Sci-Fi topic - Aliens vs Humans in films

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Seth Paxton, Aug 13, 2002.

  1. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Before entering here, leave your Signs talk at the door. We've got a thread hashing that out still and I want to insist right off the bat that this thread is not about me just jumping to another thread to argue more about that film.

    What this thread IS about is discussion in general of Alien visitors versus human visitors as applied in science fiction films. Signs obviously brought this out, but I now would like to really investigate this subject further outside of that hot topic.

    My main theory being that TRADITIONALLY SF films portray alien visitors as being advanced in all ways over humans, often along the exact same lines of technology as humans. But when this is reversed and humans visit other planets in SF films, they are often portrayed as again being dumber than the aliens.

    Isn't it a double-standard to say that space traveling aliens are smarter than humans, but that space traveling humans will not be smarter than aliens?

    And have SF films come to make audiences EXPECT this condition as the norm?

    Jefferson Morris posted this in the Signs thread, for example. While it's about Signs in this case, it certainly makes the point about audience expectation of alien life.
     
  2. Ben Menix

    Ben Menix Stunt Coordinator

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    Well, in most recent (last 15 years) sci fi movies; there is an obvious trend.
    There are a lot of people living in the countries of Western Civilization (U.S., Europe primarily) that hold an earnest belief than mankind is an inferior species *here on Earth*. If you follow that belief, it is a natural supposition to believe that mankind is inferior to any "intelligent" life that might exist on other planets. This belief is especially popular in Hollywood, and so it makes it's way into movies that utilize man vs. nature or man vs. alien conflicts as the basis for the story.
    I could elaborate, but I've probably already said enough to get flamed to a crisp. [​IMG] I'm also leaving out a lot of other thoughts I have on this subject.
    BTW, I agree totally with your assertion that we tend to view aliens from an Earth-centric point of view.
    Of course, how do you view an alien from his/her point of view? Would we understand it even if we tried? Would alien technology be "vastly improved", or would it be incomprehensible? Maybe "magic?"
    Ben Menix
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  3. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    Star Trek, anyone?
     
  4. Chad R

    Chad R Cinematographer

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    Real Name:
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    The idea of Aliens being 'dumber' than humans in either scenario (them visiting us or us visiting them) doesn't leave much room for conflict or drama. How exciting would it be if they plopped down on our planet with swords and axes and we simply blow them away with guns?

    What you're suggesting is more akin to a Sci-Fi novel instead of a film. A novel has more room to explore many of these issues which just aren kinetic enough for a film. They're different animals altogether and therefore have diifferent parameters and restrictions.

    And the xenomorphs in 'Aliens' weren't smarter than us, just their particualar evolutionary path allowed them to easily conquer us. It was better explained in the first film with the acid blood. It's a hell of a defense system when they are on a ship, you kill it it ruptures the hull and you're all dead. Also, the aliens are no different than a lion or similar predatory animal on Earth, under the right circumstances they can kill you - the trick is not being caught in such a vulnerable position which the crew of the Nostromo found themselves in.
     
  5. Julie K

    Julie K Screenwriter

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    As Chad said, I believe the prime factor of humans dumb/aliens smart in most movies has to do with creating drama and excitement. And the concept of 'humans in danger' is going to provoke more tension in an audience than 'aliens in danger.' Written science fiction, however, delves far deeper into all sorts of permutations on who's smart/powerful and who's not. Movies are limited compared to written works.

    However there's one novel that has medival era humans taking over the universe (well, the nearby stars). The novel works quite well in fact. Unfortunately the movie that was adapted from it was most dreadful. (I'm talking about Poul Anderson's The High Crusade) But I do believe it still kept the same basic elements of technologically inferior, but diplomatically very clever humans taking over an alien species that was far less social than we are. I wish a decent adaptation of this book would be done as it was really quite cute.
     
  6. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Julie, Poul Anderson's The High Crusade was only the second SF novel I had ever read, way, way back when.



    So utterly true (with but one glaring exception, and guess which one that is!).
     
  7. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    But wasn't 2001 first envisioned as a film, and then the novel came afterwards, written by Clarke?
     
  8. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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  9. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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  10. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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  11. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Yes, Pat--it was envisioned first and foremost as a film. The novel was a co-production between Mr. Kubrick and Arthur Clarke, developed in conjunction with the film. The filmmaker had veto power over anything that went into the book.
     
  12. Ben Menix

    Ben Menix Stunt Coordinator

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    Within the context of the discussion, I have to go with the notion that it's simply the nature of motion pictures that requires a presention of stupid us/smart them or good us/better them.
    Within the confines of a movie, you have to stick with the fundmental conflicts at the root level. The easiest way to accomplish this is to either make mankind have to overcome it's on deficiencies, or make mankind have to overcame the aliens' advantages.
    However, when you look at the social phenomena concerning our belief in superior alien races or the inferior human race, I'll stick with what I said earlier.
    BTW, an excellent novel concerning the evolution of man vs. the evolution of the rest of the theoretical galaxy is Earth Ship & Star Song by Ethan I. Shedley.
    Ben Menix
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  13. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    My thoughts on the subject:
    The same level of expectation should be placed on human and alien space borne societies in terms of technological development, because the laws of physics operate in the same manner in all "normal" regions of space throughout the universe. While cultural, genetic, and societal differences are likely to cause some deviation, the general requirements for space travel, and their respective playing fields ( between human and alien species ) are going to ensure that similar paths are taken. ( Although one species may be, developmentally speaking "further along"; FTL capable vs. sub light speed for instance. )
    While I don't expect a visiting species ( human or alien ) to understand every nuance of the world(s) they are visiting, there are some basic protocols that I believe would be observed by any cautious entity ( including spectrographic analysis of the world in question ). Travel implies exploration and exploration implies a modicum of scientific analysis ( although not only scientific analysis. ) Anything less than that is poor writing, IMHO.
    In terms of technologically superior vs. inferior species ( as others have already discussed ) there are any number of parameters that can alter the conflict in favor of one side or another - including environmental conditions, morale, communications, sheer numbers, strategy, goals, genetic factors that favor one species, and so on.
    In addition to the films mentioned, one other obvious choice for an inferior force defeating a superior force was the battle for the Endor moon in Return of the Jedi. In this case, superior numbers, familiarity with the terrain, and tactics defeated a better equipped force. ( Although I somewhat doubt that that would have been the outcome in "real life". )
    - Walter.
     
  14. Ben Menix

    Ben Menix Stunt Coordinator

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    Here's my monkey wrench, Walter, that I'd like your comments on in reference to your excellent post:
    Let's throw an unknown factor, say (since it's on my mind anyway) ESP. There is some evidence that the ability to sense and control things with one's mind or spirit is potentially a true natural force. What if this is a factor of evolution, rather than a rare gift? If this now natural extension of one's physical abilities developed far enough, it could theoretically do everything that we as humans rely on technology for.
    How would mankind deal with a race of beings identical to humans that do not utilize any kind of recognizable tools or weapons?
    Just playing devil's advocate here,
    Ben Menix
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  15. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    Ah yes, the unknown factor. [​IMG]
    Given our own scientific development in the electromagnetic spectrum, I'm not willing to discount the existence of other undiscovered planes in the physical universe due to our ignorance of them. Perhaps they exist, perhaps they don't. ( Imagine how someone in the 14th century would have reacted to a soldier using a walkie-talkie to communicate instantaneously with someone a few miles away. )
    I believe your question would fall into the realm of strategy. The proposed scenario is kind of vague, so my answer has to be a broad one. We would likely observe the alien's behaviour and the effect of their behaviour. Using those two factors we try a variety of counter tactics until we were able to successfully resist their actions. The numbers of the opposing forces, the ability to collect data, and the alien's tactic and its result would be some of the factors that would figure into the solution.
    Basically, I don't believe you have to have an innate understanding to counter an action if you know what its result might be. You merely have to counter the result. ( Using my 14th century example, you don't have to know how a walkie-talkie works to smash one with a club. )
    - Walter.
     
  16. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    To follow what Ben said, one of my main points is "what if the physical structure of the "lifeform" in question gave it an inherent predisposition to some other aspect of physics".
    For example, we take it for granted that we see the "visible" spectrum, but the only reason its the visible spectrum is because our physical development allows us to sense certain wavelengths of EM waves. So naturally we developed all sorts of devices and technology around this sense. We were more inclined to investigate the visible spectrum. Thus a prism was invented BEFORE the spark gap EM wave detector (getting into radio waves now). But lightening had been sending out EM waves throughout history, just waiting to be detected. Infrared and ultraviolet waves affected our everyday life, but went unnoticed.
    We see radio wave detection/invention as farther down the tech line from work with visible light.
    But that doesn't mean that "eyes" only work one way. First of all, we have blind people. We have animals that are effectively blind. Visible light sight is not required for life, and in fact while we tend to think in these terms it is only because this is how our senses work. Think of a dog, for example, and how much more important odors are to his life than sight.
    Its simply a paradigm of thought based on what you have to work with. There has been work which quite clearly shows that eyesight is a LEARNED funtion. The brain learns to use this input, and if it hasn't learned to use it then the sense is not very helpful. Discover ran a nice article about a guy who had sight restored by some new procedures (only for specific physical cases). His brain had never learned to process the info, so much of this "vision" was disorienting and problematic. He had to force himself to keep his eyes open and struggle rather than to fall back on his non-vision understanding of the world which worked quite well for him.
    Ok, now consider that we fear cell phones causing brain cancer. Why is that? Well, we think that maybe, only maybe, that our cells can be affected by these other EM frequencies at high enough powers. You realize what that implies? Detection. That is detection. Something comes in contact with something else, and it reacts, that is detection.
    So now imagine an alien that has no eyes but whose brain cells are hyper-sensitive to a wide spectrum of EM frequencies (without getting cancer [​IMG] ). Their paradigm of thought will be totally different. Certainly their "paintings" will differ, for example. And naturally they would be more apt to recognize EM frequencies of all sorts. Their emphasis on visible light might be nill. They could skip prisms and go right to radio communication for example.
    This is what I mean by a different tech tree. The only reason we rank techs in a certain order is because that is how they came to us.
    But this is as foolish as thinking your solution to a problem is the only method. Asimov had at least one great short story about a tech solving a problem that an engineer deemed unsolvable, simply because they had different approaches to it.
    IIRC, Walter is a programmer, so certainly he knows what it means to say that there are multiple paths to solutions.
    Is Object Oriented simply the next natural step up the ladder, being better than Basic, Fortran and C++? Are there other ways to solve computing problems besides OO coding? And would you expect programs that were written with different paradigms to run the same?
    Let me then restate one thing...what if some "naturally occuring" physical aspect of life on Jupiter (as they know it, we might not even recognize it as life yet) is to be able to fold space-time with your brain (ala Dune)? Can you travel quickly through space? Yes. Do you understand the concept of warfare, weapons, shields? Maybe not.
    I think it is much more reasonable to think of aliens in the terms in which they developed. In other words, NOT ON EARTH.
    We think of physics in some absolute terms, and while that is sort of true, quantum mechanics also tells us that maybe this is really not true. That the observer affects the "truth", in a measurable manner. It seems outlandish to us now, yet it's been demonstrated by testing already. What if our physics only really apply to us then? What if some other species had a jump on us in terms of quantum mechanics do to the nature of life on their planet.
    It almost seems like Darwinism has become as much a damnation for scientific thought as it was a blessing.
    I sure am glad I am hearing from some of you. Don't let my long points sour your interest. [​IMG] I need feedback on this for sure, its not just about me pontificating here. [​IMG]
     
  17. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    Tribbles.

    Q

    The Borg
     
  18. MickeS

    MickeS Producer

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    In addition to the "otherwise there wouldn't be drama" answer to the question why aliens are smart when they come to earth, but humans stupid when they do space travel, I'd like to add that the FUNDAMENTAL reason that aliens are in most of these films at all is that it is something that is completely unknown, and the filmmakers can invent things just how they like.

    The point is often to have a THREAT, not necesseraily an alien threat, but ANY threat, and an alien threat is chosen only because it requires no knowledge among the audience or among the filmmakers. There have been some successful sci-fi/action movies with non-alien threats ("Outbreak", "Armageddon", "Jurassic Park", for example) but one thing they have in common is that they all get bogged down in long-winded explanations about exactly what the threat is. They have to come up with not-too-implausable explanations about WHY something is happening, and HOW it can happen.

    If you pick an alien threat, all of that goes out the window. A sentence or two (at most) is all that's needed to explain why the aliens are attacking; if you make them look like the Xenomorph you barely have to say a word about why they attack, we know why: because they're aliens out to get us.

    The movie can then be devoted to action and to create suspense and to show off the heroes.

    This might not have been a direct answer to your question, but IMO that's why we don't see aliens as inferior to humans: aliens aren't interesting as inferior, because they most often only exist as a plot device when a major threat is needed. For other stories, there are far better subjects.

    /Mike
     
  19. RyanJM

    RyanJM Extra

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    My thoughts can be summed up very briefly:
    You're putting too much thought into this, when it's actually a very simple equation:
    Aliens + dumber than us = not a good movie.
    Aliens + smarter than us = humans use inventiveness/resilience to come back from bad odds to save the day and win.
    It's like asking why they didn't just go hide in another country in some hole in Terminator 2; because that would have been a crappy movie.
    Would you watch a movie where we go into space looking for aliens, only to find some benevolent care bears that run around the woods foraging for food? No, you want to see the advanced species that is evil and wants to take over the universe. That's called entertainment folks, it's not science. Think of the best way to see $$$ and you've got your answer as to why they do what they do in any entertainment medium.
    Enjoy [​IMG]
     
  20. JohnE

    JohnE Supporting Actor

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    For me the issue isn't which species is smarter. I just would for once like to watch a sci-fi movie where the aliens win! [​IMG]
     

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