By now you’ve heard they’re turning the board game Battleship into a movie. There’s even a trailer. Except, instead of fighting other battleships, now it’s the story of a naval fleet fighting aliens. Watch the trailer and believe:
Why aliens? That’s the question I’ve found myself asking not only after watching this trailer, but after watching just about every science fiction movie released in the past two years. Aliens have somehow become the defacto villain for nearly every blockbuster movie being released by Hollywood. Just this year alone we’ve already seen aliens play the bad guys in Cowboys & Aliens, Attack the Block, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Green Lantern, Thor, Super 8, Battle: Los Angeles, Mars Needs Moms, and I Am Number Four. Some might call this a science fiction boom, but I call it a cop out. In fact I’d say even the most outer spacey of these movies isn’t science fiction at all. You see…
Aliens are the new Nazis.
There’s a reason Indiana Jones and so many of his adventure movie counterparts so frequently ended up fighting Nazis in their movies: Nazis are the one thing almost everyone on the planet can agree it’s probably a good idea to kill. Even people who feel a little uncomfortable with the whole idea of the death penalty are likely to nod their heads in accord with the notion that the world is better of with Hitler well and truly dead. Nobody minds seeing Nazis killed. No matter the volatile political climate, no matter the socio-economic background, no matter the race, religion, creed, or even really age; everyone is pretty much fine with movies depicting Nazis having their faces eaten off by God’s divine whatever the heck that was in the final scene of Raiders.
Except, well, you can’t use Nazis forever. With the advent of CGI Hollywood stumbled onto a new type of politically and socially acceptable villain: Aliens.
It’s not that we have anything against aliens, it’s more that we aren’t entirely sure they exist, and if they did exist we all suspect they’d like to see the human race end up entirely dead. That makes them at least as bad as Hitler, Nazis in space, if you will. And Hollywood has jumped on using them.
As computer generated effects have become better, cheaper, and easier to use the number of alien attack movies has as a result increased exponentially. Sure you could make a western about cowboys fighting other cowboys or battleships fighting other battleships, but then the audience might have to think about all the moral inclinations of sinking a ship full of potentially innocent men. There are no moral implications when you shoot down a flying disc full of aliens. No one cares. They aren’t real. It doesn’t have any weight to it, it doesn’t mean anything… and neither do the movies in which it’s happening.
Not only is alien invasion by now a completely fucked out premise, the ease with which Hollywood can digitally insert aliens to shoot at into nearly any situation has made them pretty lazy where science fiction is concerned. There was a time when science fiction was represented on film by creative minds creating entire universes. Science fiction used to be entire, future worlds beyond our imagination. It used to be Star Wars or 2001. But movies like Star Wars are expensive and while we all sit here waiting for someone to get moving on another Star Trek Hollywood can churn out a couple dozen Cowboys & Aliens at half the budget by just digitally inserting aliens on to some existing backlot where they have an old frontier town lying around to use as a set.
Why go through all that trouble to make big, complicated, science fiction with actual ideas? Why bother with science fiction that actually takes its audience somewhere when you can throw a bunch of aliens into a modern day street scenario and call that science fiction instead?
It isn’t science fiction and here’s why Hollywood shouldn’t do it: $80 million. That’s how much money Cowboys & Aliens is going to lose Universal. Most of the other alien invasion movies released recently haven’t fared much better. Almost no one showed up to see Skyline or Battle: Los Angeles for instance, the latter in spite of a massive media marketing blitz. People need more than a bunch of random aliens thrown into any old scenario for the bad guys to shoot at because, well, it just doesn’t matter.
Those movies aren’t science fiction. Simply dropping an alien in front of some badass with a gun doesn’t mean you’ve made a science fiction film. Science fiction is about more than technology or aliens. At its best sci-fi is supposed to be about ideas, big ideas, about humanity and where those big ideas could take us in the future. Keep making those random, empty, alien invasion movies if you want to Hollywood. But don’t call it science fiction.