Do Aliens in movies make any sense?
Updated: Mar 2
Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated with the idea of an alien life existing somewhere in the vast universe. And I don’t mean some bug-like creatures led entirely by their instincts, but an intelligent life form, capable of building a civilization. Every night I would look up at the sky, hoping to see something manufactured outside of our planet. I have always wondered if aliens exist, what would they be like. Will they look like us? Will they behave like us? Will we have anything in common?
Unfortunately, so far I have not had the chance to experience anything that falls under the “UFO” category. I am also highly skeptical of almost all the stories and testimonies shared by other people in regard to this subject. That is why I tend to rely on Hollywood to satisfy this passion of mine. And below is my honest opinion on whether the way aliens are portrayed in movies both physically and mentally makes sense.
But before that, we need to establish what a 'real' alien should actually look like. For that purpose, I will divide them into two categories, which for the lack of a better term I will name “Intelligent” and “unintelligent”.
The unintelligent aliens seem to be the ones that Hollywood prefers to use for their movies, as they do not require that much thought and creativity. They will usually come to the Earth as a bacteria, that at some point will start to develop into a larger, scarier, and of course deadlier creature. The reason why I believe that kind of aliens do not require much thought and creativity is that they do not necessarily need a particular back story to be developed. You would not have to satisfy the viewer's desire to know more about the home planet of the bacteria or why it does all the killing. They will just see it as a monster that slaughters humans uncontrollably because....well this is what monsters do. And this is actually the main reason why I don't find the monster-like aliens interesting. There is nothing to dig there, beyond the primal instincts and behavior. You can basically take any less-known insect on Earth, make it larger, and there you go, you have the alien you need.
The intelligent type of aliens is the one that I have always wanted to know more about. The ones that require much more creativity and imagination. And this is why I have been mostly disappointed by what the movie industry has offered throughout the years. For the most part, I find the way the aliens have been presented to be unrealistic and not convincing at all. But what does realistic and convincing even supposed to mean? Why couldn’t aliens just be anything that the movie creator wants them to be? Should they look and act in a certain way so that we could consider them to be intelligent? These are some of the questions that I will try to provide an answer to, based on my entirely subjective opinion and view of the world.
What should they look like?
Have you ever wondered why are humans the most dominant species on Earth, despite the fact that we are neither the strongest, nor the largest and not even the fastest creatures on this planet? If you have, you probably came to the logical conclusion that our biggest advantage over all other animals is our intellect. It turns out that the way our brains work makes all the difference between being the predator and the prey. There are many theories that try to explain why from all the species on this planet humans are the ones who have climbed on the top of the food chain. Some will say that our opposable thumbs have given us the ability to build and hold tools that impacted our evolution and eventually have led to developing bigger brains. Others will mention God and his decision to create us superior to every other species in the world, the same way he is superior to us. Whatever the reason behind that is, it is indisputable fact that the way our physic has developed has a lot, if not everything to do with our ability to create and build which is an essential skill to have for every civilization. And this is exactly what makes me think that aliens, although born and raised on another planet, should have similar body structure to the one we have. I believe that regardless of the life conditions available on the planet the aliens come from, they should have evolved in a way that will allow them to use and create basic tools. There is no way a creature that has hooves instead of fingers would be able to build any type of structure. They will not be able to even create the tools necessary to build that structure. And isn't exactly that the foundation of engineering and science - two of the essential components that any civilization will have to master in order to eventually be able to build a spaceship and explore the universe. But will the body appearance of the species building the first house be any different than the one of the people building space stations? The evidence suggests that it most definitely will be. If we look at the humans from thousands of years ago and compare them to us, we will notice some differences in regards to height, muscle, and bone structure. These differences are a direct result of the different lifestyles that we have compared to the one of our distant predecessors. Since we no longer rely on our physical strength to gather food or simply survive, it will not make sense for our bodies in the future to increase their bone density and muscles. Instead, our heads and brains will probably become larger, as this is what would be the necessary feature for humans in the future to have, if they will be productive members of society. All physical work will most likely be entirely outsourced to the robots. So if we assume that this evolutional pattern applies to all civilizations that potentially exist outside of our planet, then the aliens who have reached the technological stage that allowed them to travel across the universe, should look something very similar to the ones in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". Even though the movie is from 1977, in my opinion, it resembles very accurately what would be the physical appearance of a species that have been developing their mental abilities for thousands of years, as opposed to the physical ones. They are child-sized humanoids with large heads, big eyes, and long fingers. Exactly the features that a technologically advanced civilization should have after thousands of years of mental over physical evolution.
Another humanoid species is the race of the “Engineers” from the movie “Prometheus”. They are also known as the “Pilots” or the “Space Jockeys” from the “Alien” series franchise. They are tall hairlessness beings with high nose bridge and raised brow ridges. This is how I picture the human race to look in the distant future in case we do not allow technological advancement to impact the development of our physique. The “Engineers” are taller, stronger, and smarter than us in the same way we are taller, stronger, and smarter compared to the humans from thousands of years ago. On top of that, the biomechanical suite makes them look way too cool and believable for an advanced species, which is exactly what I am looking for in this genre.
A completely different appearance of an Alien race is presented to us in the movie “Arrival”. The extraterrestrials in that movie are Heptapods with seven limbs arranged symmetrically. The upper body structure resembles the one of a human being but the rest is basically an octopus. While I will admit that the art behind the creation of these creatures is quite impressive, I do not find it very plausible when it comes to describing a species capable of building spaceships and exploring the universe. Probably it is the octopus-like part of their bodies and the overly complicated appearance, that is ruing it for me.
How should they act like?
Can you imagine what would be the result of a battle between, let’s say medieval knights and any modern-day army? Obviously, the knights will not stand a chance. As no other forces from before the 20th century would, if they had to fight against a single helicopter from today. And this is because technology matters. It mattered in the past, it matters today and will definitely matter in case an alien civilization that has the technology to travel through space, decides to stop by our planet. So let's not pretend that in a scenario where an intelligent civilization from another planet comes to Earth with the intention to destroy us, there will be anything that we would be able to do to stop them. Any civilization, that figured out how to travel through space and time, will for sure have access to weapons and technology so advanced, in the presence of which we will look even more pathetic than the knights fighting the helicopter.
Apparently, this is not how Hollywood sees the outcome of potential conflict between humans and extraterrestrials. I understand the strive for optimism and “Happy End” in the movies. All I am saying is that probably they should try a bit harder to provide a more reasonable explanation on how the superior in any way, shape, or form civilization is destroyed by the primitive humans.
In the otherwise very interesting and in my opinion successful movie “War of the Worlds” from 2005, the Alien invasion is stopped by...bacteria. That is right, the alien invaders were smart enough to build the tripods, bury them under the surface and teleport the pilots right before the attack, but they did not bother to check the conditions on our planet. A species, so fluent in quantum mechanics and so ignorant in microbiology. I really wish Steven Spielberg has chosen an ending different than the one in the original novel by H.G.Wells (published in 1898), that the movie is based on. I strongly believe that the perceptions of the public on what is believable have changed significantly over the last 100 years and this should have been taken into consideration by Spielberg.
Another virus, this time a computer one, was responsible for the destruction of the alien race in the “Independence Day” movie from 1996. Many people will ask how is it possible to hack the software of an alien spaceship using a primitive laptop from the 90s with no internet connection. But the main question for me is why was the main weapon of each ship so vulnerable and exposed for the enemy to hit and from there to destroy the entire spacecraft. Maybe the extraterrestrials have simply underestimated the human race. After all, they did not seem to be as smart as their technology suggests. The evidence for that we can find in the sequel from 2016, where the Aliens have attacked the Earth with full force including their Harvester Queen, who appeared to be the head of this hive-mind race. When she died, her minions simply escaped as it turned out they are completely incapable to continue the fight without their leader. What an advanced society!
One of my favorite movie characters has always been the ultimate interstellar hunter - the Predator. A creature that travels across the universe searching for worthy opponents to fight. My only concern with the plausibility of their species is the fact that even though they have developed this amazing technology, that allows them to travel through different galaxies, become invisible, etc.., they have somehow kept their primal culture of hunting. To be fair, there is a theory in the video game “Predator: Hunting Grounds” that suggests that the Predators are not the ones who have built their technology. They only know how to use it, but have no idea how it actually works. It is just like how most of us use our phones for example while being completely oblivious of the actual processes inside the device that make things work the way we expect them to. Hopefully, we would be able to receive some answers regarding the origin of the Predator’s technology in any of the upcoming movies, games, or comics.
One of the best “Alien” themed movies in my opinion is the one based on the Carl Sagan’s novel - “Contact”. Unfortunately we do not get to see neither what the aliens look like, nor we are provided with any details on their culture and lifestyle. At first I thought that this was a missed opportunity for something interesting, given the fact that Sagan was an actual scientist, cosmologist and astrobiologist. As I got older, I realized that the main idea of the movie was to put some light on what would be the reaction of mankind, if we are ever contacted by any extraterrestrial live forms. The aliens had just a supporting role in a story for humanity and all the order and chaos that comes with it.
Many other examples could be given for alien civilizations portrayed in movies, but I believe the above mentioned are the only ones worth analyzing. For the most part I get the feeling that the Alien’s creation and development in movies is almost all crammed within the boundaries of the unwritten rules in Hollywood. They must bring fear, destruction and the inevitable happy end, for the movie to be successful. I completely understand the urge to satisfy the demands and expectations of the wide audience, as this is very important if you want your project to be profitable. I also realize that I am part of the minority of people who would prefer much more realistic portrayal of the extraterrestrials, both in terms of appearance and behavior, instead of watching mega productions for hundreds of millions of dollars, spent on special effects and CGI, where the aliens are killed by a simple bacteria. I mean.....come on!