Aliens have been a popular topic in cinema since the beginning of the medium, with films such as Méliès 1902 project, A Trip to the Moon. In the years since, the creatures have been revisited frequently with the Alien film series. However, aliens themselves, waned in popularity until the 1950’s, with The Day the Earth Stood Still leading the revival that has yet to slow down. These extraterrestrial creatures range from the very humanoid to eerily unsettling, coming in all shapes and sizes and generally portrayed as a threat to mankind. In celebration of the latest alien feature Life, we’re examining the good, the bad, and the ugly of our fantastical neighbors in space.
Some of the most iconic films in sci-fi have aliens baring very little resemblance to humans, positioning them more as intimidating beasts. The xenomorphs from Alien, the Predator, E.T., the aliens from The Abyss, the Blob, and the creatures from Close Encounters of the Third Kind are all are distinctly not of this earth. A simple statement to be sure, but because these life forms are so different than earthly life forms, they are absolutely terrifying. Traditionally, these types of aliens are found in horror films, specifically in narratives of “us vs them” in a quest for survival. These space creatures, particularly before the prevalence of CGI, do have some bilateral symmetry and are sometimes bipedal as a result of technological limitations with creature design. Still, most of these creatures are remembered specifically for their unique otherworldly design, and we must tip a hat to the Alien series for its continued hard work in propagating the world with the nightmarish xenomorphs.
The more human an alien looks, the more likely it is to be portrayed as a more rational life form. Superman, the Na’vi from Avatar, Thomas Jerome Newton from The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Prawns from District 9 all share distinctly human physicality at their core. Their design is specifically made to call attention to their intelligence and humanity, and generally the films that deal with humanoid aliens are more “intellectual” science fiction films. They are frequently catalysts made to put a mirror up to humanity’s darker side. Klaatu (above right) from The Day the Earth Stood Still is the quintessential example of this type of narrative, where a being from another planet comes to Earth on a benevolent mission, but is ultimately met with violence.
Finally, there’s a third type of alien that frequently straddles the line between humanoid and other life form. There are those aliens that possess a human form that is literally stolen from a living person and used to further their own agendas. The Thing, the pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the aliens from The World’s End, and the Stuff all fit different variants on the same idea. Whether it be the actual physical body of a host, such as with Slither, or different variations on human puppetry, such as with The Faculty, these aliens are different not because they choose to mask themselves for humanity’s benefit, but instead to blend among us for nefarious purposes. These types of beings are also traditionally seen in horror movies; these creatures got their start predominately as a metaphor thanks to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but over time, they have grown into a true terrifying threat for B-movie horror fans.
So what will the crew of the Mars Pilgrim 7 be up against in Life (above)? The trailers don’t give a lot of information away about “Calvin”, but it’s revealed through the film that “Calvin” is a single cell organism that flourishes in an oxygen heavy environment. It does not demonstrate awareness, but is highly adaptive and able to grow larger and stronger as it feeds off carbon and glucose. The crew on board Mars Pilgrim 7 should definitely be very afraid, as an inhuman alien is not usually a friendly one.