Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Alien invasion movies invading

I am not one to mourn creativity. I understand the fact that there are many ways to tell the same story and only an finite amount of stories out there. Just because something is similar doesn't make it derivative. Some even claim that every story out there can be traced back to William Shakespeare. I myself do not have much love for The Bard but I recognize his genius. Even if that genius involved ripping of others work (such as the debated origin of Romeo and Juliet), Shakespeare is still the crowned king of literature. There is a reason why my English teacher of a sister owns three copies of each of his plays (even before she started teaching, mind you). Shakespeare, however, never did write a play about alien invasion.

"The slings and laser-blasts of outrageous fortune," doesn't quite work in iambic pentameter.

The threat of alien invasion didn't really come until H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. A parable for England's own imperialism, Wells' novel decided to give England some perspective by taking the Empire on which the sun never sets and wrecking it with Martians. Since then, Wells' tale of invaders from the red planet has been retold countless times. Even after we discovered Mars lacking in life, the idea of humanity facing an enemy from the stars is still in our consciousness. Look no further than the recent outbreak in cinema and television.

Video games don't count. They all involve killing either aliens or Nazis.

This year's alien invasion movies include: Battle: Los Angeles, Battle of Los Angeles (the direct-to-video ripoff), I Am Number 4 (which looked more like a new CW series than anything else), Paul (the best alien buddy-flick since My Favorite Martian queefed into theaters), Thor (they are technically aliens), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (although it is a stretch to call Transformers a movie. It's more like a big car commercial) and even a remake of The Thing (no doubt with super-cool CGI). Television has even caught the invasion bug. Premiering this summer is Falling Skies, a TNT drama (they, after all, know drama) about a small resistance against a recent alien invasion. I mention this, not only because of its story but because of its producer: Steven Spielberg.


A celebrated director, Spielberg's name alone use to be a sign of quality (I still like Hook). However, when it comes to producing, he doesn't seem to have the same discerning eye. His name seems to be attached to everything nowadays. And instead of elevating the project's quality, these mad production credits have only diminished Spielberg's star. At least to me anyway. Along with Falling Skies, his name appears this summer in the producing credits of Cowboys & Aliens, Super 8 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

We'll also get a new Men in Black movie in 2012.

Spielberg seems to go through phases. He had his World War II phase and his Kids WB cartoon phase. Now he is revisiting the phase that put him on the map in the first place. Jaws may have helped him invent the blockbuster, but he really didn't solidify his reputation until Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. He obviously loves sci-fi (He even made his own version of War of the Worlds in 2005). With Close Encounter's mashed-potato-mountain charm and E.T.'s sense of wonder, Spielberg became the darling of Hollywood. E.T. resonated with pop culture, which led to a Neil Diamond song, an amusement park ride and a McDonald's sponsored rip off (Mac and Me is too easy of a target). On a personal note I was never that big a fan of E.T. I know that's sacrilege to say but it never really resonated with me.

Plus I always felt like E.T. resembled a pile of poop. He's not cute, he's excrement.

Super 8, a J.J. Abrams movie coming out on June 10, seems almost like a greatest hits collection of Spielberg. Alien invasion intrigue and precocious (i.e. annoying) kids populate the rural town being invaded by extraterrestrials. To be honest I don't know much about the movie. It being directed by J.J. Abrams, the plot has been kept a secret from the public. All we know is that it's about aliens and the lead characters are kids. Nevertheless the trailer reeks of saccharine and forced wonderment. And the secrecy seems more like a marketing stunt rather than an attempt at artistic integrity.

Maybe I'd understand it better if I watched the first seven movies...

Believe it or not, I'm actually more excited about Cowboys & Aliens. Not only is it directed by Iron Man helmer Jon Favreau, but it also stars Daniel Craig, who I've had a man-crush on since first watching Layer Cake (you can't deny how freakin' cool he is). Yes, the concept seems strange. If handled improperly, it will go the way of other weird-westerns (Wild Wild West and Jonah Hex come to mind). But luckily it's not like that. Favreau is going about this movie the right way and treating it like a proper western that happens to have aliens. And although the concept sounds weird (it's based off a comic book), it's just weird enough to work. I'm tired of seeing the same, tired, old alien invasion stories play out. This way it is at least told in a new way. And that is what it means to be creative. To explore a story that others may not have tackled, even if it is simply a mash-up of previously explored territory.

Did I mention how cool Craig was?

The world is a smaller place now. With humans looking at themselves more in relation to globalization, it's getting harder to find villains for movies. Looking up at the sky, filmmakers can explore the final frontier of movie villainy(an infinite frontier at that). There will probably be a lot more alien invasion stories to come, but hopefully, in between all the derivative nonsense, we can get a few creative glimpses at something new. Kind of like when District 9 premiered in 2009. It was a rebellious look at the story we've all seen before. And by being different it became a resounding success (although it wasn't by choice, it was the only movie I've seen more than once in theaters). Shows like The Wire rebelled against the tired police-procedural format and gained critical praise. Hopefully, alien invasion movies get their own creative apex in the near future.

It's been awhile since I worked a Wire reference into here.

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