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Aliens and Strange Creatures in Movies, Songs and Literature

Inflatable Aliens - Lewis Francis
Nobody knows what extra-terrestrials from other planets look like, but the earthly creative arts world is happy to speculate wildly and profitably.

On April Fools Day 2010, a Jordanian newspaper, Al Ghad, carried a front page story of 10-foot aliens from a flying saucer landing near the desert town of Jafr. The Mayor sent out security services. It was a deliberate hoax from enterprising journalists.

The War of the Worlds 1938 incident was unplanned, but had a similar effect. It was broadcast on CBS radio on 30 October as a Halloween episode of Theatre-of-the-Air, adapted from the HG Wells’ 1898 novel, War of the Worlds, directed and narrated by Orson Welles.

This kick-started his career. It ran without commercial breaks, opening with simulated live news reports, leading listeners to believe an alien invasion was actually under way. In New York/New Jersey, it caused mass hysteria, which turned to outrage and the drama was condemned as cruelly deceptive.

Aliens in the Movies

Over 350 movies utilise alien fantasies, imaginings or partial truths. They range from laughable/unlikely, to serious pieces of film art. They’ve sparked books, films, merchandising and cult followings. Most treat aliens as hostile to humankind.

Some of the best known across that huge range include: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); The Abyss (1989); Alien (1979); Alien vs. Predator (2004); Avatar (2009); Barbarella (1968); The Blob (1958); Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977); and Coneheads (1993).

There is also: E.T. Extra-Terrestrial (1982); Flight of the Navigator (1986); I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958); Independence Day (1996); The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976); Men in Black (1997 & 02); Muppets from Space (1999); Species (1995, 98, 04, 07) and WALL-E (2008).

Long-running franchises are built on aliens: Star Trek (1979-2008); Star Wars (1977-2008); Superman (1978-1987), and The Transformers (1986-2007), while War of the Worlds made it onto film in 1953 and 2005. The X Files carried alien theories from TV screens into people’s minds from 1993-2002.

Aliens in Popular Songs

Almost as varied as films, song titles and lyrics have been inspired by a fairly stereotypical view of aliens. The Steve Miller Band have had two: Space Cowboy and The Joker, while Ray Stevens turned the Elvis Presley lives theory into I Saw Elvis in a UFO.

The Carpenters did Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft; Subterranean Homesick Alien came from Radiohead; Space Oddity from David Bowie; Space Truckin‘ from Deep Purple; U.F.O. Has Landed in the Ghetto by Ry Cooder and the English political activist Billy Bragg recorded My Flying Saucer. Barker of the UFO was an early Bee Gees’ offering and Waiting for the UFOs was done by Graham Parker & The Rumour

Aliens in Literature

Writers have long speculated about other life forms and worlds. An early example was a French 1864 publication by Camille Flammarion, Imaginary Worlds and Real Worlds, which was exploited in 1887 by JH Rosny Aîné, in a short story describing an evolutionary death war between prehistoric humans and crystal-based life-forms.

In 1901, HG Wells published The First Men in the Moon, which has antlike creatures and then bug-eyed monster invasion stories became a staple of science fiction. Stanley G. Weinbaum’s A Martian Odyssey (1934), presents aliens whose harmless behaviour is incomprehensible to human sensibilities.

Other authors include Olaf Stapledon, with Star Maker (1937) which follows a man’s mind travelling space and time. His galactic empires, alien life, genetic engineering inspired many, including Arthur C.Clarke, whose 1953 Childhood’s End shows a benign earth conqueror, The Overlords.

A long list of colourful, imaginative and fantastic aliens would not be complete without the Aalaag from Gordon R. Dickson’s 1987 novel, Way of the Pilgrim; Psychlos, universe conquerors, from the L.Ron Hubbard’s novel Battlefield Earth; Alan Dean Foster’s believable Thranx from 1982’s Nor Crystal Tears; and the disastrous little green Martians in Fredric Brown’s 1955 Martians, Go Home.

Inter-species communication between the pequeninos and humans is at the heart of two credible novels by Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle created Fithp in 1985’s Footfall, creatures with herd instinct who either dominate or submit.

The Fuzzies from H.Beam Piper’s 1962 Little Fuzzy question the way we deal with other life forms. The Groaci are more of a fun race, told in tongue-in-cheek works of Keith Laumer. The Ythrians saw the light of day in The Earth Book of Stormgate (1978), a collection of interwoven short stories.

Hroshii, a determined, literal-minded species, were created by Robert A.Heinlein in 1954, in The Star Beast. In 2000 Robert J.Sawyer imagined Forhilnor in Calculating God, interactors/observers of the human race. The Chtorran infestation multiplied and human reaction changed, in David Gerrold’s 1983 A Matter for Men; while Harry Harrison produced in West of Eden (1984) Yilane, small, erect, intelligent reptiles descended from dinosaurs.

Aliens have become a Hollywood earning staple with influence on literature and songs on the way. The only limit is man’s imagination. Or until we meet real aliens.

First published at Suite 101, 7 April 2010.

Photo: Inflatable Aliens – Lewis Francis

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