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the thing from another world

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									Dan Arvesen

Richard Durisen

November 21, 2005

Search for Habitable Planets


                   The Portrayal of Alien Life in Science Fiction Movies


    The Thing from Another World, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Contact all portray

alien life and intelligence in a different manner. Each movie has its advantages and disad-

vantages in its portrayal that makes it realistic as we compare each to scientific knowledge.

    When we are examining these movies, we should assume that the alien life is more

advanced than our own life on Earth. This can easily be done since all aliens in the movie

travelled through space and landed on Earth and could communicate with humans in some

form, something that we have not been able to do. This makes their space travel more

advanced than that on Earth.




1     The Thing from Another World

The 1951 film The Thing from Another World portrays alien life in the form of “The Thing”,

a humanoid being with a lust for vegetation and violence. We are never given an explanation

for his violence, but it is meant to frighten the audience since this is also a horror film.

    In The Thing from Another World, the viewer is given a glimpse into a filmmaker’s vision

of alien life in the form of “The Thing”, a humanoid creature that survives off of vegetation.


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    The Thing is portrayed with an intelligence much higher than ours, and it is suggested

by Dr. Carrington that the alien creature is immortal.

    The idea of immortality raises some questions of plausibility, since there are no immortal

creatures on Earth that we know of. It could be possible that the creature underneath the

skin of The Thing is actually a computer robot, much like the Terminator, that mimics many

human movements and actions. Consequently, it would need an energy source of some kind,

and if it was motorized, the task of finding an energy source becomes more difficult.

    The filmmakers most likely did not have this kind of alien in mind when writing the

film, since computers were not in widespread use in the 1950s. However, the application of

technology is an interesting idea to consider if we assume that the alien is more intelligent

than we are. If it is, then a humanoid robot who builds a spacecraft that crashes in the

arctic could seem plausible.




2     The Day the Earth Stood Still

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The Day the Earth Stood Still (also 1951) first portrays alien life in the clich´d form of a flying

saucer that lands on Earth. The alien, however, appears as a human being, accompanied

by an all-powerful robot. The chance that an alien from another planet in our solar system

would be a human being is extremely rare, and the fact that it can speak perfect English

is almost impossible. Klaatau explains that he learned English (amongst other things) by

monitoring Earth’s radio waves that were received by his planet.

    While Klaatau is meant to be the alien with super intelligence, Gort is portrayed as the


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alien with immense strength and power. It is interesting that these traits are portrayed

in separate characters, whereas in The Thing from Another World, they were consolidated

into one. With the division between the two characters, it shows that not one alien can be

all-powerful. There is a boundary that one reaches and where another character begins.




3     Contact

Contact is different from the first two movies in that alien life is portrayed through the

existence of radio waves. By receiving radio waves from a distant star, we are led to conclude

that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. The difficulty with the situation in

Contact is that the radio waves were sent to the planet Earth, and not to a single nation.

Ellie Arroway, who was being funded by a private organization, received the signals in the

United States. The issue of intelligent life soon becomes a national issue, and with the

discovery of a second machine off the coast of Japan, it becomes an international issue.

    In the film, Kitz explains to Ellie that announcing to the world the existence of extrater-

restrial intelligence may breach U.S. national security. Ellie loses her temper, but Drumlin

explains that with the position of the Earth’s rotation the United States was the nation that

received the transmission. But Contact raises the question: does any one nation own radio

signals?




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4     Conclusion

These three films all feature scientists as the protagonists and military personnel of some

sort as the antagonists. The scientists are usually trying to understand the alien intelligence,

possibly so they can apply it to life on Earth. This is often where there is military or

government resistance. The military often feel threatened by scientific advancement and

research because they are used to their old routines and resistant to change and new ideas.

This seems to be a typical movie stereotype, with the military and government “getting

in the way” of scientific research, where in fact much of the research of extraterrestrial life

would not have been possible without the government’s help.

    By examining these three movies, we see different portrayals of alien life in Hollywood

cinema. Each film portrays life in its own way and leaves many possibilities open to the

viewer’s imagination.




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