Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Focus on Sci-Fi Part 2: Aliens and Monsters and Bots (Oh My!)

As part of our ongoing look at science fiction, this week's focus is on the creatures of science fiction, be they other worldly in nature, perversions of earth's very nature, or mankind's own invention. Below you will find explorations of some of what we felt were the most impressive creatures to grace screens big and small, including some of our favourite titles for each.

Science Gone Wrong, Perversions of Nature, and Other Monsters of Earthly Origin...
Creating a distinction between monsters from other worlds and those of our own is, in our opinion, a very important step in really recognizing the value of each type of monster. Earth's monsters must follow different conventions than extra-terrestrials in order to be really believable.
Earth's monsters are most often mutations based on existing forms we see either in daily life or in history books. Probably the most famous movie monster out there is none other than Japan's most famous export (other than Hello Kitty, of course), Godzilla. Since 1953, this dinosaur-gone-crazy has been sporadically rising from his various lairs to do battle with his fellow monsters and even mechanized versions of himself, while incidentally stomping all over downtown Tokyo.
Not to be forgotten in this category are the scientific mishaps and perversions of nature. Movies like "The Fly" and "Frankenstein" have given us new and terrible creatures that often fall prey to man's prejudice and misunderstandings. These creatures are the more socially important in science fiction, as they are just as often found in stories with strong moral messages as they are in movies of good old fashion monster fun.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
The Fly
Frankenstein Legacy Collection
Jurassic Park
King Kong
Planet of the Apes Legacy Box Set

They Came From Space...
If there's one creature type in Science Fiction that is the most common, it is the Alien Life Form. They can be curious explorers, hostile invaders, or just plain hungry.
Steven Spielberg's classics E.T: The Extra Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are wonderful examples of friendly aliens and their dealings with our backward planet. Sure, he's also responsible for the recent juiced up version of the classic Alien Invasion flick "War of the Worlds", but we can't have nice aliens all the time, now can we.
The invasion idea has been around for quite some time now. These films generally follow a formula-- aliens arrive, blow stuff up, get foiled and either get blown up themselves or retreat while they are able. Movies such as Independence Day have taken this formula head on to create some of the bigger blockbusters we've seen in the last few decades. Meanwhile, Tim Burton's Mars Attacks remains a much appreciated cult classic parody of the theme.
The most famous Alien out there is arguably that of the Alien series, which was designed by European artist H.R. Giger. This one is definitely of the 'scare your pants off' variety, what with its acidic blood and protruding jaws and whatnot. These guys, along with most of the 'creature feature' lineup from the 1950's, serve as a perfect reminder that we could have everything to fear in these creatures from the stars.

The Blob (Criterion)
Alien Quadrilogy
War of the Worlds (1954)
Mars Attacks
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

Metal Wonders of Modern Technology
obots have long been a staple element in Science Fiction. Whether you're dealing with robots as a part of future society, or cybergenic hybrids and androids, the technological aspect of these creatures has been approached from several different angles. Usually, they end up in the same place-- the technology gets out of hand somehow, often to disastrous result.
There are, of course, utopian examples of this phenomenon. Works like Bicentennial Man and Star Trek portray robotic characters as they become 'more human', either in appearance or in programming, and often in both. And there's always the presence of robots as a way of placing the story in another time (i.e. the future) or place (i.e. a galaxy far far away).
The common approach, however, is to give robots abilities that allow them to intimidate and oppress their human makers. Movies like the Terminator and The Matrix depict a world at war with the now overwhelming technology in the role of the dominant 'species' on the planet. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick's classic "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", shows a half-way point between the two extremes wherein even supposedly human characters have their nature under scrutiny.
Why do we villainize robots so much? An easy answer would be to repurpose the robot as a symbol of man's fear of technology, rather than the simple scientific eventuality it probably is. Whatever the intent, robots and their kin will forever be as much a part of science fiction as aliens are.

Blade Runner
Battlestar Galactica
The Terminator
The Matrix (Ultimate Collection)
Bicentennial Man

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