Humans are a plague, shredding across the galaxy and destroying other peace-loving creatures. At least, that seems to be the theme of a number of movies that are coming out in the next few years. I've been wondering what would replace the post-apocalyptic-Earth as the stock plot for "dark" science fiction movies, and the evil-humans-in-space plot seems increasingly likely to rule. Among others, James Cameron's Avatar and the new animated film Terra seem to be exploring this theme, which is a standard plot in written science fiction, but is fairly new to the movies. Click through for details.
As I said above, the story of evil humans coming and despoiling an alien planet is nothing new in written science fiction. Off the top of my head, there's Ursula LeGuin's The Word For World Is Forest, among others. I'm almost done reading Jeanette Winterson's The Stone Gods (review coming soon) which deals with this theme. But I can't think of too many movies which have handled this type of storyline. (Enemy Mine, I guess.)
We still don't know all of the plot details for James Cameron's Avatar, coming in 2009, but an early "scriptment" that's reputed to be real includes a lot of information. In a nutshell, Earth is ruined due to centuries of exploitation, and we've used up all our resources. So we decide to go and plunder the mineral wealth of the planet Pandora, whose atmosphere is poisonous to us. Humans can only walk around on Pandora by growing special alien bodies, akin to the native Na'vi aliens. The humans can control their own vat-grown Na'vi bodies, which are called avatars. (We don't know how much of this stuff survives in the final script, but Sigourney Weaver's comments about her character having "her own avatar" make it sound as though it's still there in some form.)
In addition to these surrogate aliens, the humans have also landed some bloodthirsty troops who hate the natives and want to wipe them out. So there's a conflict between the Avatar-using humans, who want to understand the natives (who are basically Native Americans) and the power-armor-using troops, who want to bulldoze all the natives' sacred lands and kill them all. This leads to a speech by our hero, Josh:
Pandora is not Hell, it's Eden. And Eden is being bulldozed and stripmined and raped. We have no right. We are the aliens here. We are the space monsters.
If that sounds too subtle for you, then there's Terra, which we covered the other day. The new full-length animated film is about humans coming to terraform a planet of peaceloving aliens, after Earth has become basically uninhabitable. We already terraformed Venus and Mars, but then the planets had a huge civil war. So now we have to come and use our transforming device to turn Terra's helium atmosphere into oxygen.
Are you seeing a trend here? The stories about humans as scourge of the cosmos are what come after the post-apocalyptic Earth stories. We ruin our own planet, so we have to go and fuck up someone else's planet. (That's also the storyline in the Winterson book, where Orbus is about to become unable to support human life.) There could also be some guilt about the Iraq war and our various other foreign adventures, which we could be excising.
There's also the remake of the original humans-are-assholes movie The Day The Earth Stood Still, coming this December, in which peaceful aliens warn us not to take our asshole ways out into space. And there's a new direct-to-DVD sequel to Starship Troopers coming out in a couple of months. In the original Troopers, director Paul Verhoeven's aim was to show that humans were the aggressors and the bugs were simply reacting to human colonies encroaching on their territory. This message flew over a lot of people's heads, so maybe Troopers scriptwriter Ed Neumeier (who's directing the new movie) will make it more blatant this time around.
And then there's also the animated Planet 51, starring the Rock, in which the peaceful aliens think the humans are there to invade and despoil their planet. But they're wrong... or are they?
I guess there's not enough examples there to argue that this is a sweeping new trend. And of course the post-apocalyptic Earth movie has one major advantage over the alien world epic: it's cheap to film, since you can make a post-apocalyptic landscape almost anywhere you can find some rubble.