The Thing from Another World is clearly not friendly. Do any movie space men show up to do good for humanity? I'm going to have to do an internet search to find aliens that are friendly in films. Bet I don't find very many. There's E.T., of course. All the other ones I can think of are here to do damage, even if they appear to be friendly at first (think of the television series V
). Perhaps the Native Americans who first greeted the Pilgrims, welcomed Columbus, and embraced the initial Conquistadores
, were the last people to not immediately assume that alien invaders are unfriendly and harmful. The descendants of those invaders are naturally aware that new immigrants might outnumber them, and change the country again (like their ancestors did). This has led to some tales of paranoid interface with invading alien forces.
Perhaps film writers cannot imagine friendly aliens. Because...well, friendly aliens would be boring, right? No conflict, no movie, right? "To Serve Man" is a Twilight Zone
episode, so you know the outer space visitors are not going to be here for human benefit. Even Klaatu is here to tell us to get in shape or else, in The Day the Earth Stood Still
. The critter in Cloverfield
ain't friendly at all. The Creeping Unknown
is up to no good. And how 'bout them extraterrestrials in Independence Day
Okay, I looked up some things, and I forgot Superman
, and I haven't seen some of the films with supposedly non-belligerent aliens. Of course there's Enemy Mine
(1985) where the alien is actually quite helpful and compatible, although technically speaking, even the earth character is an alien on the planet where they crash.
Okay, so we can't say that there are no
friendly aliens in films, but friendly astral immigrants in both print and film are rare.
By the time John W. Campbell, Jr. wrote "Who Goes There?" the trope of unfriendly invading aliens had already been set, at least as early as 1897, when H. G. Wells published his serialized novel, The War of the Worlds
. His Martian characters were invading forces, wanting the water-rich earth to replace their dry, dying Mars. Humans were in the way. The subtextual commentary is about English Imperialism, of course, but his invaders are evil because he saw the British way of dealing with indigenous peoples as evil.
If all space aliens before 1938 had been benign, would Campbell's creature have been benign as well, or would he have invented the vicious, invading monster? Who can know? In the story the idea that the creature is not friendly is one of the points argued by the members of the expeditionary force. A character named Connant speaks first, answered by Blair:
John W. Campbell, Jr. wrote:"I know it's your pet--but be sane about it. That thing grew up on evil, adolesced slowly roasting alive the local equivalent of kittens, and amused itself through maturity on new and ingenious torture."
"You haven't the slightest right to say that," snapped Blair. "How do you know the first thing about the meaning of a facial expression inherently inhuman? It may well have no human equivalent whatever. That is just a different development of Nature, another example of Nature's wonderful adaptability. Growing on another, perhaps harsher world, if has different form and features. But it is just as much a legitimate child of Nature as you are. You are displaying the childish human weakness of hating the different. On its own world it would probably class you as a fish-belly, white monstrosity with an insufficient number of eyes and a fungoid body pale and bloated with gas."
Is it inevitable that a race advanced enough to cross between stars would come to conquer? Perhaps we are only viewing star travelers with a self-reflecting lens. Or, maybe there is something about life everywhere that is the same, just as the chemical elements are the same throughout the Universe that we can see. Or at least they appear to our scientific instruments to be the same.
Connant turns out to be right about the Thing in the ice block. That notion is preserved in The Thing from Another World
as the thing from the spaceship turns out to have it in for humans. The entire story becomes about stopping the invader in Alaska. Carpenter's ice station inhabitants form an Antarctic defensive line against a 100,000-year old invading organism (as do the Norwegians in the 2011 film, although their story is supposed to happen first).
But in all but the 1951 version of the story, the alien has come to earth long before human civilization; 20 million years in the case of the short story. Why, that was even before humans evolved. As nearly as Blair and the others can deduce in Campbell's seminal yarn, the aliens might well have found themselves on earth by complete accident due to mechanical malfunction.
Anyway, three of the stories are set up so that the malevolence on the part of the invader can easily be questioned. Is the Thing simply trying to survive, in the way that all living creatures attempt to do? Does the story postulate that by interbreeding with the invaders, the indigenous tribes (or subspecies in the case of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis
) actually become
the invader? If that is so, perhaps the story is less about invasion than it is about assimilation--or being assimilated. If so, Campbell presents a dismal view of "survival of the fittest" since his fictional organism has the ability to simply be the fittest wherever it goes. That is a goose-bump-inducing thought: That we might someday accidentally meet a creature that we have no evolutionary traction against, whatsoever! Even more chilling to some would be the idea that we humans might be