[A couple years ago, I spent a fun week AmericanStudying summer blockbusters—this year, it’s time for the sequel! Add your thoughts, on these or other blockbusters, for a weekend post that’s sure to set box office records!]
On friendly and hostile extraterrestrials, and the real bad guys in any case.
In the shape of his head, E.T. (star of Steven Spielberg’s 1982 film of the same name) looks a tiny bit like a distant cousin of the mother alien (the “bitch,” that is) from James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). But that slight comparison is about the only possible way in which these two summer blockbusters aren’t wholly distinct from one another. E.T. is perhaps Spielberg’s most kid-centered film, from its youthful protagonists to its product placements for Reese’s Pieces and the good ol’ Speak and Spell, its drunken slapstick to its underlying theme of growing up in a single-parent household. While Aliens has to be one of the most adult, hard-R-rated summer blockbusters ever, featuring one nightmare-inducing, graphically violent and horrifying sequence and image after the next (to say nothing of the Space Marines’ extremely salty repartee).
E.T. and Aliens aren’t just at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their ratings and intended audiences, however. They also embody two entirely different perspectives on the question not of whether there is life other than our own in the universe (both films agree that there is), but of what attitude toward Earth and humanity those extraterrestials might hold. The summer blockbuster Independence Day (1994), about which I blogged here, explicitly engages with these contrasting perspectives, featuring a number of characters who believe the aliens might come in peace before their true, hostile intentions are revealed. Because of its status as a sequel to a film in which the alien creature could not be more hostile and destructive to humans, Aliens can dispense with the debate and move immediately into the story of how its human characters will combat the extraterrestrial threats. And by tying his extraterrestrial’s first entrance into the film to the creature’s love of Reese’s Pieces, Spielberg similarly signals from the start that his alien will be friendly to—indeed, overtly parallel to—his young protagonist Elliot.
E.T. isn’t without antagonists, though—but they’re of the human variety, the community of threatening scientists and government officials who seek to capture and (if necessary) kill E.T. to learn his secrets (and who in the original film carry guns, not walkie talkies, in that pursuit). And in that sense, E.T. and Aliens aren’t quite as far apart as they might seem—because in the latter film’s major reveal (SPOILER alert), it turns out that Paul Reiser’s corporate scientist Carter Burke is far more overt of a villain than the aliens, who are after all only fighting for their own survival (rather than driven by greed and manipulation, and a willingness to sacrifice anyone who gets in their way, as Burke and the Weyland-Yutani Corporation for which he works are revealed to be). If there’s one thing on which such disparate summer blockbusters can apparently agree, it’s that the powers that be—whether corporate or governmental—represent a far greater threat, to humans and extraterrestrials alike, than any alien invaders.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. So one more time: what do you think? Other summer blockbusters you’d analyze?
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