August 8th, 2004

breaking bad

Imagining the Alien

A few days ago I saw 'The Thing', and I thought 'this is probably the best/most scary alien in any film'. So then I thought I'd put together a top ten of film and TV aliens. But the problem is that most of them are rubbish. For most of the history of media SF of course there were technical limitations, but I think even more significant are the limitations of the imagination, and these two limitations combine to give us 'man in suit with rubber add-ons' as the alien template.

'The Alien', which I've been talking about a lot lately, was of course a man (a 7-foot Masai) in a rubber suit, lifted above the banal by alien biological extras and the strategic use of shadow and mist.

Other media triumphs include the Daleks - men in suits but not man-like. I'm not a massive fan but they annexed the public imagination.

The trek franchise had a few decent non-humanoid aliens. I think perhaps the best was the silicon-based lifeform in the original series. That had a fully alien biology, and the story was about trying to communicate across this difference.

The Andromedans in Blakes 7 are the same creatures as 'The Thing', but their threat is political rather than visceral.

So, in short, it is possible to convey interesting, alien, aliens, even with a limited special effects budget. But it isn't done very often. Any other suggestions?