Big Dumb Aliens

The alien Mo-Ron from the show Freakazoid

Last night I watched yet another movie with big dumb aliens in it, Cowboys and Aliens. Don’t get me wrong, C&A was a pretty good movie. I’d give it a 7/10. It’s fun, and it turns out Olivia Wilde is a sexy alien, which I always kind of suspected. But it seems that if an alien isn’t humanoid, they have to be some kind of horrible beast that kills people for some inadequately explored reason. Just listing some recent ones there’s Cowboys and Aliens, Super 8 (7/10 I’ve downgraded it from a previous score), Battle: Los Angeles (6.5/10), and the tv-series Falling Skies (4/10). Not so recently there was Independence day, and who can forget the aquaphobic aliens in Signs. Basically ever since the movie Alien, there’s this trope of big dumb aliens attacking us, that kind of has me peeved.

In Alien it made sense. The Giger alien monster didn’t come to us, we came to it. It was a creature, not an intelligent being, at least not in the first movie or so. But in all the movies I listed, to a greater or lesser extent, all the aliens come from innumerable light years away using technology we can only dream of, and when we see them we are distracted by how coldly they are separating our heads from our torsos using their serrated appendages.

There are other cases where this makes sense. I included Battle: Los Angeles because the aliens are big and burly and are attacking us, but in that movie they were just the soldiers sent to Earth by the weaker, presumably nerdier ruler aliens. In fact for all we know in the movie the soldiers might even be another species conscripted into battle by their previous conquerors.  I still call Big Dumb Alien in B:LA, though,  because there’s something missing in it that’s missing in all of them. Communication. You can’t really develop any advanced level of technology without communicating. You can’t organize the concerted invasion of a planet without it either. And yet we hardly see the aliens communicating at all in Big Dumb Alien movies. Not to themselves, and certainly not to the humans.

Super 8 is a little bit of an exception here. The alien does eventually communicate with a human and vice versa, but, I still include it, because the alien acts like a savage animal throughout most the movie. It can make people understand it if it touches them. Fine, but as my brother asked after he watched it, why doesn’t it just touch everybody then? Why not do that instead of killing people, or tying them up in some cocoon thing?

The aliens in Falling Skies might also be considered an exception because some humans eventually find out they communicate on radio frequencies. And they can also use children as cyranoids, speaking through them against their will. But why not do this all the time from the start? Their goal is to rape the Earth of its resources, fine. But it isn’t exactly working out that well if your operations keep getting attacked by the indigenous population. The idea is that they’re supposed to act like European colonists, but the European colonists had Indian guides. They didn’t start out mindlessly attacking natives. They ate with them, traded with them, gave them small pox that decimated their population, and THEN they killed them.

The other thing I don’t like about Big Dumb Aliens is that they aren’t just dumb, but big too. It just seems to me that any creature that can kill other creatures easily probably has little incentive to develop an advanced civilization. We humans have got opposable thumbs and our brains and that’s pretty much it as far as physical advantages go out in the wild. We have martial arts, but that’s a developed skill requiring technology. We have weapons, but that’s already technology right there. Just us, by ourselves, we ain’t much. That’s why we had to use our heads and work together to survive.

I just have a hard time believing that something with razorblades coming out of its armpits would ever try using a rock to kill something. The whole premise of these naked creatures being intelligent enough to travel through space seems off to me. It’s possible, but it just doesn’t seem likely. The whole reason we wear clothes is because we’re vulnerable. I just tend to think that if we didn’t have to wear clothes, we would have never invented the internet.

One of the best things about Cowboys and Aliens is the alien technology. There’s a nifty alien gadget that melts gold and floats it, dripping, up to receptacles that move it to the core of their ships, presumably giving them power somehow. Their ships aren’t just slightly tweaked versions of our aircraft, they look completely different and yet move how you might expect them to move. There’s a strange feeling I got while watching where I forgot that what I was watching was impossible. The mother ship is buried in the earth (which also seems to be a running theme in these movies now that I think about it) with a large part sticking out of the ground that looks similar to the rock mesas around it in the desert. When the camera first showed it, my eye just sort of took it in with everything else. There’s the plain, the sun, part of a mesa, an alien space craft, another mesa, a horse…wait what? The arm band thingy too, was different, yet it worked so naturally I wouldn’t have been that surprised to find out Steve Jobs or somebody designed it.

But all that care that went into the tech is rather wasted on the big dumb aliens that use it. A human gets a hold of one of their arm guns. Do they organize a group to go after that human and retrieve the weapon? Nope! They just carry on, tra la la, business as usual, kidnapping humans, making them watch television until they forget who they are and then cut them up and kill them for no real reason.

Of course in the movie, the humans are equally stupid. Okay, you know the aliens have these nifty arm guns that are the only things that seem to do them any noticeable harm. You manage to kill a few of the aliens that have the arm guns by luck and guile. What do you do? Keep shooting bullets so you can watch them ricochet off their impenetrable armor… WRONG! Cut their arms off and get their freaking arm guns! What’s wrong with you people!

…But I digress.

Basically the point I’m trying to make here is that if you’re going to write a movie where aliens are going to invade earth, take a few moments to think on things from the aliens’ perspectives. Yes, having a smaller alien body part come out of a larger alien body part is creepy, but how does that help the alien? Is it being creepy on purpose? Is that the alien’s way of saying hello? How about showing that the alien uses the smaller body parts for sophisticated tasks requiring a lot of dexterity or something? Anything. If you can let us know something about where the aliens come from and especially if you can show them working out some form of counter strategy to what the humans dish out instead of them just being evil, that will make the story so much better.

Just a thought.

Human Error

Marcus stood on the catwalk looking over the trucks and airplanes as they were being loaded with vaccine. “Ladies and Gentlemen!” He called, his voice echoing from the walls of the hanger. “We are about half an hour from go time, those of you who have finished loading your transport may want to take this time to pray. Whatever you believe in, whether it’s God , the Devil, or your lucky rabbit’s foot, get them on the horn. We need all the help we can get. Good bye, and good luck.”

Marcus wiped the sweat beading on his forehead, turned around and walked toward the stairs, wanting to say more, but knowing there wasn’t more to say. Nothing more to do. It was all up to the drivers, the pilots, the guards.

“A rousing speech, Marcus.” Hamilton’s crisp, English voice sang from behind him. “May ask what you believe?”

Marcus paused at the top of the steps then continued down. “I believe in the human race, Hamilton. I have to spend all my energy just doing that. What’s going on with the air conditioning?”

Hamilton was quiet for second or so before answering. “The repair man says it will be at least another hour before he can fix it. We’ll just have to endure it, I’m afraid.”

Marcus whirled around facing the retired British officer. “I’m not asking for my comfort, damn it! If those crates of vaccine get too warm, they’ll be worthless.” When he saw the older man’s lined and weathered face, though, he calmed himself. “I don’t mean to snap at you. You’ve been a great help to us.“

Hamilton raised a hand to say he didn’t mind. “I’ll ask the man to put a rush on it as soon as we get back inside. Maybe an extra body on the problem would help speed things along.”

Marcus nodded and turned back around to continue down the stairs. Hamilton had provided the hanger for them.  Of course the Air Force probably wouldn’t have problems with the air conditioning. Of course any of the military divisions would have probably operated with much greater efficiency. But aside from the National Guard, all the military branches were preparing for an extraterrestrial onslaught that might never happen.

Marcus walked down the length of the hanger, to the door that led to the office area. He had to wait for several people to exit before he could enter. The hanger wasn’t meant for this much traffic.  One of the people leaving, a young man with a mop of blond hair, noticed Marcus, though, and stopped him. “Sir! They’ve translated some of the Glitch message!”

The news had started calling the aliens Glitches, because that was what they seemed to be at first. The Glitches had started their siege by co-opting all satellite communications with what sounded like a mix of feedback and whale calls. Then, without any warning, people started coming down with what seemed at first like a new strain of flu, only the victims started feeling pins and needles sensations, then complete numbness. They became paralyzed, locked in their bodies, unable to move as their nervous systems were systematically destroyed.

“What are they saying?” Marcus asked.

The kid shook his head, flinging a bead of sweat from his eyebrow to the floor. “They can’t tell for sure. They can only make out three words. Exist, allow, and cannot.”

Marcus nodded slowly. “Thanks, son. Get out there and help load, we’re running out of time in this heat.”

“Yes sir!”

“What do you make of that?” Hamilton asked once they were both inside.

Marcus shook his head. “I’m impressed we were able to get that much. An alien language… Heck we didn’t know it was a language until a few weeks ago. But I don’t know how those words help us.”

Hamilton frowned. “I don’t like it. ‘Allow’ and ‘exist’ should not be in a sentence together. Puts our position in a rather different perspective.” An uncomfortable moment passed as the weight of what Hamilton said settled in both men’s hearts. Hamilton coughed lightly. “I’ll talk to the maintenance man.” He rushed away at a speed that was shocking for a man his age.

Marcus walked to the first desk he came to. A young woman was just hanging up the phone, her face pale despite the temperature of the room. “Are the police giving us an escort or not?” Marcus asked.

She shook her head. “They can’t, sir.”

“What do you mean ‘they can’t?’”

She swallowed. “Sir, it’s never been this hot. The wheels of all the police cruisers…they’ve burst.”

“What?” Marcus didn’t bother waiting for an answer. He bounded to the nearest window and opened the blind. The light blinded him at first, the intense heat hitting him like an oven. When his eyes adjusted, he saw the air rippling over the tarmac, the grass yellowing and smoldering.

Marcus closed the blinds quickly. He turned around, his heart and stomach feeling like they had switched places. “Everyone,” He started, but it was too quiet. Everyone was continuing their work, unaware of how the situation had changed. Cannot allow exist, cannot allow exist….

“EVERYONE!” Marcus yelled, and this time he was heard. “Radio all drivers, loaders, and pilots. No one leaves this hanger!”

Marcus ran in the direction Hamilton had gone, dodging people and furniture until he reached the air conditioning control room. Hamilton just finished making his case when Marcus approach the man he was talking to, a small, rough looking man with a moustache and beady eyes. “Can you get us to a sewer?” Marcus asked.

The man nodded. “Great,” Marcus said, “lead as many people down there as you can and get to the city as soon as possible. The aliens have turned the heat on us.”

“Are you sure about this plan?” Hamilton asked, “Won’t the people panic?”

“Have faith, Hamilton,” Marcus said, his eyes wide as he grabbed the Hamilton’s shoulder, “Have faith.”

Goraff the Destroyer

The airport bustled with all manner of biped  from short and hairy to long, thin, and slimy. There were no quadrupeds or many legged creatures, thank Telrok, but a thin miasma of stench nonetheless assailed Goraff’s nasal ducts. Damn earthlings with their toleration of subspecies. Sometimes Goraff wished his government had eradicated them from the outset instead of setting up trade.

Goraff looked up at the gate number. Z-56.  Eighty three more gates to go. What was the use of faster than light travel if one had to walk for eighteen miles to get to it? And all the security! If Earth and the aligned worlds had just obliterated the moon based Quookle colony when they had the chance, they wouldn’t have to worry about the spine covered beasts sneaking in with someone’s luggage now.

Goraff read the time from his left tentacle. It was the hour of Kartam. 2:40 pm Earth time. He was still early, but only by 20 Earth minutes. He stepped on the treadmill boost and gripped the guide rail tightly with his tentacle. He whizzed past the bipeds buying useless trinkets and postcards from the duty free shops and he was all the happier, even with the fetid air that blasted his sensitive face skin. He would be purple by the time he reached his gate, he was sure.

He stepped off at the end of the tread mill onto the decelerator which slowed him to walking pace. He looked up at the gate number. Z-130. Almost there.

An announcement issued from a ceiling intercom in English: “Galactic Flight 34268 to Pamff has been delayed due to foam liberated from the craft on reentry. Please contact the nearest Galactic terminal to reschedule your flight.”

Goraff cursed in his mother tongue. At this rate he’d never make it to his womb-mate’s wedding in time.