Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Alien Versus Predator Versus The Thing
Traditionally, Hollywood hasn’t done a very good job of creating believable aliens. Much as I like the original Star Trek, for example, its aliens were far too human, not only physically but psychologically as well. Of course, budget and special effects limitations created restraints on the physical features of the Vulcans and Klingons, but a better job could have been done on the psychology.
Since the eighties, though, a few better aliens have been created. Off the top of my head, here are my top three, in reverse order from least to most realistic.
3. The Thing. (John Carpenter’s version.) I really like this alien. It’s just downright cool. And physically and psychologically it is about as far from human as you can get. But, unfortunately, I have to think it’s pretty unrealistic. Plenty of one celled organisms grow by absorbing other cells, and the “Thing” is supposed to be like a collection of cells. Mimicry is also very common in nature and the Thing is an extreme example of that. However, knowing how complex the human brain is, and how complex the cell structures are in a human, I can’t imagine an organism that could assimilate so perfectly in such a short period of time and be absolutely believable as the person it assimilated. It’s still cool, though.
2. The Predator works pretty well because of the care taken in developing the creature’s physiology and society. Especially nice is the fact that they see heat signatures. The suggestion is that they evolved under a hotter sun than humans. It also suggests a reptilian background, since a number of reptiles have this capability. The Predator is still incredibly humanoid, however. And though their society is interesting, it is based pretty clearly on some savage human societies, particularly head hunter and warrior societies. When we see a bit of one of their cities in Alien VS Predator it seems clearly to reflect a Grecian architecture. Over the course of the series the Predator has gotten more and more human. And that’s unfortunate.
1. The Alien (Ripley’s alien, that is), is the best alien yet. Clearly, a lot of effort was spent developing its elaborate life cycle, which is not unlike that of some earth insects. Aliens have both insect and reptile characteristics, which makes sense since nature wouldn’t typically build something on another world that was an exact match for, say, a mammal. One interesting thing is that the Alien’s eggs are soft shelled rather than hard. On earth, this is an amphibian or early reptile characteristic. I can’t decide whether the fact that the alien embryos incorporate some of the DNA from the host species is a good characteristic or not. It’s certainly very different from what parasites on earth do, although it is characteristic of some types of viruses. The main problem with this DNA thievery is that the alien species would normally cease to exist as a unique species pretty quickly. To maintain a species one must maintain the genome.
The acidic blood is a problem, however. Although quite a few insects make internal toxins and even release these into the atmosphere, the alien’s blood is just too corrosive. Eating so rapidly through the kind of metal used to make spaceships would be quite a feat for a biologically developed corrosive. There is a possible explanation, however, and it comes from the earth species known as the Bombardier Beetle. This beetle shoots a spray of a noxious chemicals from its abdomen when disturbed. However, it actually stores two non-reactive chemicals separately in its body, which are combined only ‘outside’ the body after being sprayed into the air from abdominal ducts. Only then do they become reactive. Still, I have a hard time buying the alien’s acidic blood because it is not released from any glands but clearly seems to be circulating in the organism’s system. Highly unlikely.
Finally, with the Alien, I always had a hard time with the growth rate of the creature in the first movie. It’s small when we first see it, but within a few days seems to have grown much larger than a human being. Growth rates can be high for some insects, and even for fish and birds, but nutrients are needed. You only get out what you put in. They could have justified this somewhat if they’d given an indication that the Alien was feeding on something within the ship. Still, all in all, the Alien puts most other Hollywood conceived aliens to shame.
What do you think?