If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Aliens from Outer Space! Myth vs Reality

There are many varieties of alien common to sci-fi films and literature. And, while some are innovative, unique and fascinating, the creativity of Hollywood is miniscule compared to what scientists can come up with. Hollywood studios have limitations--time and money. Most Hollywood aliens have two arms, two legs and a head on top because... well that's what their actors have!

insert joke about money here...

Changing that, in the days before CGI graphics, was a huge and costly challenge, not that the studios didn't try from time to time. Starting in the 80's, films such as E.T. and Star Wars showcased smaller aliens through the development of puppetry.

But, even now, larger aliens are almost always hungry monsters who make very short cameos, where they almost eat the heroes.

Mmmm... crunchy spaceship...

Most alien characters are about the same size and shape as us.

Often, in film, the specifics of what an alien looks like is less important than the story itself - how did humans meet the alien? What does it want? What will it mean for humanity? And then, some films avoid these larger questions, and just go in for clichés--stereotypical alien archetypes that are copied endlessly, avoiding any thought whatsoever:

1. Hostile Alien Predators

(No disrespect to the awe inspiring design of H.R. Giger, or the excellent, question-raising film by Ridley Scott, but this is a plotline that James Cameron completely ruined and exploited.)

These have an animal intelligence. Some hunt for food, and some, like H.R. Giger's iconic Alien, simply kill for pleasure, raising the question of whether they evolved this way or were designed by scientists as a weapon. The shape and size of these aliens can vary, from tiny to monstrous, including giant worms. This also includes giant insects and blobs that simply eat everything around them, growing larger and larger, like an amoeba, sometimes evolving mouths, teeth, and faces.

2. Humanoids/Proto-Humans

these are alien races that closely resemble humans in size and shape, with small physical differences, and often cultural differences as well. This includes most of the aliens on Star Trek and Star Wars. They think and act in mostly human ways. Some are greedier, some are more warlike, and some are more rational. But, they all want to expand and explore the universe in space ships, and form diplomatic relations with their neighbours. In children's movies, these humanoids often feature a sweet, innocent child alien as the starring role. Examples include E.T. and Mac & Me. You could consider Star Trek's Vulcans as "space elves" in that they're smarter and more rational than your average human, and they have pointy ears.

3. Super Humans

Some aliens appear identical to humans, but have special powers, and almost always a much higher, and pacifist intellect. Examples include Superman, Starman, and Kapax.

4. Shape Shifters

Some aliens can change their appearance to appear human, and can switch from one identity to another. One example include Species.

5. Body Snatchers

Some aliens kill people, and snatch, or steal, the body of the victims. They may wear the body as a skin, like in Men In Black, or they may grow "pod people" from giant seeds.

6. Hive Soldiers

These are alien soldiers with a hive mentality. They serve a master or queen, and will follow orders perfectly, to the letter, even dying without fear. As soon as the master control dies, they cease to function, usually falling to the floor. Examples include Star Trek's Borg, and The Avenger's alien invaders in the first film.

7. Little Green Men

These are technologically superior beings that are emotionally stunted and undeveloped. They typically live on Mars, or elsewhere nearby. They're unhappy with their planet and are jealous of Earth, which they try to steal from us. Examples include War of the Worlds, and its parody Mars Attacks.

8. Grey Aliens

These are a variant of little green men. These are the kind most common in conspiracy theories. These grey little aliens are scientists, most interested in studying and experimenting with humans. They abduct innocent people, study and probe them, and sometimes put them back on earth. Stories about this kind of alien try to build suspense through mystery - not knowing what they look like, so often times, you don't even get to see them, just a bunch of bright lights, and then they're gone. Examples include Encounters of the Third Kind, Contact, and Paul.

Not all Sci-Fi aliens are thoughtless copies. Sometimes a writer will mix characteristics in interesting ways, for example by combining types, like in Men in Black. Edgar, the villainous alien of the first film, is a giant insect who hates humans - but he snatches their bodies and wears them to fit in as he explores Earth. The effect is hilarious, even though it's hideous.

Another film, District 9, showcases aliens who look like nasty, giant insects, but who are actually more heroic and humane than the people in the story. It's a story where the real enemy is us.

Having said that, here is how real scientist imagine aliens and alien worlds.

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