One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
Monday, August 21, 2017
Ask JKM a Question: Where are the aliens in modern sci-fi TV?
A reader named Don writes:
The more I read your blog, the more I enjoy it! (And I think
your views on casting for Princess Leia are spot-on.)
A question for consideration as part of your
"Ask JKM" segment:
What happened to the aliens?
My wife and I are fans of Killjoysand Dark Matter, but aside from the latter's android, the galaxy seems
filled entirely with humans. The Battlestar Galactica reboot, too, had Cylons becoming human-like. It seems
like the more advanced film-making gets in terms of technological advances, the
less exotic these worlds are becoming.
Star Trek--in all its previous series--was limited in how it could
render its aliens (a lot of ridges in foreheads!), but at least there was
variety of species. Farscape, too, was great about that. Why are current series losing
Thank you for your question, Don, and I know you
asked a second question too, which I will get to separately.
But first, I have to compliment you on the question.
I liked some qualities of the Battlestar Galactica reboot but the
thing I disliked most about it was the
series’ overall lack of curiosity about the universe; the idea that there could
be other life-forms out there, beyond Cylon (human-created, in the
re-imagination) and human.
(2002), which I liked better, also featured a universe without aliens.
I am happy that Discovery (2017) is
coming soon, and looks to be honoring Star Trek’s legacy of creating incredible
alien characters, but it has been disheartening, since 2001, to see so many TV
series turning away from the possibility of alien life.
It is disappointing for two reasons.
First, this choice demonstrates a lack of
imagination and curiosity, as I noted above.
There’s almost no world
exploration in the rebooted BSG, and that just seems -- to quote Contact
(1997) -- a terrible waste of space. By contrast, the original Battlestar
Galactica had no shortage of aliens beyond the Cylons (Ovions,
Borellian Nomen, Boray, Eastern Alliance, etc.), so the new series didn't love up to the legacy of the original in at least one very significant way.
Secondly, what were the aliens replaced with on
some of these new series?
Well, I think
in a misguided attempt to see more “real” to modern viewers, aliens were
shunted into the background or forgotten, and the focus became soap opera foibles.
You know, this
character is a recovering alcoholic. This other character is sleeping with this
person’s wife. This character isn’t talking to his father because he blames him
for the death of his brother.
I think the writers and producers thought they
were being dark and gritty, and realistic. Perhaps they thought they were
freeing themselves from Star Trek’s limits on how characters
They were actually porting As the World Turns into sci-fi TV,
and the impact is still felt today.
What we have seen replace the aliens in these
newer series is pure soap opera plotting. Again, more realistic, perhaps, but far less imaginative in terms of science fiction. I understand that believable aliens are
difficult to come up with, and expensive to create. But I would argue that it
is worth the effort.
Imagine if Star Trek had gone this route, and
we had never gotten Mr. Spock.
One of the key functions of science fiction TV is
to comment on the human condition. It is so much easier to do that, I think,
from an outside or alien perspective. I see a lot of modern science fiction TV
abandoning this approach, either because of budgetary constraints, concern
about realism, or due to the aforementioned lack of curiosity about what life might
look like on another planet.
I certainly hope Discovery brings about a new era of aliens on TV.
Thank you for the question!
Don’t forget to ask me your questions at Muirzone@aol.com. And while I’m at it, don’t forget to send me
your top twenty Star Trek episode lists at the same e-mail address.