It’s Independence Day here in the States, where we honor our history by cooking dead animals, inflating enormous cartoon characters, and blowing stuff up. And then, of course, I’m sure some of you are sitting on the couch and revisiting Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, thrilling to Bill Pullman delivering stirring speeches, Will Smith punching aliens in the face, and those hippies on the rooftop getting vaporized in the midst of welcoming our new alien visitors.
Yes, science fiction loves a good alien invasion story. It’s a comforting thought that, if faced against far more advanced aliens determined to exterminate or enslave our entire race, we scrappy human might still be able to overcome and win the day. But let’s face it: we’d pretty much be screwed. It’s a story we’ve seen played out countless times here on our homeworld alone, and none of those oppressing forces were armed with mass drivers and plasma cannons. So when it comes to figuring out a way to defeat the alien invaders, science fiction has to think outside the box. Way outside the box. Not even in the same zip code as the box.
So here they are, some of the most unusual, audacious, ridiculous ways that mankind has sent our would-be alien overlords packing over the years.
How could we start this article anywhere else? Independence Day is one of the most successful examples of the alien-invasion flick, serving up big-screen spectacle at the hands of extraterrestrial visitors who regard mankind as an annoying pest to be exterminated. (Either that or they just really don’t like our architecture.) Try as we might, it’s clear that our species is outmatched: we can’t even damage their ships, much less destroy them. We’re boned.
How We Beat ‘em: The aliens’ antivirus software was really crappy.
In a plot twist that sci-fi fans have been sneering at for nearly 20 years, Jeff Goldblum’s twitchy scientist, David Levinson, comes up with a plan to use a repaired alien craft to infiltrate the mothership, where they can then upload a virus into the invaders’ computers. That’s right, people. We were one McAfee update away from global annihilation.
War of the Worlds
Of course, H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is the granddaddy of this entire genre. It’s been told and retold dozens of times over the years, from Orson Welles’ panic-inducing radio drama, to George Pal’s classic 1953 film, to the menacing tripods and 9/11 symbolism of Steven Spielberg’s 2005 version. As with Independence Day, War of the Worlds acknowledges the harsh truth that we would likely be unable to mount a sufficient defense against advanced invaders determined to wipe us out, and also like ID, the aliens are eventually brought down by something unexpected.
How We Beat ‘em: A fatal case of the sniffles.
Wells’ story is considerably more cynical than the bombastic excess of Independece Day. In both cases the aliens are felled by a virus, but in War of the Worlds it’s not anything wielded by us. Instead they’re killed by exposure to our native viruses and bacteria. Sure, you might expect a race that advanced would be careful to think of that in advance and take measures to protect against it, but what the hell, it makes for a nice, poetic ending.
Hey, the end of the world doesn’t have to be so dour and depressing. It can be fun! Well, at least it can if you’re one of the Martians in Tim Burton’s 1996 sci-fi black comedy tribute to a grisly line of 1960s trading cards. The invaders of Mars Attacks! aren’t here to systematically exterminate us so they can steal our resources or planet. First they want to have a little fun with us. Yes, the Martians take a sadistic glee in sewing our heads on to the bodies of chihuahuas or planting their flag in the middle of our President. Invading our planet is one thing, but those guys are just jerks.
How We Beat ‘em: The weaponized application of Slim Whitman.
For a species that gets as creative as the Martians do when it comes to toying with us (“Don’t run, we are your friends!”), it’s only appropriate that they go out in an equally memorable way. Namely, their heads explode when exposed to Slim Whitman’s “Indian Love Call.” I can’t stand country music, but I’m gonna keep a copy of that on my phone, just in case.
The aliens don’t always come in loud and obvious, of course. Sometimes they prefer to infiltrate our society and attempt to direct or control our species from within. In They Live, they’re already here, and they’re pretty much running the place. The invaders are posing as us, conditioning us through subliminal messages, and generally herding us along like good little passive sheep. There’s plenty of satirical commentary about media manipulation and not questioning authority, but there’s also a six-and-a-half-minute fight scene between Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David.
How We Beat ‘em: A wrestler, some magic sunglasses, and a lack of bubblegum.
Piper plays a drifter named Nada who finds a pair of magic sunglasses (as Arthur C. Clarke once observed, any sufficiently advanced pair of sunglasses is indistinguishable from magic sunglasses) that allows him to see the freaky-looking invaders living among us, as well as all their sneaky hidden messages telling us to do things like “OBEY” and “CONFORM.” Thankfully Nada has arrived on the scene eager to chew bubblegum and kick ass, but he’s all out of bubblegum.
For all the jokes at M. Night Shyamalan’s expense, Signs is a damn good movie for about 85% of its running time. It’s masterful slow-burn horror as Reverend Graham Hess (Mel Gibson, less obviously anti-semitic) and his family watch as mysterious events begin to unfold both around their home and in the world at large. The aliens of Signs seem almost determined to unnerve and unsettle the humans as part of their larger plan. Instead of parking a mothership above the White House, they lurk in corn fields and back alleys and in your peripheral vision. It does raise the question of why they’re acting the way they are, but either way it’s spooky as hell. Until…
How We Beat ‘em: H2OHGODITBURNS!
In an even bigger punchline than Independence Day’s resolution to Will Smith’s alien problem, we learn that the mysterious, unknowable aliens of Signs have a dangerous allergic reaction to water, and yet have crossed the endless wastes of interstellar space to invade a planet mostly covered by water, and inhabited by beings most composed of water. If you thought the War of the Worlds aliens were irresponsible when it comes to researching your target planet, they’ve got nothing on these guys.
A reworking of the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers/The Thing setup, The Faculty leaves the salvation of humanity in the hands of some improbably pretty teenagers. Why the Faculty aliens decided that the first beachhead for their invasion should be a high school, I do not know. Maybe they feed on angst and sexual frustration. Maybe it’s all part of a top-secret extraterrestrial teacher exchange program that just gets dangerously out of hand. All we know is that they’re taking over the faculty of Herrington High School, and once they’re finished there they’ll…uh…artificially manipulate the students’ standardized testing scores so they can get more federal funding?
How We Beat ‘em: “Caffeine pills and some other household shit.”
It’s the same old story. You plan an invasion, you take over the staff of an educational facility, then some teenage drug dealer inadvertently discovers that you are vulnerable to a particular mixture of chemicals from his stash. At least it ain’t water.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Hey, you can’t beat ’em all…