaceful encounter —The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and two Spielberg vehicles come to mind. After all, why would an advanced alien race even bother communicating with primitive underlings when the earth is chock full of water, nitrogen, silica, rare-earth elements and bio-mass? The place is the pickings. Plus, vile aliens hell-bent on conquering the planet are a lot more interesting than E.T.
For me, I definitely lean toward the low-budget AAF (Saucer Men and IT Conquered are guilty pleasures), but I enjoy the intelligent films as well. The crème de la crème and Big 3 AAF of the 50’s being:
- The Thing (1951)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
- The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
I’d love to see this big starfish sucker thing appendage grab Forest Whitaker’s torso and squeeze out his eyeballs, but I know that aint happening. Still, I’m still looking forward to Arrival opening in the U.S. in a few weeks.