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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Where are all the benign alien first-contact stories?

ET The Extra-Terrestrial

Suddenly out of nowhere recently it hit me: we haven’t had a movie about nice aliens in about forever. Not that the benign first-contact story has ever been the most popular one… but in the 1980s we had E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial — which is, adjusted for inflation, still the fourth biggest movie of all time — and in the 1990s we had Contact.

What have we had, first-contact-wise, in the past decade? The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which Keanu Reeve’s Klaatu threatens to destroy us all. There was the preposterous Knowing, which could be argued to have had benign aliens, but they were presented throughout the movie as sinister and threatening, and indeed actually were not very nice at all. Star Trek, which was always supremely optimistic and offered at least as many nice aliens as nasty ones, got a reboot that opens with Vulcan being destroyed and most of its civilization wiped out and gives us an alien adversary who is very nasty indeed.
In fact, the only first-contact movie of any import from the 2000s I can think of in which aliens were not trying to kill us as a motive for coming to Earth in the first place is District 9… though our poor treatment of the alien visitors leads to the beginnings of an insurgency among them.

Where are all the benign alien first-contact stories? Sure, a story needs conflict, but as E.T. and Contact and District 9 demonstrate, our own fears can readily supply that. There’s no reason why a science fiction movie can’t feature nice aliens. But that hardly ever happens, and even less so in recent years. Is this just too optimistic a scenario for our anxious, paranoid times? Or is something else going on?

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  • Zootie

    The Abyss (extended Version) by James Cameron. If that isn’t a benign first contact story that still has the bite of conflict I don’t know what is.

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