Why So Many Aliens in Pop Culture Look Familiar

iStock
iStock

Aliens have been depicted countless times in cinema, from Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon (1902) to James Cameron's Avatar (2009). But despite the advancements in special-effects technology over the past century, most aliens we see on screen still share a lot of similarities—mainly, they look, move, and interact with the world like humans do. Vox explains how the classic alien look came to be in their new video below.

When you picture an alien, you may imagine a being with reptilian skin or big, black eyes, but the basic components of a human body—two arms, two legs, and a head with a face—are likely all there. In reality, finding an intelligent creature that evolved all those same features on a planet millions of light-years away would be an extraordinary coincidence. If alien life does exist, it may not look like anything we've ever seen on Earth.

But when it comes to science fiction, accuracy isn't always the goal. Creating an alien character humans can relate to may take priority. Or, the alien's design may need to work as a suit that can be worn by human performers. The result is a version of extraterrestrial life that looks alien— but not too alien—to movie audiences.

So if aliens probably won't have four limbs, two eyes, and a mouth, what would they look like if we ever met them person? These experts have some theories.

[h/t Vox]

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Is Beaming Back Into Theaters in September

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Spanning 13 films, multiple casts, and wildly different visions, the Star Trek franchise has seen plenty of success on the big screen, despite originally debuting as a TV show way back in 1966. Now, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its maiden movie voyage, Fathom Events is bringing Star Trek: The Motion Picture back to theaters on September 15 and 18.

Directed by Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and starring the original crew of the USS Enterprise—including William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and Nichelle Nichols—Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a technical marvel back when it premiered in December 1979, sporting visuals that earned Academy Award nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction. The score was provided by Jerry Goldsmith, who also earned an Academy Award nomination for his work.

Before the screening of the theatrical cut of the movie, fans will also get to watch the short documentary “The Longest Trek: Writing the Motion Picture,” which details aspects of the film’s production.

Tickets will be available on Friday, August 2, on the Fathom Events website. For now, you can put your email address onto the site to get a notification right when tickets go on sale.

15 Facts About Your Favorite Stanley Kubrick Movies

Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that Stanley Kubrick, the personification of the auteur theory, left us more than 20 years ago at the ripe, young (by today’s standards) age of 70. Kubrick's career began with a self-described amateurish feature, 1953’s Fear and Desire—a war film which, in 2012, The Village Voice critic Tim Grierson described as a “pretentious, muddled mess”—and culminated with his final film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Over the course of a movie career than spanned nearly 50 years, Kubrick directed just 13 features, which was a testament to the filmmaker's reputation as a consummate perfectionist and stickler for even the smallest of details. In honor of the legendary director's birthday (Kubrick was born in New York City on July 26, 1928), here are 15 facts that you might not have known about some of your favorite Stanley Kubrick films.

1. It took about 10,500 people and 167 days of filming to make Spartacus.

Spartacus (1960) was epic in every way: its $12 million production budget made it the most expensive movie in Hollywood history at the time. Its budget ended up exceeding the total worth of Universal Studios, which was sold to MCA for $11,250,000 during filming. Overall about 50,000 extras were involved.

2. Dr. Strangelove was supposed to be a drama.

The international climate of the early 1960s piqued Kubrick’s interest in writing and directing a nuclear war thriller. Kubrick began consuming piles of literature on the topic until he came across former Royal Air Force officer Peter George’s dramatic novel Red Alert. Columbia Pictures optioned the book, and Kubrick began translating the bulk of the novel into a script.

During the writing process, however, the director found himself struggling to escape a persistent comedic overtone because he found the vast majority of the political calamities described in the story to be inherently funny. Eventually, Kubrick abandoned the idea of fighting the adaptation’s dark sense of humor and embraced it wholeheartedly. Tone aside, the plot of Dr. Strangelove is strikingly similar to that of George’s novel. There’s one notable exception: Dr. Strangelove doesn’t appear in the novel—Kubrick and writer Terry Southern created the character.

3. Kubrick had some help from Carl Sagan on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Kubrick began principal production on 2001: A Space Odyssey without knowing how to convey many of the film’s key scenes—most notably the ending, where Dr. Dave Bowman makes contact with extraterrestrial life. One of the biggest problems Kubrick had while developing the movie was how to depict these extraterrestrial life forms in a way that suited his abstract ideas, but could also be covered by the film’s budget. So he asked noted astrophysicist/author Carl Sagan for help.

In his book The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective, Sagan explained, “I argued that the number of individually unlikely events in the evolutionary history of Man was so great that nothing like us is ever likely to evolve again anywhere in the universe. I suggested that any explicit representation of an advanced extraterrestrial being was bound to have at least an element of falseness about it, and that the best solution would be to suggest, rather than explicitly to display, the extraterrestrials.”

Though Kubrick would experiment with literal ways to show aliens in 2001, like hiring a ballet dancer in a special polka-dotted suit filmed against a black background, he settled on Sagan’s insinuation of extraterrestrials.

4. Kubrick wasn't initially sold on directing A Clockwork Orange.

The director first encountered Anthony Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange when his Dr. Strangelove co-screenwriter Terry Southern gave him a copy on the set of that film. Southern enjoyed the biting black humor of the book, and thought Kubrick should consider adapting it into a movie. Kubrick allegedly didn't like the book upon first reading because of the Nadsat language Burgess created for the novel. The language, literally translated as the Russian word for "teen" and comprised of Russian and Cockney rhyming slang, was confusing to Kubrick until he revisited the source material after his efforts to make a biopic about Napoleon fell through. Kubrick reportedly began to change his mind when he considered Alex as a Richard III-type character.

5. Stephen King didn't like Kubrick's version of The Shining.

“I’d admired Kubrick for a long time and had great expectations for the project, but I was deeply disappointed in the end result," Stephen King told Playboy in 1983. "Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fell flat.”

He didn’t like the casting of Jack Nicholson either, claiming, “Jack Nicholson, though a fine actor, was all wrong for the part. His last big role had been in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and between that and the manic grin, the audience automatically identified him as a loony from the first scene. But the book is about Jack Torrance’s gradual descent into madness through the malign influence of the Overlook—if the guy is nuts to begin with, then the entire tragedy of his downfall is wasted.”

6. Kubrick got special lenses so he could film Barry Lyndon by candlelight.

All period dramas feature rooms that appear to be lit by candles and oil lamps, but in reality there are usually big lighting rigs just off camera. That wasn’t the case with Barry Lyndon. Kubrick and cinematographer John Alcott wanted to use as little electric light in the production as possible, and went so far as to get special lenses that had been designed for NASA, which he had specially mounted on cameras that could then be used only with those lenses. The super-fast lenses captured rooms lit only by candlelight perfectly, creating a look unlike any other film.

7. Vincent D'Onofrio gained 70 pounds to play Leonard "Gomer Pyle" Lawrence in Full Metal Jacket.

In addition to the weight gain, Vincent D'Onofrio also shaved his head for his role in Full Metal Jacket, and was surprised by how much it affected him. ''It changed my life,'' D'Onofrio told The New York Times in 1987. ''Women didn't look at me; most of the time I was looking at their backs as they were running away. People used to say things to me twice, because they thought I was stupid.'' To this day, it's the most weight any actor has ever gained for a movie role.

8. Eyes Wide Shut is based on a 1926 novella.

Eyes Wide Shut is loosely is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which was published in 1926. Considering that the movie takes place in 1990s New York, it is obviously not a direct adaptation, but it overlaps in its plot and themes. “[The book] explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-beens with reality,” Kubrick explained. “The book opposes the real adventures of a husband and the fantasy adventures of his wife, and asks the question: is there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?”

9. Kubrick lied to George C. Scott in order to get funnier takes in Dr. Strangelove.

George C. Scott—who plays bombastic General Buck Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove—was hesitant about playing his character too “big.” Kubrick coaxed Scott to deliver broad, animated performances as Buck, promising him that they were merely an exercise and would not be used in the final cut. Of course, the takes that went to print were among the actor’s wackiest. Scott felt terribly betrayed, and vowed never to work with Kubrick again. Although Dr. Strangelove remained their sole collaboration, Scott did eventually come to appreciate the film and his performance.

10. Kubrick pulled A Clockwork Orange from theaters in England because of death threats.

The press blamed the violence in A Clockwork Orange for a series of alleged copycat break-ins and killings in the UK in the early 1970s, prompting calls for it to be banned. The film remained in theaters and available for distribution until an incident caused Kubrick to request that Warner Bros. pull the movie from UK cinemas.

While on the Ireland set of his next film, Barry Lyndon, Kubrick received death threats against him and his family. The perpetrators promised to break into their secluded house outside of London to carry out attacks just like Alex and his droogs do in the film. Distraught, Kubrick kept the studio from publicly showing the movie in the British Isles and Ireland until after his death in 1999.

11. There is an original, different ending to The Shining.

It’s not uncommon for a film’s ending to change in post-production, but Kubrick changed the ending of the film after it had been playing in theaters for a weekend. The film version is lost, but pages from the screenplay do exist. The scene takes place after Jack dies in the snow. Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) visits Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) in the hospital. He tells her, “About the things you saw at the hotel. [A lieutenant] told me they’ve really gone over the place with a fine tooth comb and they didn’t find the slightest evidence of anything at all out of the ordinary.” He also encourages Wendy and Danny to stay with him for a while. The film ends with text over black, “The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.”

12. Jack Nicholson improvised his "Here's Johnny" line in The Shining.

Jack Nicholson is responsible for the only line from The Shining to make it onto AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotes. While filming the scene in which Jack breaks down a bathroom door with an axe, Nicholson shouted out the famous Ed McMahon line from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The catchphrase worked and stayed in the film. Some behind-the-scenes footage, which can be seen here, shows Nicholson’s method acting before filming the iconic scene.

13. Dr. Strangelove inspired actual changes in international policy.

While certain critics, politicians, and military personnel alike dismissed Dr. Strangelove as farce and fallacy, the terrifying plausibility of the events at play in the movie struck a nerve with Washington D.C. Government agencies including the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles examined the film and Peter George’s Red Alert as a means to qualify the likelihood and prevent a Strangelove-like scenario in the real world. As early as the mid-1960s, procedure was shifted so that no one government individual would have access to the complete code needed to unlock a nuclear weapon. By the 1970s, the Air Force began employing coded switches that would disallow the unauthorized instigation of nuclear arms, as represented by the actions of General Ripper in the film.

14. Anthony Michael Hall was offered the part of Joker in Full Metal Jacket.

Kubrick originally offered the part of Joker to Anthony Michael Hall, but an eight-month long argument about monetary compensation eventually ended the collaboration. "It was a difficult decision," said Hall of his departure from the project. "Because in that eight-month period, I read everything I could about the guy, and I was really fascinated by him. I wanted to be a part of that film, but it didn't work out. But all sorts of stories circulated, like I got on set and I was fired, or I was pissed at him for shooting too long. It's all not true."

15. Kubrick passed away less than a week after showing the studio his cut of Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick died less than a week after showing what would be his final cut of Eyes Wide Shut to Warner Bros. No one can say how much he would have kept editing the film. One thing that was changed after his death: bodies in the orgy scene were digitally altered so that the movie could be released with an R, rather than an NC-17, rating (although many claim that Kubrick intended to do this, too). According to Kidman, "I think Stanley would have been tinkering with it for the next 20 years. He was still tinkering with movies he made decades ago. He was never finished. It was never perfect enough."

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