I’m sure that at some stage in your life, most of you have probed for the answer to queries such as, is there life other than us in this universe of ours? If there is, is it aware? Advanced? Dangerous? A lot of people have wanted to know the answer to those questions, to see if ‘aliens’ exist. Some people have even asked the question about how we would react to the existence of these Grey Skinned, Big-eyed visitors from Mars.
Alien Invasion Films are one such way people attempt to find the answers. However, these films are more often influenced by the context of the film and more often actually reflect the societal stigma and fears of the times instead. Often political or racial ones. This fact is even supported by the definitions of alien as one meaning can mean “Unfamiliar, Disturbing and Distasteful.” This means that those films are more accurately a measure of people’s opinions of the ‘other’. This allows us to see some of how context has actually affected the contents presented in the film. Unfortunately, this representation is usually negative. How do we know this? Because the common theme of the Alien Invasion Genre is implied simply by its name. Aliens. Invading. Earth.
For instance, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an alien invasion film that involved aliens taking peoples places by transforming into emotionless imposters and then taking their place in society. This Film was made during the cold war and it would be foreseeable if the attitudes of people being replaced by another, ‘alien’ figure was in actuality a purposeful parallel to the influences of communism on the people of America. However, according to Walter Mirisch – an American film producer – none of the people involved actually thought of the movie as a political reference. In fact, that sort of effect was completely unintended. But then where are these obvious parallels coming from? How did it end up with this reference? That is a result of the societal stigma and fears of the time of 1956. The film shows that these references were unintended, but given the context cannot be ignored and show that the context of when something is made can have big influences on certain genres, (Alien Invasion to name one) whether intended or not. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers represents Communist Supporters as the ‘Other’ and shows how at the time fears of the other were more posed towards an invisible threat that was to be feared rather than some obvious evil that wanted to destroy the planet, thereby showing them the ‘other’ as feared, secretive and highly dangerous. This can definitely be shown to be a negative construction of the ‘other’ as it is shown as emotionless husks that wish only to supplant us.
Another film influenced by the context of the film is Independence Day, while it may seem uninfluenced by quite a few things on a first look, that is because nothing very important was happening in 1996 specifically, therefore making a film that is not as influenced by the context of its creation. But then why are we talking about this? Well, America did just come out of the Cold War in 1991 and while there was nothing happening in 1996 specifically it doesn’t mean it can’t get influences from the course of the past few years. As such the theme of one very powerful power fighting another such as in this situation Humanity Against the Aliens. Has a parallel to the Cold War in an indirect way where it showcases American Patriotism Triumphing Over the Other Superpower, in this case the aliens. This Parallel, while not obvious, certainly exists. It also serves as a less influenced film overall based on how it is after the Cold War but before 9/11. This film represents the representation of the ‘other’ as a superpower that needs to be defeated lest it destroy our world. This representation shows that at the time the ‘other’ are represented to be highly dangerous and something that must be defeated for the sake of our livelihoods. Clearly stating a negative representation because of its nature as a highly dangerous violent alien species.
A Third Film Is War of The Worlds, a film produced recently in 2005 but has origins dating back as far as 1898. The film details Martians from mars coming to Earth to invade (haven’t heard that plot before), this back in the 1890s doesn’t have any obvious influences other than The Battle of Dorking, which was a precursor for many Sci-Fi, Alien Invasion Films. However, in 1938 the radio announcement of the story led people that were listening into a panic, thinking it was real. Showing that in 1938 the representation of aliens and particularly the ‘other’ was likely negative. This showed how people might react to an alien invasion if it were real. Later when the story was adapted to film, the removal of ‘destruction of landmark buildings’ was something that was included, showing influence from the attacks of 9/11. The Representation was clearly stated to be dangerous and evil as they wanted to destroy humanity and claim the Earth for themselves. This representation can go so far to say that the ‘other’ is not to be welcomed showing obvious fear after 9/11 where there is a lot of fear of the terrorist threat and particularly fear towards Muslims. This can also be seen by Spielberg’s Choice to make it so the machines were there all along instead of coming from space like the original. Showing that they came from Earth.
Yet another Film to show examples of this is District 9, The film was a Commentary on events of Apartheid showcased through the aliens, subverting the genre by yet again making the aliens more of a friendly force. However, this film showed both sides, initially exposing us to the aliens through documentary style film, with propaganda influencing our initial perspective. This was contradicted later on by the transformation of the main character into an alien showcasing more of their friendly side rather than the propaganda we were made to listen to (this is why we don’t trust the media…). This showcases how the victims of apartheid were alienated by giving them an alien, savage and repulsive appearance. While also showing some of the aggressors to not be all guilty as they were exposed to a lot of propaganda and other methods that would have convinced them of how ‘horrid’ the aliens were. This ultimately presents the Government as the perpetrators. This Film Represents the ‘Other’ as more of a friendly, misunderstood and abused group that doesn’t have a place only because society doesn’t allow them to.
There is a lot to society, and a lot of things happen. As a result, it can be hard to define everything to a guideline. While people can be influenced by one thing they may instead be influenced by something else. However, when we look at things on a societal level patterns will appear in quite a lot of places. Why? Because film makers are part of our population as well and thus can be influenced by the general opinions and perspectives of the public like we can. This causes are films to also be slanted quite often towards general consensus.