Major Theme Paper:
Good Alien, Bad Alien

May 2000

Comparing "Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind" and "Independence Day"

The idea of science fiction has been around for a long time. Over the years, it has been combined with all sorts of other genres including comedy, horror, adventure, action, drama, and combinations of these. From giant serial killing plants to mole men from the center of the earth, science fiction has captured the imagination of almost everyone who has been introduced to it. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE3) and Independence Day (ID) were both made after man's first trip to outer space and the moon, both reflecting the new idea of life off of the earth. Even though both films contain the same main idea of the existence of life in outer space, they have large philosophical differences on extraterrestrial life.

When looking at these two movies, besides the broad subject of alien contact, they are not all that alike. However, there are a few noticeable similarities. The first most noticeable was that in both movies, there was some form of government cover-up. In CE3, when the government pinpointed the location of the aliens in Idaho, they had to scare away the citizens in the area. In that plot, Big Brother let out some "News" (never trust the media) that a train carrying canisters of anthrax crashed, releasing nerve gas on the countryside. This forced almost all the residents away, except a few people that made cross-country treks to the location. These driven individuals couldn't stop thinking about the area since they had their "encounters". The government tried to discourage them by using the same sleeping gas on them that they had used on the cattle in the area to simulate the spread of Anthrax. In ID, there was another cover-up, but of a different sort. This time, the general populace wasn't the only victim of a black project. In this one, even the president didn't know of the existence of the 40-year old alien ship in Area 51 (That's a classic).

Another slightly obvious similarity was the order of contact with the aliens. The aliens initiate 1st contact in both movies. The reaction to this contact besides initial cover-ups was also similar. In both CE3 and ID we tried flashing lights and playing music, with quite varied results. In CE3, the aliens responded with more lights and tones leading to a successful first contact, while in ID the aliens responded to the lights as well, by blasting us with a large beam weapon. After the not-so-successful contact in ID, we proceeded by trying to destroy the new threat, and on the most part, failing.

The differences between these two movies are very easy to see. The most obvious of which would have to be the overall theme in the plots. While CE3 proposes that we keep an open mind about friendly alien contact, ID shows us that the most likely technologically superior aliens might not have peace in mind, and that such an assumption could lead to not-so-desired results.

The style of both movies is also different. ID is more action based with lots of scenes that have things being shot and blown-up, while CE3 is more of a Sci-Fi Drama with people having strange urges and dreams. The main characters in these films reflect on the films genre, the action in ID has the typical assortment of a quiet, geeky, loser that finds the alien weakness, the smart-ass pilot that miraculously survives an alien attack, and a sincere, caring president (That's what makes it Sci-Fi). The drama in CE3 on the other hand, has a man stuck in a crappy job with a family that makes his life harder than it has to be, a woman who loses her child to the aliens, and a kindly group of men who track the aliens.

The aliens' motives were also quite different in both movies. In CE3, the aliens were peaceful explorers, finding out what they could about the planet, and willing to make alliances. In ID, the aliens were deadly, resource guzzling raiders that went from planet to planet, sucking them dry then moving on, abandoning the then barren, uninhabitable planets to twirl endlessly in space.

The aliens themselves were also quite different. The ID aliens were small, creatures with triangular shaped heads, and blue jelly-like skin. They also had large carapaces that they would wear when they were outside their ships. The CE3 aliens were small, gray creatures with big round heads and big black eyes, the familiar alien look. Although built to look cuter, I personally think the way the CE3 aliens scamper around under you makes them creepier (Shudder).

Another difference between the movies was the public's general reaction (or lack thereof). In CE3, the general public didn't really find out about the aliens, thanks to one of those common government cover-ups involving train crashes and lethal toxins. In ID however, the populace found out quickly about the incoming extraterrestrials and many reacted with a welcoming attitude, standing on tall buildings with signs that say things like "where's Elvis" and "Eep ork ahp ahah". Of course, when those people were vaporized by that ever so popular beam cannon, the public's reaction quickly turned to one of fear and mass panic.

CE3, a top-grossing film from the 1970's, uses drama as a good method to spread the idea that beings from outer space could have the better attributes of humans, like kindness, compassion, and the quest for knowledge. However, this does not make for an exciting 1990's summer blockbuster. Action is the word in the 90's, and ID shows that nothing gives quite the movie-going ruse as planet razing, human killing aliens. More likely, the differences between the movies are actually a reflection of the differences in the values of society between the 70's and the 90's.

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Last Update: November 18, 2002