10 Great Alien Films That Aren't Alien

From Tim Burton to David Bowie...
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I’ve set myself some rules here.  I will not include anything blindingly obvious like Alien, Star Wars or ET as a) Who Cares? and b) Not me. They are what they are, we’ve all seen them and there’s nothing left to say really.  So with that in mind here’re my 10 favourite films featuring aliens in no particular order.

Mars Attacks (1996, Tim Burton)

This should have been a star laden Hollywood mess to rival the worst turkey from Bernard Matthews Productions. The mere mention of Tim Burton normally makes me feel uncomfortable at the prospect of some over stylised gothic crap with his missus looking hideous and Johnny Depp hamming it up like a Spanish pork butcher, but in fact it was pretty funny. Mars did indeed attack and yes they were little green men who looked like comic book aliens with goldfish bowl helmets and death rays.  What little bastards they were too, they had an evil little mad scientist, speak and spell laugh and would joyfully lead on even the highest ranked human before frazzling them with the aforementioned death ray.

District 9 (2009, Neill Blomkamp)

“Facken prooans” (“fucking prawns” in English) is the standard line of abuse these downtrodden aliens get from your average bullet headed South African agent. I don’t think there has ever been a film like this where you take a situation as real and raw as apartheid and supplant the coloured population of South Africa with an alien race. These aliens managed to arrive here apparently unprepared for Jo’burg’s finest and you have to suspend belief a little as they seem to have some pretty advanced technology and are more than a match for men on a one to one basis but are interned and controlled nonetheless. The main selling point of the film is the characterisation both of the lead, Sharlto Copley’s Wikus who is betrayed and begins to empathise with the aliens and that of the aliens themselves, particularly the father and son he befriends. Gritty stuff and quite original which is not something you can say very often.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007, Tim Story)

In particular I am referring to only the parts of the film that Old Silver Bollocks appears in. Long has the troubled surf dude been a fabulous character but I guess technology has prevented him from being brought to the silver screen with any realism. OK, in this he might well have just been an extra from Terminator 6 but the essence comes across very well. He is the slave of Galactus and is constantly troubled by the bargain he struck to save his own planet but source others to consume. This character really is Marvel at it’s best and there is a film planned for 2014 which I really hope does the subject matter justice.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)

I know there was a 1956 version but fuck that it was in 1956 and it didn’t have Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams and Jeff Goldblum in it.  You can see why the invisible, body inhabiting alien is attractive to the cheap-ass movie producer as they only need some Boots No7 make up to create their alien but, that aside, this is a great film and a great concept.  The metaphor, well to me anyway, is that people were in fact becoming more devoid of emotion due to the nature of modern society and along side the gripping drama fighting an unstoppable process it’s definitely a chiller with few rivals.  In fact I’d say that only The Changeling and The Shining (both 1980) can better it for shit-me-up-ness.

The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

Taking the idea of an invisible form that inhabits the human form a bit further we have a fabulously hirsute Kurt Russell battling shape changing, body mutating aliens in the South Pole.  Aside from the ace winter coat he wears and cool flame throwing capers it’s a pretty good tale of isolation and as the “Thing” could have infected anyone without their knowledge there is a trust issue.  There is a great scene where, I think it is Donald Moffat’s Garry is strapped to a chair as an alien suspect and has to endure some pretty gory stuff when the guy next to him mutates all over the shop.  He starts to calmly explain himself but he quickly starts to demand release in more “industrial” terms.  I always remember Moffat as Rem from the Logan’s Run TV serial (1977) and Lyndon Johnson in The Right Stuff (1983, Philip Kaufman again).

Alien Nation (1988, Graham Baker)

There are obvious parallels in this film with black integration into the police force and it is a bit clunky in that respect.  After all was that really an issue in 1988 USA?  Every cop show had a grumpy black captain in it by this time so certainly in TV land discrimination was not an issue.  It’s like someone had a script from the 1970’s and they were determined to make the film even though the subject matter was dated.  But hey let’s make the black fella an alien and set it in the near future, bingo. I’m sounding like I don’t like it and I do.  I love James Caan, Mandy Patinkin and Terence Stamp and they are all very good in what is essentially a cop buddy movie with a twist. Any film where there is an alien called Sam Francisco in a cheap suit is OK with me.

Enemy Mine (1985, Wolfgang Petersen)

Petersen has directed some great movies.  Das Boot (1981) being the out an out classic, but I also really like The Never Ending Story (1984), In the Line of Fire (1993) and The Perfect Storm (2000).  Enemy Mine also picks up on racial (or inter planetary) tension and within the context of two stranded soldiers asks the question ”can you set aside your differences and survive together?”  It’s basically a two hander with just Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett Jnr on screen for large parts of the move and one suspects it would work quite well on stage if you downsized the special effects which are not key anyway.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976, Nic Roeg)

Bowie can act when he wants to and whilst he is not the best thing in this movie, that award goes without doubt to Candy Clark as Mary-Lou, he definitely draws the eye. The story of his dying planet provide great flashback scenes and we even get a bit of alien nookie. On his planet this appears to involve spinning about in the air excreting the necessary fluids and no real fun at all. Luckily for Dave (and the discerning 1970’s audience) he managed a bit of earth slap and tickle with Mary Lou. Not so much an out and out alien movie but a comment on the ruthless capitalism of the US at that time.  A great score by John Philips and Stomu Yamashta really help it along too.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Steven Spielberg)

This film doesn’t get enough praise in my view.  It’s an epic story, its well acted by a great cast (Richard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr and Bob Balaban) and whilst it leaves questions unanswered, that’s precisely what the subject matter is, unanswered questions.  It taps into the American love of a conspiracy theory and shows a band of driven obsessives in their mission to validate their suspicions.  Dreyfuss is Roy Neary the classic everyman with his chaotic family life, lack of money, demanding boss and wife who is never satisfied with her lot, no wonder he wants to fuck off into space with the aliens.  We are presented with all the evidence up front so when Roy starts to build the mountain in his mashed potato we know he is not crazy and will him on.  His problem is that his wife doesn’t see the evidence and thinks he’s hat stand.

The Iron Giant (1999, Brad Bird)

Based on the 1968 novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes this is a lovely story.  A wide-eyed and fabulously monikered 9-year-old boy called Hogarth Hughes happens upon a 50-foot iron alien who has fallen from space. Hogarth befriends the likeable colossus and together they source scrap metal for him to eat and try to avoid capture and outwit hapless FBI agent Kent Mansley.  Jenifer Aniston voices “mom” and Vin Diesel is the giant.  If you are looking for a nice, simple, morally sound Sunday afternoon film for the kids, this is just perfect.

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