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Stupid Aliens: An Opinion

It's surprising how often water is used as a gimmick in movies about aliens. In M. Night Shyamalan's Signs the alien invaders react to tap water as if it were acid. Unless they limited their marauding to places like Death Valley it seems to me they'd go around with perpetual skin rashes due to ordinary humidity. Plus you have to wonder why they would try to conquer a planet whose surface is three-quarters water if they were allergic to it. In Hollywood sci-fi aliens make such stupid mistakes.

My friends tell me I need to exercise my willing suspension of disbelief. Fine, I can do that for the sake of a good story, but only up to a point. I can easily accept the premise of warp drive or hyperspace. I can suspend my disbelief in zombies and vampires as long as you've got a somewhat original tale to tell. But what I can't abide are producers, directors and script writers who can't be bothered to look up the meaning of fairly common words like "light-year" or "micron," or those who don't know the difference between a galaxy and a solar system. One might be tempted to call it simple laziness, yet these kinds of gaffes are so routine that I've decided that these people simply have no respect for the material; that is, for science or science fiction. They don't care so they assume we won't either. They are insulting us and don't even know it.

I will admit that things have gotten a little better since I was a kid. In the classic movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, an official asks the alien Klattu where he is from. He replies that he is from a planet so many millions of miles away. (I can't remember the figure.) I looked it up and found that Klattu's planet orbited somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. One is left to surmise that the writers had no knowledge of light-years or that the asteroid belt is a sorry place to put a habitable world. Or maybe they figured it was invisible. At any rate, TDtESS was an otherwise exceptional movie outranking all other sci-fi efforts of the era (with the possible exception of Forbidden Planet) and yet the writers didn't understand basic elementary school astronomy. This at a time when Asimov and others were spinning tales of galactic empires that spanned millennia across thousands of light-years.


Klaatu Image

Michael Rennie as Klaatu was a handsome devil, but he wasn't too keen on elementary astronomy.

These days TV shows like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate Universe do seem to understand that they need some kind of FTL drive to go somewhere interesting. Even the original Star Wars displayed an understanding of the difference between planetary systems and galaxies. Even so, a few gaffes stood out, as when Han Solo claimed he had made the Castle run in ten parsecs. That's a measurement of distance, Han, and one unlikely to be of much use in a galaxy far, far away.

Jarjar Binks

Jarjar Binks is pretty stupid but at least he's not allergic to water.

I've often wondered if doctors and lawyers are able to enjoy movies and TV shows about their professions. Do they groan and laugh at the silly mistakes? I posed this question to an attorney I happen to know and she said that the characters on Law and Order cite actual case law in their arguments. She also said Harry's Law was cute. What a surprise! If this is so, why is it that writers of TV sci-fi lack the same respect for their material? Is the law regarded as more legitimate than science? If so, why?

I suspect part of the problem is that media sci-fi fans are too easy to please. In a certain Star Trek movie Kirk and McCoy are exiled to a penal colony inside an "asteroid" whose surface featured lots of wind and snow. Afterward I complained that asteroids, by definition, were too small to maintain atmospheres. My fan companion suggested that maybe it was a large asteroid. Well, sir, you can't have it both ways. Either it is or it ain't.


This a photograph of the asteroid Ida taken by NASA's Gallileo spacecraft. See? No atmosphere! (That little dot to the right is Ida's moon.)


Media fans seem all too eager to make excuses for their movies saying "maybe this or maybe that" yet the question remains: Why can't Hollywood writers look this stuff up? If they did and got these detail right then fans who don't care wouldn't notice the difference, while viewers who do care would be grateful, and the movie might gain a larger audience thus raking in more money for the investors. This approach makes perfect sense, and yet it rarely happens. I guess they're making enough money already; plus sci-fi media fans seem more than willing to scarf down whatever scraps Hollywood is willing to throw at them.

In spite of the minor improvements mentioned above plus the fantastic advances in special effects, Hollywood still can't seem to write a decent science-fiction story. It has been more than a century since Wells and Verne invented the genre. Thousands of good stories have been published, including alien invasion yarns. Yet in spite of all this wonderful material lying around for the asking, Hollywood still insists on giving us crap like Independence Day in which the wily humans bring down the mother ship with a computer virus. You'd think aliens capable of traversing light-years would have invented decent anti-viral software installed. Yet another example of stupid aliens.

This is an alien from the movie Independence Day. It's cross-eyed because it's thinking: Damn! I knew I forgot something! (A lot of aliens have thoes big fancy heads.)


My willing suspension of disbelief is in perfect working order, thank you very much. I can live with aliens with latex bumps glued to their heads who speak perfect unaccented English. I am able to enjoy fantasies that take place in galaxies far, far away. I can even endure the occasional space battle in which spacecraft swoop through the vacuum like War-World-One Fokkers (though it has grown rather stale). All I'm asking for are decent stories with half-way intelligent plots, some scientific literacy from the writers, and aliens that aren't stupid and allergic to water.

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