The Day the Earth Stood Still:
(warning – spoilers) This 1951 classic, directed by Robert Wise, has few extraterrestrial presences, containing just one alien spaceship, one alien lifeform and a solitary robot. An alien ambassador, Klaatu, comes to Earth to inform world governments that alien races in the galaxy have become concerned with humanity’s penchant for violence, especially now that Earth has developed atomic power and rudimentary spaceflight. Klaatu explains that his robot companion, Gort, is one of a race of enforcers which have been created by these alien races and deployed amongst each other, for the sake of preventing any aggressive action against another race, upon penalty of total annihilation. He warns that if humans continue their violent ways as they approach the stars, Earth will be destroyed by one of these robotic enforcers.
So aliens in this scenario do not so much invade as they offer peace at the point of a Death Star. The extraterrestrial message is “Mend your inconvenient ways or we shall cleanse you from our dystopian existence.” And why not? Pre-emptive attacks against meddlesome neighbours? Hardly an unknown concept in the Big Book of Terran Warfare. The earliest that come to mind are the Punic wars of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, and the latest? We all know that one. The plot of The Day the Earth Stood Still is truly chilling from an apocalypse point-of-view. Anonymous aliens deliver an ultimatum which – though benign in intent – would result in the world’s destruction if the wrong people made the wrong choices. And unlike a face-to-face, stand-and-fight invasion, the solitary robot Gort is portrayed as omnipotent and indestructible. These aliens may have benign intent, but considering their own comfort with violence – nay, genocide – I’d choose invasion rather than Gort standing over my shoulder.
Reign of Fire:
(warning – spoilers) In the near future, the civilised world has been annihilated by massive, fire-breathing dragons, accidentally released from ancient underground caverns beneath London. The film’s plot centres on a small colony of survivors in Northumberlund, led by Quinn Abercromby. As events progress, a group of heavily armed soldiers arrives, led by one Denton Van Zan. He claims that his men have been tracking and killing dragons for some time and that he knows the secret to winning the struggle against them.
The movie is a veritable documentary on post-apocalyptic community establishment. The community is established around an old but sturdy castle, and maintains an underground bunker in case of dragon attack. They have planted crops nearby and have access to sufficient water. Their food supplies are, however, barely adequate, and unrest in the community over whether to prematurely harvest the crops leads to strife. Also, the conflict between Quinn and Van Zan highlights an issue that will unavoidably arise in an Alien Invasion or Zombie Outbreak scenario. The question of: Do we solidify our base and form a self-sufficient community? or, Do we go on the offensive and attempt to eliminate our oppressors? The personalities of those present will play a major role in the decision process, just as in this film.
(warning – spoilers) One of the indispensable sci-fi/action masterpieces, directed by James Cameron, 1984. A cyborg from a post-apocalyptic Earth is sent back in time to 1984 in order to assassinate Sarah Connor, future mother of John Connor, the man who will lead the war against the machines which are attempting to exterminate mankind. In the words of the police psychiatrist: “A kind of retroactive abortion.” A soldier, Kyle Reese, is also sent back by the human resistance fighters to intercept and destroy the cyborg before it can complete its mission.
During the movie we see numerous flashbacks from Reese’s point of view (although since he is from the future, they are flashforwards for us, depending on one’s attitude toward a fixed timeline). His flashbacks show us a world in the depths of nuclear winter. Cities have been laid waste by either nuclear blasts or subsequent warfare with artificially intelligent machines. Surviving humans live in underground hovels, eeking out an existence with dirty pots and small fires, protected from assault only by heavy doors and lightly-armed soldiers. Cyborgs such as the one sent to 1984 roam the surface, appearing human, attempting to infiltrate settlements and massacre the inhabitants, women and children included. Half the world’s population destroyed on the first day of the war, and the rest surviving on a day-to-day basis. Yet a message of hope in the fact that despite being vastly outmatched in technology and resources, humanity does not simply hang on, it clings to life with a vicious tenacity, giving the robotic killers as little peace as they give the humans.
When Worlds Collide:
(warning – spoilers) Another classic from 1951, When Worlds Collide was as aptly named as it was well-received, winning the 1951 Academy Award for Best Special Effects, though there were some critics of the plot. Set on contemporary Earth (i.e. 60 years ago), scientists confirm the existence of a rogue star – Bellus – which, by their calculations, will destroy the planet completely soon after its own satellite planet – Zyra – does a fly-by of Earth and causes massive damage. The cataclysm will take place within eight months. The scientists are dismissed by world governments (ring any bells?) as well as most of the scientific community, so they seek private funding to build a space ark to carry as many survivors as possible to Zyra, which they believe will settle into a stable orbit after the disaster.
There are no bunkers or plans to wait out the chaos in this plot. Here, you must either escape the planet altogether or be incinerated at 5800 kelvin (give or take). Since few humans today have the resources to build a private – or even communal – spaceship, the plot best serves our purposes by letting us ponder mankind’s reaction to imminent and massive disaster. In When Worlds Collide, the entire world essentially goes through the so-called 5 stages of grief. 1)Denial – no one believes Bellus will strike Earth, 2)Anger and 3)Fear – the terrible truth becomes apparent and the population demands a solution amidst worldwide rioting, 4)Bargaining – those close to the ark project try any and all means to gain a seat on their last, best hope for life, 5)Acceptance – some of those on the project sacrifice their places for the sake of others who they feel are more deserving. Whichever way the apocalypse curtain ends up coming down in reality, this may be an insightful representation of humanity’s response.