I grew up on science fiction shows and watched shows like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon on a 12-inch television screen. Although the aliens from the old television shows were scary, they did not prepare me for Ridley Scott’s Alien. Who is my choice for King of the Creature Feature Award? Grab your electric prod and follow me.
Like most of you, I expected most aliens to be like us: one head, two arms, two legs… humanoid at best. There were a few films that featured stranger looking aliens like War of the Worlds;\, but on the whole, I’ve always expected life in outer space to be evolving similar to what was happening on Earth. My expectations changed once I began working at the Academy of Natural Sciences and learned about Extremophiles that existed right here on our planet.
This was big news not only for the biologists looking for new species, but for astrobiologists searching for extraterrestrial life. If we were able to find organisms that could thrive in extreme physical or geochemical conditions that were outright detrimental to us right here on Earth, then it meant that maybe we should shift our idea of what we’d meet on our space explorations. The Martians might be little green viruses.
In 1979, Ridley Scott directed a film called Alien. The trailers for this film were short, but they usually ended with this warning, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
The film starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto. The film was based on a screenplay written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett.
Nostromo is hauling a cargo of crude oil. The crew is in hypersleep but is awakened when the ship receives a distress call from a small planet. They are ordered to investigate and we, the viewers, are dragged into the nightmare where humans encounter something that is unfamiliar and unexpected in the science fiction genre for two reasons: the alien (Bolaji Badejo) resembled an intelligent insect – think Ninja Roach – and Sigourney Weaver is the only human left alive at the end of the film proving that women could be kick-ass space explorers when given the chance.
Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection all star Sigourney Weaver. The movies have always been about Ripley’s battle with the Alien, while the two prequels, Prometheus and the upcoming Alien: Covenant, take place before Ripley ever lays eyes on the creature.
Although the alien in the film is listed as a Xenomorph, I feel that the correct category for this creature would fall under the science of entomology. To survive in space you need a creature that can withstand extreme elements and the insect is the perfect representative of extremophile. Let’s start by comparing the alien creature with an insect: the alien in the film and Earth’s bees and ants have a hive state with a queen; both the alien creature and insects go through stages of a life cycle: egg, larva, insect. Who will ever forget the scene with the alien in the film when larva explodes out of the egg to attack one of the crew from the Nostromo? Or worse, what about when the developing alien inside Kane (John Hurt) eats its way through its host? A Parasitoid Wasp can do the same thing and I’m betting the poor caterpillar is feeling exactly like John Hurt’s character when this happens.
In the films, the alien creature can protect itself from attack by squirting a corrosive fluid at its attackers. Want to know what insect does this? The Bombardier beetle is alien worthy when it comes to protecting itself. In the films, the alien creature uses its corrosive juices to both attack and defend itself leaving us to watch in horror as its saliva eats through several decks of the Nostromo.
What is most frightening about all the Alien films is also the inability of regular weapons to destroy this creature. Like insects, the alien creature had a hard outer covering like roaches and beetles. The alien creature must shed as it grows, the same way insects do. Everything about this creature screams insect!
The Alien creature is my choice for the “King of the Creature Feature Award.” Why? You can’t reason with an insect that is intent on viewing you as a meal; think about ticks and mosquitoes. There is no reasoning with the alien creature aboard the Nostromo. It goes about its feasting while ignoring the crew’s attempt to kill it.
Survival is the name of the game and, because of its size and viciousness, only one crew member and one cat survive. The horror of having an alien creature deposit its egg inside us the same way a parasitic wasp deposits its eggs in unwilling hosts is a nightmare I would not want to face in real life.
The alien creature lives within a hive and had a queen. Their existence is well organized as we’ve witnessed with ant and bee colonies of Earth. If they were not hostile to humans, the aliens would probably be worthy of study, but as it is, any chance of coexistence with these creatures is zero. Sigourney Weaver’s character, Ripley, became a cult hero because she is one hell of a kick-ass heroine who understood what the creature really was. Ripley’s only desire is to dispose of the creature the same way she would a nasty bug.