There’s a weird buggy trend going on with Hollywood alien invasion movies. Let’s talk about it.
As I was sitting in an IMAX theater yesterday, enjoying the hell out of Edge of Tomorrow, I noticed one big similarity it shared with a few other invasion movies.
Like The Avengers, Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers before it, Edge of Tomorrow depicted an alien invasion force that behaved like an insect nest. Each movie had a climactic moment when a central character killed or captured a special type of alien that rendered the rest of the invasion force ineffectual. Like the queen of a nest (except with more bells and whistles, like psychic connections and whatnot), defeating this one type of alien could single-handedly end the occupation.
This isn’t not the most widespread depiction of aliens (that would be the Alien or The Thing mode of a single alien terrorizing a small group of people in a claustrophobic setting), but the more I think about it, the more this commonality seems…odd.
It goes past the idea of leadership, a theme that is built up through the military (or super-heroic) side of each movie. Any human army or team should work together like a well-oiled machine. Commanding officers issue orders to their subordinates, and subordinates follow. The occasional badass gets to disregard orders, but by and large teamwork is what wins the day.
No, these aliens have a hive mind. They’re capable of individual thought and impetus (though to varying degrees), but each movies drives home the point that they are interconnected. They have a central nervous system of some sort that enables them to communicate and act together on a much grander scale than humans can accomplish.
So what’s the deal with this screenplay strategy?
I can think of two primary reasons:
It gives the movie’s hero(es) one central target on which to concentrate their efforts.
With one specific alien commanding the rest of them, it’s easy from a scripting perspective to create a central impetus for the movie’s heroes. Find this one alien (the Omega, the Queen, the brain bug, that big ship in The Avengers), kill or capture it, and you can defeat the entire horde.
It immediately makes the alien’s otherness feel more palpable, and therefore increases the audience’s feeling that they just are not us.
What better way to drive home the point that aliens aren’t human than by taking away their will to be? If the aliens act collectively, there can be no heroic alien, no one maverick that goes against the grain and wins the day for them all. They’re not capable of the type of behavior we’ve been conditioned by the media industry to find inspiring: entrepreneurship, guts, a powerful will, self-determination.
No, instead they behave like on big organism. They don’t just do what they’re told, they literally have no choice in the matter. And that’s so completely other to how our human heroes behave, we automatically recoil in dislike and distrust.
So, the next time you hear about a buggy alien invasion film, remember why the alien horde is so effective at making you feel…well, like a swarm of ants is hitting up your picnic.