Species

I got into one of the most frustrating arguments of my adult life over Species.

The movie's set up is great: humans sent radio signals that had a copy of our genome out into the void, and decades later aliens sent back a radio signal which told us how to build one of them on our planet. It's plausible in a way that most sci-fi isn't: it explains how the alien got all the way across the galaxy in one creature's lifetime without resorting to magic transportation devices like warp drives or teleportation. If you can accept that the aliens would have enough technology to be able to build themselves in a lab the science is all plausible. The greatness of this facet of the movie is indisputable, so that wasn't what we were arguing about.

The argument concerned the motivation of the alien race that answers our call. They basically sent us a ticking time bomb: the newly built creature's biology drives it to try to breed as quickly as it can so that it can become an invasive species that takes over the Earth. My roommate at the time thought that it didn't make any sense for the aliens to want to destroy us, since there is no way they could profit from taking over a planet that was at such a remove from where they were. Why would they screw us over for no gain?

But it makes sense to me, because if you look at the animals that have evolved on Earth all of us seem to operate on the theory that nature abhors a vacuum. If there's an empty space we can fill we will try to fill it. I'm not just talking about humans, who have spread across every land mass it's possible for us to live on, I'm talking about how deer will keep making more deer until wolves knock their population down or they starve. Why wouldn't an alien act the same way? It doesn't profit me as an individual for humans to be able to live in Antarctica, but we still went there; yes, it wouldn't profit the aliens on their homeworld to have taken over Earth, but that doesn't mean that they wouldn't want to try to do it.

It didn't take long for this discussion to devolve. I didn't understand being skeptical about why an alien would want to murder humans; I alleged that aliens always want to kill us. Which then lead us into a debate about what percentage of aliens are actually bloodthirsty, because there certainly are friendly aliens, particularly in kids movies like Lilo and Stitch. But also if you break it down the aliens that populate a wide open world like Guardians of the Galaxy the extraterrestrials are all over the spectrum, where some of them are villains, some are sidekicks, others are just playing space trumpets in the background of the bar. So how does that math work out?

In my mind it breaks down like this: if there's only one alien in a movie, statistically speaking it's probably a shadow-lurking flesh eater, but if it's part of a broader ecosystem then it has a sixty forty chance of being evil. (It would be 50/50 but the hero is almost always a human, which means that one of the good guy slots is taken, while all of the bad guy slots remain open.) If you combine those numbers evil aliens should come slightly ahead of good aliens.

This argument sounds silly (because it is silly) but it was surprisingly contentious, and I think we were so passionate because the argument was only really about aliens in the beginning. After awhile I think the aliens just became stand ins for moral beings in general, and the actual debate was not about pop culture but about whether the universe is on balance cruel or compassionate. I think I got so frustrated because I would've had that ethical debate gladly, but don't pull a bait and switch on me; if you bring up the topic of Species then I'm going to want to talk about Species, because that movie is pretty great.

Hmm. Just realized that I have yet to really talk about Species in this review, and already it's running pretty long. Let's just say that Species is pretty great, and also, when you come right down to it, aliens are basically bastards.

Winner: Me

Species on IMDB