Boiling Point: The Alien Aesthetic

Like many of my fellow Americans, on July 4th I succumbed to the obvious film choice and reinvested my time into Independence Day, which luckily never spawned a successful franchise – after all, what do you call the fourth movie when you called the first ID4? Now, back in 1996 this movie was awesome. In 2009, not so much. But in 2010, under just the right circumstances, I found it enjoyable once more. Save for one thing – the alien technology. Or, more accurately, the way it was designed.

For aliens to have traversed the vastness of space, they must undoubtedly have, in the words of Kevin Spacey, advanced alien technology. I’m talking in any movie, whether it’s Predator, Alien, or War of the Worlds, these space-honkeys are advanced. Yet, all of these aliens have something in common besides having mastered space travel – their design aesthetic. There was a time when space-cruisers had to look all clean and pristine to travel the void. Think about the USS Enterprise, the bridge of an Imperial Star Destroyer or the smooth, clean lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Now that stuff looked advanced.

Not so, when it comes to Independence Day or “The Pilot” from Alien. No, this alien technology is organically inspired. Nifty, on some level, but kind of ridiculous when you think about it. I mean, do these aliens grow their ships or what? They’ve mastered interstellar travel, invented ray-guns that can destroy everything within 15 miles, but their interior decorator was inspired by caverns and moss?

Think about the inside of the mother ship, or the exterior of the fighters, in Independence Day. Think about The Pilot’s massive craft in Alien. This stuff appears to have a random surface texture, or a mish-mash of internal structures, or even some sort of organic goo running through the ship. How does this make sense? Why does this make sense? Nature is many things, but the wisest of all architects? I think not.

You see, this is probably meant to show that the aliens are somehow more connected with nature than we, the primitive humans are. But that doesn’t make sense. You can’t grow technology. A zig-zagging support structure is not more stable, in fact the opposite is true. The aliens in Independence Day have some sort of organic exoskeleton, which is weird, but they control it organically – though they still pilot their ships through computer interfaces. So it makes sense to have an organic suit (controlled organically) but not an organic looking ship controlled conventionally. There is no reason why a race that builds advanced technology would opt for an organic look. It doesn’t make sense. It’s inefficient. It’s not a logical progression.

You know what would be an awesome logical progression? Make it more “technorganic.” And by this I don’t mean making technology look organic (I’m railing against that, after all), I mean have the aliens be technologically based. Sort of like Battlestar Galactica’s Cylons. A race of sentient machines that could interface and meld with their technology. Then it would make sense for the aliens to have strange designs, because they could just plug in anywhere. If you want to pilot the ship, you attach to it and become a part of it.

The other option, I guess, would be for them to somehow grow technology. Which would be stupid, but would explain the look. As it stands now, aliens are just designing their ships to look like waterfalls and vascular systems because they like dark gothic art. The function has left the form of spacecraft design.

The dark, scary look is fine for some films, as long as it makes sense. Alien and Aliens have these really dark looks, but this comes mostly because everything has been abandoned and is full of inexplicable amounts of steam. When it comes to the realities of spacecraft, the aliens should probably be leaning more towards functional stuff. Instead of having a large cavern in your mothership with criss-crossing supports, you might want to have docking equipment, bridges, logical support structures, life support systems and all that boring stuff. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know. The organic look is just something done to be different – but design needs a function. We’re not dealing with art, we’re dealing with technology and not just any technology – super advanced, cross the galaxy technology. You don’t just make a mish-mash of clunky things and call it a pillar. Birds and pine trees haven’t made the jump to space yet, so let’s leave the organic look on the ground and keep space high tech. Any time I see some non-sensically designed alien spacecraft, I reach my boiling point.

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Robert Fure is many things: horror expert, ruggedly handsome man of the world, witty prose composer, and writer of his own biography page. Beneath the bravado is a scared little boy, ready to grow into an awesome man and make lies about a scared little boy inside of him. Wait a minute...

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