Different than traditional disasters, I was also curious about some of the alien encounters mentioned in Hollywood Science, just as Carlie has previously posted about. Reading the chapter, I started realizing just how many alien movies I have seen without realizing how unrealistic or farfetched they are. Using some of the films I have personally seen, I wanted to compare Hollywood’s depictions of aliens.
Hollywood directors and big budget films have always exaggerated for effect and the entertainment value that it brings in money. But the chapter specifically brings up a good point, “Since we have no ideas if any kind of life or civilization primitive or advanced, exists out there, we’re free to imagine who—or what—we might meet and to shape movie aliens to reflect our own hopes and fears” (19). It’s not like a volcano that is inaccurately portrayed or a concept of reaching “absolute zero” that is both unrealistic and poorly made. We have no reference for what aliens might look like or how they would behave here on Earth. Therefore, Hollywood is not really using bad science like in other films we’ve viewed, they are simply imagining what they think is out there.
War of the Worlds was one such film mentioned in the book. I personally enjoyed this movie simply for the action and story line. Looking back on how they portrayed the tripod alien creatures, I am a bit more skeptical now. The author mentioned that the aliens in the 2005 version were “infinitely more fearsome” than in the previous Wells movie from 1953. Plausibly, aliens could be more advanced in technology and could maneuver tripod machines around to capture humans. The fact that their machines lay under the surface of the Earth for eons is questionable, however. How deep would they have to be for humans to not have found them, yet they still be in perfect condition? Also, with technology we have used to drill for resources, study the earth’s core, and follow seismic activity, how did those machines go undetected?
Another Hollywood movie from this century is Signs, not mentioned in the book. I remember this movie, though, because even in 2002 it terrified me. These aliens had a much more human-like appearance. They were the stereotypical greenish-white, large headed, slanted eye aliens but they could walk upright, run, and communicate in their own language. Shyamalan’s depiction of the alien is more how the public imagines aliens based on faux dissection pictures, so he actually took fewer liberties than Wells and Spielberg. There are really only a few moments of questionable science in this film: the fact that a baby monitor was able to pick up the frequencies of extraterrestrials and the simplicity that water could kill these creatures even after they were able to emit gases to harm humans and survive breathing on our planet.
Based on these examples, I would vote that War of the Worlds is only perceptually real, while Signs could be referentially real. While these are only two examples, I had made a longer list of recent films that showed me the different roles of alien encounters just in films. The encounters can be those of comedy and pure entertainment like in Men in Black, Lilo and Stitch, or The Coneheads. Others use a more psychological approach to aliens meant to make you question what you believe like K-PAX, The Fourth Kind, or The Day the Earth Stood Still. Honestly I could still name dozens more. Even with the upcoming releases of Cowboys & Aliens and I am Number Four you can see that Hollywood is never going to stop imagining what lies beyond our limits of Earth because we truly have no idea.
By Lindsey Bell