Designing the Other: Aliens on Film

100 comments

  • samualwatkins

    Ok but, does E.T. have to look like the shit demons' son from Dogma.

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  • Naum Rusomarov

    No Avatar? (sad blue eyes) 🙁

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  • MoondayBlue

    The less human it looks, the cooler it is and the more I love it. If I ever create a sci-fi story involving good-guy aliens I'll make them look as terrifying and "evil" as possible because heck yeah

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  • EnigmaDrath

    The aliens in Attack The Block are pretty horrifying despite their simple design.

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  • Chris Bran Norling

    Makes me a bit sad that you didn't include all of the sources for the clips you used, which is something I see you do with your other videos. The one clip that you showed after the chart of how we draw inspiration from animals and in between the MIB and the Alien clips at 2:36. I really like how that alien looks, but a lack of a source and my inability to find it rather bums me out.

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  • Major Ramsey

    Am I the only one who finds ET to be the most unnerving and outright terrifying looking thing in this video? This creature gave me extreme nightmares as a kid and still I get a shiver as a grown man when I see him here. It's not just his look either, the noises and mannerisms he has are just as horrifying. Not to mention that damn neck thing he does.

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  • Bonzulac

    Great video! Also, you mispronounced "Giger" 48 times.

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  • Greg Camp

    There is also a practical level here. Designing realistic aliens–products of independent evolution–is difficult, as is making the costumes or CGI.

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  • Mariann Rusnak

    Genuinely wish I could have referred to this in my Master's thesis – written about 6 months before this was made 🙁

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  • Michael Cusic

    Recently discovered your videos and I'd say taken together, they represent a good 2 years of film studies of classes. keep it up!

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  • Mike Schilder

    Anyone enjoying this should read John Scalzi's Agent to the Stars. The plot focuses on a "good" alien, who is repugnant by most metrics to humans, and they seek a Hollywood agent to help frame their image to prepare for a first contact situation.

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  • Rubashow

    I just tried to make new friends and those asshole tried to kill me on their ship and then blew me out of the airlock … Just because I'm different.

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  • Vernedi

    I wish for an alien creature in film that looks truly alien, that is NOT bipedal, lacks humanoid form or proportions, has no eyes, two mouths and can somehow convey sympathy from the audience. That would be a remarkable feat.

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  • ScaryMason

    I am Groot?

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  • Tsunamori Nanashi

    What movie is the big white ant-lookiny alien from? It looks so cute!

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  • Anthony PC

    As an artist who spends much free time binging on other people’s creature designs on ArtStation.com I really appreciated your breakdown here

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  • Daniel Wagner

    Super 8 is the perfect example of big eyes making aliens relatable. The creature is terrifying and inhuman, right up until the moment that its white-out eyelids peel back. Bam. Like a light switch, this alien is a good guy.

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  • Obsession of the Month

    you should do an episode about dutch angles.

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  • MT Debris

    2:35 is that from "Arrival"?

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  • Arca Knight

    E.T. was the only alien or monster from a movie that truly terrified me as a child.

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  • Leopard-King

    This reminds me of a comedy act that I saw just yesterday. Pete Davidson made a joke about being, "Miscellaneous in the face." He quips that his mother tells him that he is white but he can see his lips from where he stands without the aid of a mirror. Davidson has atypical "white" features, yet he is still white. While the routine was hilarious, it does highlight the fears of a society that willfully produces an order on the racial balkanization of various people groups. We need to take one glance at a person an know right away if they are worthy of mercy, attention, a chance, or love. Racial ambiguity is always punished whether it be born of legitimate race mixing, or whether it just has an appearance of such. I personally find people become playfully frustrated when they can not guess a person's race. We have predetermined racial schemas that inform us how to approach all peoples. So when someone jams the programing, it manifests in visible discomfort from others. This idea that one race should have one rigid look flies in the face of genetic fluidity. If you travel the globe you will begin to see certain races having features they are not "suppose" to have according to stock images.

    This also reminds me of a conversation I was having with a co-worker. We both lamented the clumsy patchwork categorization of races. Box checking is so antiquated to our present ideas of race. Depending on your understanding of it, you may dispense with the whole thing altogether. I expressed by frustration with advocacy groups. Not in that I don't see a need for them, because I do. My gripe is a gripe that I don't have an answer for. How do you not reinforce these rigid categories without banning together with your particular group to protect it from abuse? Watchdog gropes are important. They provide opportunity for their people, they collect data on abuse and progress, they lobby political bodies, and they strengthen communities. All good? Not so fast. They also keep us locked into the image of petitioning for humanity. I'm black and I'm proud anthems, then you have the I AM A MAN sandwich boards, then you have Black lives Matter. Will there ever be an era when the image of a black person is not fastened to proving his humanity. This is the fatigue you get over slave movies with African-Americans. History is important, but when do you get to shake off this defense lawyer mentality. I can do what you can do. I am the first black so and so.

    Otherness helps us to sponsor state funded kidnapping. The same right wingers that will bark over having the state vaccinate their children have no problem with the state TAKING CHILDREN? Oh but don't worry because they are brown. The Los Vegas massacre was not done by a Mexican. The Columbine shooters were not Mexican. The postal shooting of the 90's were just workers spazzing out. The armed militia of Bundy Ranch are not terroristic, it is about freedom. The peaceful Standing Rock protest of the Sioux over the Dakota pipeline is a liberal agenda! We know what narrative to use based on the look of the perpetrator/whistleblower/resister. When you look miscellaneous in the face, the teleprompter stops working and now you have to make real character judgements.

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  • Aza Smith

    I could picture an SNL Digital Short with ET being played by a Xenomorph.

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  • Shmoptimus Prime

    H.R. Giger's name is pronounced "GEE-Gur", not "GAI-gur. Great video besides that though.

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  • Nj Njhjh

    watched

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  • Koen Martens

    Really like the videos ^^ , but as a bio major, pls look up reptilian skin or features :p …I think you mean amphibian in a lot of cases.

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  • Terry Prothero

    I never considered this aspect of film, but I like your analysis. And I completely agree about the new transformers. The design is way too busy and hard to follow with the eye. The original cartoon series actually had a much simpler design that worked better in my opinion. They tried to get fancy with things and overdid it. They should have taken the original design and made a few improvements.

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  • Sightseeing

    Can we please not pretend transformers are aliens? They're just not.

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  • WanderingRandomer

    One of my favourite creature designs (not technically an alien because it is from Earth) is the Future Predator in a TV series called Primeval.

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  • ROB Bohea

    ET was too uncanny valley for me.

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  • PhoenixKing

    Did E.T. scare the shit out of anyone else when they were a kid? Or was that just me…

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  • CheshireCat

    This was great! Could have gone on for longer! The only problem is now I want a comedy skit where E.T. and the Xenomoprh have swapped designs xD

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  • GammaWALLE

    Now I’m imagining a comedy where the alien designs are based off of dogs.

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  • EngelSpiel

    That remark you made about a lack of eyes in the original Alien, I think that can easily apply to the mass-production Evangelions in End of Evangelion. I really like those designs. And similarly, I think it helps that they have white bodies and crimson lips with white teeth-like structures, which make them look even more uncanny.

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  • G. Thomás Hart

    There is more material in this issue too! Miime, from Captain Harlock, portrays a variety of characteristics including both sexual features and loneliness, and often alien beings and machines are the ones best able to put the inconsistencies of the human characters in clear perspective!

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  • Olivier Baudert

    The transformers designs are godawful. They are so visually cluttered and dense with detail that pretty much all you can read from them is their vague silhouettes and some slight color contrast. This type of over-detailing in design is really common in gritty stories, often fantasy and sci-fi are big offenders (especially videogames). Fantasy in particular tends to put spikes on things as if they’re christmas ornaments rather than letting big bold shapes define what a character looks like. I am very passionate about character design and i could go on forever but i’m just gonna stop myself here before i go on too much of a tangent.

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  • Stephen Spackman

    This is very interesting to me, because as a film watcher with no film schooling, I often lose a lot from science fiction films: I see klingons (who obviously diverged from humans about 100,000 years ago) or the ‘prawns’ (500 million years, but still clearly of terrestrial origin) and I'm thinking, hm, who had the space ships back then, and what does this mean, and then this turns out not to be a plot point and I'm so … confused! Sometimes we're even told about ‘alien DNA’ (making it clear that we're intending to talk about more than some freakish example of convergent evolution) and yet the scientists in the film don't think that's a desperate mystery. It's like giving someone a deliberate and exaggerated accent from entirely the wrong place and having everyone pretend it's normal and then we're somehow not supposed to be thinking about a play within the play, if you see what I mean?

    Anyway, the point is that it is interesting that you are seeing a different cut between symbology and literal content, calling a thing ‘science fiction’ yet analysing it as fantasy. It explains many things, yet at the same time makes you humans seem even stranger. 😉

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  • DrManiac

    ET has always creeped me out, but I've never actually seen the movie, so maybe it's less creepy when you actually watch it.

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  • Josh Tan

    I teach an introduction to astrobiology for non-majors at LaGuardia Community College, and we intend on using this excellent piece of criticism as a means to help students interrogate their own ideas about what they think of when they try to imagine life outside the Earth. I think it's useful to interrogate this even with respect to the way professional astrobiologists and scientists working with SETI may approach the subject. Some work has been done with the necessary deconstructions, but there is a lot left to do.

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  • Matteo Allegra

    I know you're never going to read this, but H. R. Giger's surname is pronounced "gee-ger", not "guy-ger" (that would be written "Geiger").

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  • Terry Burke

    This is a great analysis. What comes immediately to mind is the designs and general thematic bluntness of 'Starship Troopers'. That seems like a film that subversively used 'otherness' to tease out a sympathy through narrative while the design conflicts entirely. Its as if Verhoeven watched 'E.T.' and 'Alien' then actually did make a movie where xenomorphs played an E.T. role.

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  • SaraJ86

    +

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  • Selena H.

    I saw part of Close Encounters of the Third Kind when I was little and it scared me so much that to this day I am more terrified of greyman style aliens than any other alien design.

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  • Rebecca Tomlin

    Shout out to you and your work, Lindsay, helped me get top marks in my Aliens uni essay in my Modern Gothic class

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  • Collin D.

    Good video keep up the good work

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  • SALMAN VENTHOL

    I find it hilarious, even interesting, that Steven Spielberg was responsible for both the popularity and the demise of the Grey aliens, at least in its pop culture depiction.

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  • Dávid Kertész

    I want to rewatch district 9 now. Such a unique movie.

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  • Dávid Kertész

    There was an episode in star trek voyager that went deliberately against this. The good guys where reptile looking, ugly AF, and the bad guys where completely human looking. And we were led to believe that the human looking folks were the good guys till the end of the episode. It's episode 4 in season 4, called "Nemesis" (not to confuse with the movie).

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  • Christian McKee-Alexander

    Amazing video

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  • Baron3D

    Very good, as always.

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  • olliemad

    Think want a Thor / district 9 cross over now. Actually, I’ve got it! Imagine if in the first film he gets banished and lands in a refugee camp and can’t get out.

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  • Turtleproof

    I have news for anyone that still thinks meeting extra-terrestrials will bring about peace on Earth: we've already encountered sapients that don't look like us and speak other languages. The encounters went really well and nobody was hurt.

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  • PoseidonXIII

    Awesome analysis!

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  • Lordodragonss

    Thank you Lindsay. I somehow completly missed Arrival movie. But thanks to you I watched it and LOVED IT!

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  • Questionable Object

    I really like more alien aliens.
    Especially when they're humanized through emotion and action.
    Stamp out xenophobia through media.

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  • Clayburn Griffin

    I think aliens should be different.

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  • rocker11281

    I really appreciate your work and like hearing your analysis on movies, Lindsey, but I wonder, if you're not getting tired of talking about bad movies all the time. You really seem to be possesed with Disney and Transformers. Let it go! The whole plate was enough (really liked that series, except the part about marxism, which was way to short and only scratching the surface).

    I would love seeing you talk about GOOD movies from time to time. What about the likes of "1900", "Once Upon A Time In The West", or – to put something fresh on the table – "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri". Maybe you don't like these three. Which is ok, but I think you will find a lot of stuff to talk about in them. From gender stuff up to handling a narrative well.

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  • Weap0

    I would be interested to see an update on this video regarding Annihilation.

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  • LoLshark99 B

    Arrival could have been really good, but it ended up being enormously stupid.

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  • The Real Logus

    11:06 Holy Moley! Art from the Star Wars Illustrated Guide to the Galaxy! In my group of folks, I am the only one who really liked Star Wars all that much, and I am definitely the only one who read that book. It is cool to see art from such an obscure SW work. Probably just the result of Google-ing "Slug alien," but still pretty cool.

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  • Brandon Letkeman

    This all further exemplifies the genius of Arrival and how by the time the bomb goes off we feel sad on behalf of eyeless squid hands

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  • boreas777

    Here's a weird personal take after having watched this video mega late: I always related to the "other" type of characters, especially in games where they let me be one, because I've always been an outcast, and it became more understandable to me to be an outcast if I at least looked the part of the "other", if that makes sense, plus there was that whole feeling a connection thing because of that shared outcast experience. I'm hispanic, and when it came to representation, those were the characters I related to, rather than other hispanics. To elaborate, it's not about the looks, I look pretty average as you can see from my picture, but the way they're treated resonated with me and my experiences with me being a strange fellow, which has had a way larger impact in my life than my whole hispanic deal.

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  • Aspiring Marauder

    Imagining Chris Hemsworth as ET boggles my fucking mind.
    It's just.. asuttralian man scooting around on his knees and being scared

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  • Benjamin Nolan

    Honestly, Arrival is one of my favourite films of all time. I've always had a fascination with languages and my favourite book and short story are both centred around them ( Babel-17 and Omnilingual ), but there's something about Arrival and its editing that just speaks to me. <3

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  • im19ice3

    while we're on this i'd like to remark that i find it a little annoying that in star wars they're all so anthropomorphic

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  • Polygonmaster2

    Duran Duran?

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  • TARDISgirl

    This video is helping me write a paper for my film course on E.T. Thank you Lindsay <3

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  • Secant

    In fairness I'd watch the shit out of a film where ET looks like a Xenomorph.

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  • Rafa Gómez

    The image of the "Area-51 alien" is what they (You US) told us we(Humans)'ll be in the year 2.000:
    Our muscles will decay for not having to do physical work, head and eyes grownth, fingers longer so we can push button more easily, I don't remember why we had to get all bald, etc.

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  • Jacob Hoefer

    And no mention of Mac and Me? Those huggable treasures had enormous eyes!

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  • KarolaTea

    My favourite screen alien is the Horta (Start Trek Original Series), cause it's just completely different from our expectations about life.

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  • Lycoris-Kage

    what movie is that white praying mantis-like Alien from?

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  • Chloe

    "Lizard people" is an antisemitic conspiracy theory. And it is inappropriate to joke about it

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  • Dorothy Bellion

    although not an "alien" R2D2 manages to be extremely sympathetic despite looking like a trash can on wheels

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  • J R42

    I always loved the way, of all movies, Mom and Dad Save the Earth portrayed a cutesy, mushroom shaped E.T. and then had it become a terrifying Xenomorph type creature. They did a good job of bait and switch there. At least for me when I was a child, even as a child I still understood what they were trying to do even though I had not seen Alien at that point…

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  • crakeful

    E.T. is a Terrifying Demon Sith Lord!

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  • PhoenixKing

    Honestly, E.T.'S design is more unsettling to me than the xenomorph. I think it's because E.t. almost resembles a human, but it's different enough and my brain doesn't like it. Like the uncanny valley.

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  • Greta mmm boi

    Those big baby eyes always look even MORE unsettling, I really can’t stand them in alien design. Just… ew. Lemme have my alien aliens you cowards

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  • crithon

    hmmm, okay, I can see the Binkie, but I would argue Bumblebee is designed after a Dog as much as you're previous video notes that Bay loves Dogs. And Prime more after a gorilla especially his climbing and mouth.

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  • Laila Deruma

    I saw Alien and Aliens as a small child, around four of five years old. They were my favorite movies for a while. I have only seen clips of E.T. as an adult, and it makes my skin crawl.

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  • DrRocketman 779

    Well, Optimus was mostly a sympathetic character…until the summary execution of that one guy.

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  • Olga Shishkina

    Well, there is one sentence that made me scratch my head. It's really hard to make trees appear creepy and plants are in an other kingdom than us. Trees are just part of the background unless they have eyes

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  • Ace Bashige

    All ways schooling me in film. Thank you Lindsay Ellis

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  • Thomas Boyle

    Throughout the whole discussion of aliens, not once did she mention immigrants. I am disappointed.

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  • VJ Goofy

    How about how they sound?, lately Hollywood has being using a clicking kind of sound

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  • RupertBoiJedi!

    The only alien I find the most scary are the grays and ET scared me as a kid lol

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  • ussilov

    Jesus fucking christ lady! You CAN'T go around calling them "PRAWNS"! They got names, i mean Jesus, what? Do you go around calling tusken raiders "sand people"?

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  • Mike Neal

    One film that may add interest into the discussion is Robert Shaye's "The Last Mimzy"; mostly because the alien of the film is given a very familiar, and at the same time passive design of being a child's stuffed animal. On top of that the alien takes on a rather feminine motherly role of helping the two children protagonists nurture talents which help them take on new perspective towards their roles and be able to communicate with others. On top of all of that, I distinctly remember the film being marketed as the "new E.T." incorporating the mysterious, yet magical other in need of help to return home where the creature would be saved from immanent death and experimentation by the powers at be.

    It's also interesting from a feminist perspective as Mimzy is both a foreign presence and an intimate childhood object designed for comfort and attachment. Mimzy is a stuffed animal, an object meant to be held close and provides softness, comfort, and texture to be felt to provide security. Granted, the film could be read as a coming of age story where the children protagonists move beyond their childhood toys and imaginary friends as they have now learned how to express themselves and overcome obstacles; I'd also argue specifically because of the "return the powerful foreign creature to where it belongs so it can survive" aspect of the plot, one could read elements of it as encouraging a generation to help a feminized individual (Mimzy is specifically given to the daughter/sister character as her toy) to escape the confines of the traditional domestic situation to something more meaningful where Mimzy can flourish. Mimzy, after all, is The Last Mimzy, a member of an alien race that came to Earth centuries ago to help the human race develop, or something like that, being taken in as children's toys for girls and young women, only to slowly but surely die off as the Mimzies were not able to survive in the human climate. I forget why specifically, although I believe it had something to do with wanting to take advantage of and exploit the Mimzies for their powerful abilities or difference equals evil.

    ***All of this is written off of memory; I haven't seen the film in a decade or so; I fully concede details may be inaccurate or wrong; the feminist perspective may not hold up should details I have provided above be shown to be wrong. Thank you for your time, thought, inputs, and energies for those who have read this comment.

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  • Hoku The Overwatch Editor

    Now try angels, with 1996's Michael starring John Travolta

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  • Cyan

    I think you missed something big with the Xenomorph. It has machine components. You can see tubing on its head, and the things on its back kind of look like gas pipes. This is probably intentional, considering if you look at other pieces of HR Giger's work you'll find a lot of cyborg monstrosities.

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  • Hist

    0:46 She lookin' kind of thicc tho…. 0.0

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  • bongo gibbans

    Fear is human we fear is what we don't know.

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  • DAM the Man

    4:30 The Greys might actually be inspired by HG Wells; in War of the Worlds, the Martians have livestock that very closely resemble the Greys; which is why they exclusively target Humans as a food source. He also wrote up & illustrated a premise known as Man of Year Million that depicts Human descendants, a million years into the future, as hairless & pale with vestigial legs, long arms & large heads.

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  • James S

    Poor ol "sarah baartman" good stuff adding her in the beginning of the video I dont think alot of people know about her story.

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  • Alexander Supertramp

    Arrival really did this right. Possibly the least humanoid aliens I’ve ever seen in Hollywood films.

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  • Bartimaeus of Uruk

    What I got from this video: Humans are simple and predictable.

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  • Amanda Capsicum

    When you said "Thor", I initially thought you were referring to the alien Thor from Stargate SG1, who is more like the grey type aliens. Although he's initially represented very indirectly as a holographic recording of a human who resembles the Thor from Norse mythology which turns out to just be a recorded message. This feels like a bait and switch kind of setup to initially present the alien as something familiar then take it away, replacing it with something very alien as a surprise.

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  • Damián Nagel

    Any explanation of why aliens everywhere are so against the idea of wearing clothes?

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  • johnson jameson

    Ok, so we're just going to ignore calling the District 9 aliens "prawns?" I know that's what "everyone" calls them, but in the context of the movie, that's like calling them the n word. Feels strange to casually throw that word around. Am I wrong about this?

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  • Koana

    0:46 t h i c c

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  • Matei Lupu

    clusterf*cky <3

    Reply

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