Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spread of Activation VII: The Earth Day Edition

It's Earth Day and let's celebrate by bragging on how much aliens love our planet. They do! They can't get enough of it, from War of the Worlds to Independence Day they want the whole thing. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind they love us so much they're willing to travel light years, lots of 'em, just to say "Hi." Awww. In This Island Earth, despite being much more advanced than us scientifically, they want our help with their own planet Metaluna, and a couple of our best and brightest oblige. Sometimes we're naughty, and since they love us so much they feel the need to show us the error of our ways, like in The Day the Earth Stood Still where they gently but firmly tell us to stop our warring ways or they'll kill us. Gee thanks Dad! And in 2001: A Space Odyssey those aliens... well, okay who knows what in the hell they're up to but whatever it is, we're the centerpiece of their master plan. Yes, Science Fiction, beloved here at Cinema Styles, has always operated under the conceit that you just can't find a better planet than good old Mother Earth.

The great thing about most science fiction is that outside the gobbledygook of the basic plot they don't try to explain too much. It's usually kept to a couple of sentences revolving around our natural resources or danger to the rest of the galaxy or something stupid like that. And it's a good thing too because when you think about Earth centered sci-fi plots they never actually make much sense. For instance, take the "destroy and conquer" plots.

War of the Worlds and Independence Day are all about alien races envying what we've got here and wanting to take it for themselves. In War of the Worlds, they apparently buried tripods a million years ago with the intent of taking over the planet. Why they didn't just do it then when they would have encountered NO technological resistance I have no idea. Why they didn't research the environment to realize that bacteria present here would kill them is another mystery for the ages. They have the technology to form an invasion plan from millions of miles away over a thousand centuries but didn't bother to research the environment and how it interacts with their own biology. Wow, that's monumentally bad planning!

And how about the Independence Day dullards? They too can construct fleets of ships and massive mother ships to invade a world for it's resources when the gathering of resources from planets and asteroids is something even we already understand but lack the technology and money to get enough ships to the asteroids and planets to collect the resources. The aliens of ID4 do realize don't they, with their advanced technology, that they can strip mine the galaxy for all the resources they need without once having to actually mount an invasion? They realize that right? Oh no wait, of course they don't because Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich are the guys that provided them with their motivation in the first place.

Or how about the "Earth is a danger to the rest of us" plot of The Day the Earth Stood Still? Ha! That's a laugh. People seemed to think in 1951 that nuclear weapons could destroy the universe. Your average humdrum star, going through the process of nuclear fusion constantly, produces more heat and radiation in a second than every nuclear weapon on Earth combined could ever hope to do. Which makes me think of The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire has nothing to do with aliens, I know, but this ain't called Spread of Activation for nothing. See, in The Day the Earth Caught Fire, which is a great and underrated movie by the way, the Earth is thrown off of her axis by two hydrogen bomb tests by the United States and the Soviet Union done at the exact same time at the North and South Poles. Okay, first of all, even if a nuclear bomb could somehow move an object with a mass of 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms (6E+24 kilograms / 1.3E+25 pounds), and brother would that need to be one HUGE-ASS nuclear bomb, the fact that you have two at opposite ends would simply result in the two offsetting each other, further resulting in, well, nothing. For the plot to work it should just be one bomb, not two. Oh well, at least with a destroyed Earth no aliens are going to want to take it.

But what about destroying the Earth? Does Sci-Fi have anything to say about that? But of course it does! Everyone loves apocalyptic Sci-Fi. From asteroids to global warming to nuclear warfare Sci-Fi loves destroying the planet Earth. There's a new one coming out soon, 2012, and like the other ones it looks pretty stupid. My favorite in the field is probably the aforementioned The Day the Earth Caught Fire but for instant destruction I'll go with Deep Impact.

Deep Impact was released in 1998 in competition with another asteroid destruction movie, Armageddon. Deep Impact gets 5.9 on IMDB and Armageddon gets 6.0. This is important because it reminds me that most people who rate movies on IMDB are idiots and it's always good to remember that. Who knows, one day it may save your life. I don't know how, but I'm not ruling it out. Anyway, Deep Impact is a pretty good disaster flick as these things go. They do have their cake and eat it too of course by having the smaller non-planet killing asteroid hit so we can all enjoy the special effects and having the bigger planet killing one destroyed so we can all enjoy the happy ending. That was kind of chickenshit in my book but hey I understand the need for it. Besides in the instant destruction sub-genre you've got to show something to the audience. I mean, we paid money to see the planet killed, or at least injured. Which takes me to my final category, the slow death of the planet as exemplified by films such as Silent Running and Wall-E.

These don't work as well for me. Wall-E has an interesting nugget of a sci-fi idea but focuses on the robots instead of the people, which makes sense since it's mainly for kids. But for me it's like watching Star Wars where R2-D2 and C3PO are the main characters and everyone else is a bit player. Silent Running on the other hand has a very interesting main character played by Bruce Dern but a hard to swallow plot device: The Earth is now devoid of all plant life. Uh huh. As Carl Sagan said in Cosmos, "We need the trees much more than they need us." Without us the plants would be fine. Without the plants, and all apologies to Coruscant, we wouldn't be here. The idea of a functioning planet without plants is ludicrous but it's still a good movie with an interesting central character and a trio of droids (Huey, Dewey and Louie) that predate those previously mentioned Star Wars droids by five years. And it's one of the first major Sci-Fi movies with an environmental theme which makes it a good one to wrap up with on this Earth Day.

So Happy Earth Day everyone! Watch an Earth destruction Sci-Fi movie today. Sometimes the best way to appreciate what you've got is to see what it would be like if it were taken away.