Tuesday, July 05, 2005

And the Universe's Stupidest Invaders Award goes to...

[SPOILER ALERT]

At this point in history, I trust I'm not really giving anything away when I point out that the aliens in War of the Worlds are done in not by human efforts, but the agency of bacteria and molds...?

[/SPOILER ALERT]

I saw War of the Worlds on Sunday. It was actually pretty good; a little better than I expected. It came tantalizingly close to capturing the sense of nightmare you have as a child when you dream about the end of the world. I had a dream when I was very young about alien ships hanging in the sky, the neighbourhood I knew empty of people, me hiding under a bed while unseen aliens murdered my friends living next door; I still remember the depths of the terror of that dream very well. There comes a point in War of the Worlds, around the time Ray and his family watch a train rush by in flames, that a sense of global helplessness and doom really sinks in. We're largely inured that kind of thing as adults; we learn not to think about it (especially those of us who grew up during the Cold War). Movies like this, done well, can get in under that thick hide and remind a person evocatively of a time in one's life when that sense of horror was only a blink away.

That said, something about premise doesn't quite work. In updating the movie, Spielberg changes the myth slightly. No more are the aliens desperate invaders in search of a new home. They are, instead, simply hunters on a lark — and I have to say that here, Spielberg is extremely effective; you suddenly see humans as simply clever animals (but not quite clever enough) under the gun in abject terror; it's not at all hard to sympathize with deer or flocks of birds — hunters who have long ago stashed their weapons, waiting for a time when, presumably, we'd be advanced enough, but only just enough, to provide a sporting challenge. Now to me, this implies that they've done this before. If they patiently set these traps and wait millenia to spring them, they must be very long-lived, or else while they're setting up for their descendents, they're also springing traps laid by their remote ancestors. Either way, plenty of time to get acquainted with the concept of the risks of xenomicrobiology. No world could have evolved beings as complex as them without single-celled organisms; they would have to be aware of them. Yet, these aliens capable of crossing space, waiting thousands or millions of years to finally attack us, are still so spectacularly stupid as to get out of their ships and wander around an alien world naked. If they'd been in space suits, and the key to our survival had been to somehow penetrate the suits in some clever way to the let the germs in, fine; I'd have some respect for the whole concept. But this way doesn't make sense.

The only stupider aliens I've ever seen are M. Night Shyamalan's crop-circle morons, who can effortlessly abduct millions so long as they're not hiding behind a wooden door, who can make their ships invisible but can't turn out their lights at night, who can cross space but have to flatten crops because they can't muster a GPS system, and for whom water is like hydrochloric acid, and yet who pick a planet utterly awash in it (and whose beings are, in fact, largely made of it) to cavort upon — again, naked. Meanwhile, we quarantined the first three Apollo missions to return from the lunar surface in case there was anything alive on such an utterly dead world... and we're hardly as smart as aliens who can cross the space between the stars. If we're going to defeat aliens far more knowledgable than us, I would like it to be by some means satisfyingly clever, not because they're inexplicably stupid.

3 comments:

RobfromAlberta said...

Let's not forget the dumbass aliens from Independence Day. What, never heard of Norton Anti-Virus?

Lone Primate said...

I don't rate the aliens there as the stupid ones so much as the people in the audience who were ready to accept that:

a) Jeff Goldbloom's character could, in the course of a dozen lifetimes, understand enough about an alien computer system to successfully log into it, and that:

b) having done so, he could use a dinky laptop to give that computer, probably possessed of an artificial intelligence that would make his own look little better than a pet monkey's, instructions that it wouldn't sniff out in a microsecond as a crude attempt to crash it.

More likely it would have found a way to send 50,000 volts back through his laptop and subtly cook his nuts. Did nobody else think that, under the circumstances, this was about as likely to work as West Indian natives rowing out to defeat Columbus by sticking pins in a voodoo doll of him?

And yeah, aliens can cross interstellar distances, but they need our primative satellite network to communicate and co-ordinate their attack?

Philoillogica said...

I'm pretty sure that Signs is actually a homage to the original War of the Worlds movie - similarly framed shots, near identical premise, similar aliens - so what you're really talking about is a carry over from the same essential story.

Frankly, I quite like this aspect of the martian-invasion legend, that the only reason humanity survives in the end is dumb, inexplicable luck, that we're only still around because the invaders erred in some very simple way. Next time, the dark premise holds, we won't be so lucky. There will be no sequel.