‘Prometheus’ writer Jon Spaihts on science fiction worldbuilding

Recently, iO9 – the online technology magazine – caught up with Jon Spaihts, one of the writers for the upcoming Prometheus movie. In the course of their interview, they discussed what it takes to build sci-fi worlds and the challenges facing sci-fi writers. Of particular interest was Spaihts inclusion of hard science in his sci-fi scripts, the nature of the movie, the Alien universe, and what it was like to work with Ridley Scott. Interesting reading, follow the link below to read about the whole interview:

Prometheus Writer Jon Spaihts Interview

New Prometheus Clip

I came across this clip this morning and was absolutely wowed. Not only is this yet another awesome preview of the upcoming Prometheus movie, it manages to establish the movie’s deep background even further and does so in a way that’s both plausible and relevant to today. Exploring the upcoming technological singularity, the birth of nanotech, biomedical and AI, and previewing the birth of the Weyland Corp – which as we all know went on to become Weyland-Yutani, the biggest monopoly in the history of the human race.

But don’t take my word, check it out for yourself. I feel like writing now, which is how I feel whenever I see something really inspiring! And God damn if this wasn’t a far better use of Guy Pierce’s talents than that cheesy movie Lockout!

Weyland Industries “David 8”: a Prometheus preview

Just caught this, thanks to a scholar I follow (thanks Owl!). It certainly is an interesting way to go about previewing his new movie, but then again, Ridley Scott has always been known for being a creative bastard! In addition to revisiting the universe of aliens, he seems to be doing everything in his power to give it some genuine subtext and backstory.

As I’m sure we all remember, in the universe of Alien and Aliens, Weyland-Yutani was responsible for running… well, everything. In addition, “artificial lifeforms” or “synthetics” like Ash and Bishop were considered commonplace on board company ships, it seemed only natural that we that this movie give us a preview of their predecessors.

Good watching. Click on the video below and you’ll see…

Prometheus and an interview with Ridley Scott

Recently, I came across the lovely article entitled “Don’t f—- around with gods” from the Sydney Morning Herald. The subject was director Ridley Scott’s new movie, Prometheus, which is currently in post-production and set to be released in June of this year. As I’m sure everyone is aware by now, this movie is a return to the universe of Alien, a franchise which Scott began in earnest 30 years ago. Originally thought to be a prequel, Scott has since revealed that this movie is in fact a sort of standalone movie which explores the concept of Exogenesis – the idea that life came to Earth or other planets from an extra-solar source.

Although linked to the original Alien movie in that it deals with the same derelict that the crew of Nostromo encountered, the story is far more concerned with the alien race known as the Space Jockeys than the xenomorphs themselves. Or at least, that appears to be the focus. I’m sure the xenos make an appearance, and probably end up screwing everybody over, as is there tendency! But mainly, Scott emphasized that the plot, as suggested by the title, has to do with the discovery of powerful, dangerous things. When one encounters alien technology, the specter of the bound god who gave fire to humanity can’t help but be resurrected. It’s just timeless like that!

In the course of the interview, Scott also spoke extensively about his reasons for getting into science fiction in the first place. I have to say that I loved his answer: “Science fiction is a wonderful – sorry about the pun – universe for – again, another much overused word – creativity. It’s an arena where anything goes… The opportunity presents itself to fundamentally do anything you want, providing that you draw up a rule book in the first place. You’ve got to draw up the rules of your drama and within that universe you’ve got to actually stick to your own rule book. I think that’s what’s happening – we’re not drawing enough rules up when we do materials. It feels like writing a book…”

Wow. It’s wonderful when you see words that you yourself have said put into the mouths of true veterans! If I was to make a list of directors whom I admire for their creativity and vision over the years, Scott would be tied with Stanley Kubrick for first place! With movies like Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down and Gladiator to his credit, I got to say that I’m pleased as punch that he and agree on two fundamental precepts. One, science fiction is a great realm for creativity and inventiveness due to the fact that the only limitations are those of the author’s imagination. And two, that it’s best to have a detailed game plan worked out in advance. This is what sunk Lucas’ prequels people! Always know where you’re going in advance and try to stick to the plan. Otherwise you wind up with contrived plot twists and forced situations. Trust me, I know!

Another great thing to read was Scott’s indictation that Prometheus wouldn’t be a massive CGI fest. Something which set Cameron’s Aliens apart from the dubious Avatar was the use of real live actors in suits or animatronics instead of digital creations. Granted, this was done in an age when CGI wasn’t available, but those who followed in Scott and Cameron’s footsteps understood the value of shooting things this way. If there was one thing AVP did right, it was the use of costumed actors and real sets rather than blue screens and generated images.

Having set the precedent, I think it’s only right that Scott remain true to this heritage. After all, his environments, especially that of the Space Jockey Ship, were known for their dark, gritty, grimy look, something which was very… Lovecraftian! Try doing that with digital effects, it just doesn’t work! CGI might be great for creating visuals, but the textures are always too clean and sterile. Or in the case of Avatar, too cartoony! And actors are far more convincing when they’re interacting with a real person, or even a robotic alien, than a standing stick or a tennis ball on the end of a string!

In any case, here’s the link to the article. It’s a good read, and definitely for fans of Scott, the Aliens franchise, and just sci-fi in general!

Dystopia in Popular Culture

Picking up where I left off last time, I thought I’d get into some examples of how dystopian fiction has influenced popular culture. And given all the feedback I got on my previous post, I also wanted to incorporate some suggested titles as well. But, just to be clear, I still haven’t read Hunger Games, so please don’t ask about it!

Alright, so last time, I mentioned just about every examples of dystopian literature I could find. From the earliest examples of Candide and Gulliver’s Travellers, onto the more modern interpretations of The Time Machine and We, and culminating with classics like BNW and 1984, I essentially ended before I could get into how these novels have had an influence on film and other media. In addition to inspiring the written words, these classics have inspired an entire culture of iconography, symbolism and motifs.

Not surprising, really. Every work of dystopian fiction and satire has sought to create images in the reader’s mind, using highly specific descriptions in order to paint a scene and inspire the right mood. Whenever these novels have been adapted to film, or directors were simply trying to convey similar themes, the task of properly conveying it all visually has always been a hefty one. The same is true for graphic novels and any other visual medium. So today, just for fun, and perhaps to complete my romp through the realm of this inspired genre, here are some examples of dystopia in modern media:

Blade Runner:
Granted, Blade Runner was based on Philip K Dick’s Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep?, a dystopian story in some respects, but not in the same way that the movie was. Whereas the novel took place in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles (circa 2019) which is sparsely populated and where a living animal is seen as a status symbol. In the movie, the year and location are the same, but the setting is starkly different. Here, it is a stuffy, polluted, mega-city made up of massive skyscrapers and giant animated billboards, where the streets are dirty and packed with people who spoke a strange dialect known as Cityspeak (check out my post on Cityspeak for on that).

And what made it all so awesome, aside from the plot, was the attention to detail. Director Ridley Scott, the same man who brought us Aliens, brought his usual artistic touch and a team of first-grade set designers to the table. Overall, they produced some pretty awesome concepts, ones which are still being praised to this day. Here are just a few:

The Tyrell Corp. building, which was kind of the focal point of the movie. Early on, we get a birds-eye view of it as Detective Deckard Cain (Harrison Ford) is being flown there in a Spinner (flying car). Later on, the leader of the Replicant party, Roy Batty, travels there as well seeking answers to some of life’s most basic questions.

For starters, the building is clearly based on a the design of a Ziggurat, the breed of ancient Babylon temple that inspired such legends as the “Tower of Babel”, and which serves as a clear representation for the almost godlike power Tyrell wields. The interior design, with its large columns, soft lighting, candles, an owl (a possible reference to Athena’s owl) and the way Tyrell can block out the sun at will all serve to further illustrate this point. That scene near the end where is dressed in lavish white robes also seemed pretty symbolic, I’d say!

And for those who read 1984, there is a possible encoded reference to the four ministries as well- Truth, Peace, Love, and Plenty – all of which were pyramid-like in design. Coincidence? Who knows? All that matter is when it comes to massive structures that harken back to ancient Egypt and Mesapotamia, the symbolic value is clear. Much like the civilizations that built them, these things stood for power and dominion, both over lesser subjects and the afterlife itself. They were the ruler’s way of achieving immortality by creating something that embodied their power and would stand the test of time. As Shelley said in his poem “Ozymandias”: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

And when it comes right down to it, this old-world kind of mentality, updated for the modern age, is indispensable to any dystopian story: Absolute power, wielded by the few over the many and represented in conspicuous and obvious ways! In many cases, it comes in the form of totalitarian governments (a la The Party) who runs things with an iron fist and build massive government buildings to remind everyone of who’s in charge. But in other cases, it takes the form or corporate dominance, where the wealthy rule society like feudal barons while the rest live like serfs. And much like their bureaucratic peers, they choose to lord this by building lavish buildings to themselves and covering themselves with ornate symbols!

Another trademark bit of dystopian set design were the massive skyscrapers, complete with giant video-billboards. No doubt, these too were designed to give the impression of the control corporations had over the people of LA in the future. As if regular sized billboards ads weren’t enough, (or televised, print, bench, flier, blimp, and radio ads) now it seemed that corporate monopolies were splastering their logo’s on screens the size of buildings!

And just to make it realistic, Ridley Scott and his designers were also sure to use logos that were already big in the early 80′s and seemed destined to get bigger – Atari, Coca Cola, Pan Am Air, Cuisinart, Bell System. But interestingly enough, all of these companies suffered heavy losses after the movie’s release. The phenomena came to be known as the “Blade Runner Curse”. Strange, one would think audiences began associating them with dark imagery or something ;)

But personally, I think one of the most effective aspects of the movie’s look and feel came through in the construction of the streets. Here, Scott’s design team made sure that every shot was crammed full of people who whore plastic jumpers, dark glasses, cool headgear, and carried what looked like umbrellas with neon handles. Then came the street vendors who peddled food or exotic pets in the same neighborhoods, facades that were ashen grey in color, and all kinds of neon signs written in various languages. It painted quite the scene, one which can only be described by the words “Future Noire”.

Brazil: 
Directed by Terry Gilliam, an old-time member of the comedy troupe Monty Python and director of such movies as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King and 12 Monkeys, Brazil was a rather humorous take on the classic 1984. In it, we are presented with a dystopian society that is ruled by a totalitarian regime, but which is buffoonish and incompetent rather than exacting and brutal.

In addition, the people in this world are also overly-dependent on machinery which is rather unreliable and poorly maintained. And last of all, there is the main character of Sam Lowry, a low-level government employee who works in a mind-numbing government job, lives in a small apartment, and is having prescient dreams about a woman and a man in mask who is torturing him.

The movie shared many plot and thematic elements with 1984, but much of its genius comes through in the set design and direction. Given that the aim of the movie was to present a world in which the machinery is as undependable as the bureaucracy, Gilliam decided to go with a look that would call to mind the kind of over-the-top aesthetics of past sci-fi films. While everything was admittedly grey, dark, and shot in wide and tilted angles, there was also a sort of comic, retro feel to the whole thing. This helped to establish the central premise of the movie, in which incompetence and mind-drudging inefficiency were what was destroying humanity, not a specific agenda.

In addition, Gillian had much to say about artifice and vanity in this film. Lowry’s mother, who plays an important role in the plot, is obsessed with plastic surgery which she hopes will make her look younger. Towards the end of the movie, Lowry dreams that his mother is attending the funeral of a friend who died as a result of too many invasive procedures. And in what can only be described as an moment of oedipal confusion, his mother even looks like Jill, the much younger woman he has fallen in love with!

An interesting take on 1984 isn’t it? Rather than following a philosophy like the one espoused by O’Brien, where the Party wields absolute control over reality and people’s minds, want to eliminate all emotion except hatred, and has destroyed any activities that do not serve their interests, the totalitarian regime in Brazil is instead motivated by laziness and a desire to cover its own ass. Not being wrong literally means more to them than the lives of their citizens. What better commentary is there on a bureaucratized society?

Judge Dredd:
Yes, the movie didn’t so well, and the script and plot were so simplistic that Stallone himself called it a “no-brainer”. But that doesn’t change the fact that the source material is actually one of the better graphic novels in existence, especially when it comes to depth and irony. Set in a post-apocalyptic world of the not-too-distant future, the comics take place for the most part inside “Mega City One”, one of several megalopolis’s that have sprung up in the US after a nuclear war which left it and Soviet Union utterly devastated.

Within this city, just about everything is automated and unemployment is almost universal. Every city block contains over fifty-thousand people, amounting to a population of about 400 million people per city. Due to overcrowding, massive unemployment and uncontrollable violence, the leaders of this future society created a quasi-fascist justice system whereby individual “Street Judges” (policemen) were charged with dispensing judgement and punishment on site. This had a stabilizing effect on society, but the problems remain…

Automatically, one can see a few things at work here. For starters, there’s the Hobbesian idea of man in the state of nature; how because of nuclear war, life became “nasty, brutish and short” and a tyrannical system was needed to put things back in order. In addition, there’s the whole “who polices the police?” side of things, where audiences naturally fear that the judges will abuse their power or fight to the death to hang onto it.

And last, there is the very real sociological concept of the “megalopolis”, the Northeastern mega city running from Virginia to Maine which was originally coined by French geographer Jean Gottmann. In the course of the comic’s history, it is made clear that Mega City One was not actually designed, but grew out of natural urban sprawl that predated the nuclear war. It was only after the war that it became a self-contained place where automation, unemployment and chaos become so rampant.

Now one might also get the impression that this was all meant to illustrate some preachy, “we made a mistake” kind of message (which is in fact what happened in the movie). But in truth, these issues are presented with a fair degree of subtly and irony in the graphic novel.

Knowing full well how his audience would react to fascist symbols and ideology, John Wager (creator) presented readers with a story that is loaded with both. For starters, the Judge’s symbol is an eagle, which bears a striking resemblance to the Nazi black eagle. The Judge’s uniform is also highly ornate and calls to mind the classical imperial motifs of Centurions and Gladiators. And the fact that Dredd’s face is never seen can only be seen as highly indicative. He’s a faceless law-giver, much like Stormtroopers or the SS.

What’s more, the people who sport these symbols and preach these values are presented as heroes. Judge Dredd, for all intents and purposes, is a social fascist who is bereft of  sentimentality, doubt or remorse over what he does. Unlike the other Judges, there’s no crime he won’t ignore, and he never stops for more than ten minutes at a time to rest in a sleep chamber, then he’s back on the job. He also has little sympathy for people who believe in enlightened reform or who criticize the Street Judges for their abuses of power.

The purpose of this always seemed to be for the sake of ironic social commentary. Rather than condemning the Judges and the system they represent (or endorsing them) we are meant to see how – under the right circumstances – something like this could very well happen!

THX 1138:
You know, its movies like this that remind us all that there was a time that George Lucas had talent, when he cared about thing like plots and inspired story-telling, and not special effects and merchandizing. But I’ll leave my riffs about the Star Wars prequels for another day. Right now, I will admit that there is plenty about this directorial debut worth praising, and not the least of which was the faithful dystopian tone it struck.

Set in a dystopian future where the human race is required by law to take drugs that suppress emotion and sexual desires, are controlled by android police, and all inhabitants worship a godlike being known as OMM 0910, the story is clearly a commentary on how rationalization and automation threatened to destroy humanity. In addition, there are clear and obvious parallels to novels like We, Brave New World and 1984.

For example, the people in this future are all given designations instead of names, the state sanctioned religion is reminiscent of Big Brother, and the mandatory use of mind altering drugs calls to mind Soma. And of course, the stark, clinical portrayal of society in the future is very similar to descriptions of the One State and Oceania in We and 1984. And let’s not forget the scene were android police torture and abuse the main character? Tell me that didn’t come directly out of the scenes where Winston was languishing in the Ministry of Love!

And of course the overall moral of the story, that love is precious and will fight the odds against the forces of cold rationality, this too was practically lifted from Orwell’s and Zamyatin ‘s classics! This is not a criticism, mind you. If anything, Lucas demonstrated a keen ability to adopt freely from novels and franchises in a way that really worked. Much as he would do with Star Wars just a few years later, he seemed to know where to borrow from and how to put it all together!

The Watchmen:
Now this was one of my favorite graphic novels of all time. Lucky for me, it also falls into the realm of dystopian fiction, hence I can talk about it here! In addition to taking place in an alternate universe, the setting is one which is quite dark and gritty. Set in the 1980′s, which is the same period in which it was written, the story is of an alternate reality where the existence of superheroes has caused history to diverge quite a bit from our own. Technically, superheroes have been in existence for many decades, which helps to give the story a real sense of historicity.

However, it was with the service of superheroes in actual wars and government programs that caused history to shift. Beginning with Doctor Manhattan’s intervention in Vietnam and culminating in the development of cheap, renewable energy by Ozymandias (with Manhattan’s help), the Cold War took an unexpected turn. Russia was systematically beaten back to the point where it was becoming desperate and nuclear war seemed inevitable. Meanwhile, society began to decay as war began to occupy more and more of society’s attention and the inner cities were neglected and left to rot.

Told for the point of view of Rorschach, a borderline social fascist with deep-seated issues, the darkness and impending sense of doom really come through! As he investigates the death of the Comedian, a fellow superhero who’s death incites the whole plot, we learn how both he, the Watchmen, and society came to be the way it is. His own tragic story, and that of the Comedians, serves to illustrate how the American Dream failed and cynicism and fear took over.

But of course, the point with dystopian stories is not just to speculate, but to make a point about the time in which it was written. Looked at from this angle, the Watchmen was really telling us about the real world of the 1980′s, a world which had come very far since the post-war era in terms of technological, social and cultural development. And like many other cultural commentaries, a sense of failure and betrayal is at work. What happened to the post-war dream? What happened to the American Dream? How did poverty, crime, licentiousness and cynicism become so rampant? From Rorschach point of view, the Cold War is largely to blame, but so is human nature. And given that he is such a dark and messed up character, I don’t think his opinions were meant to be taken too seriously!

V for Vendetta:
Yet another awesome graphic novel, and one which also inspired a hit movie adaptation. A piece of speculative fiction, this series was produced in the 1980′s and was set in a near-future dystopian England. Over the years, this series’ thematic elements and symbolism have been compared to 1984. However, in truth, the story has much more in common with The Iron Heel and It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis (which should have made my list of dystopian literature, dammit!) In these two novels, especially the latter, a fascist regime takes power by appealing to the people’s sense of moral purity and a desire for order, and in the end the people got more than they bargained for!

But alas, the story in the comic book version involves nuclear war and the transformation of the UK into “lifeboat Britain”. Given that the movie was made in the early 2000′s, the story had to be updated somewhat. There, the focus shifted to terrorism and the exploitation of fear – echoes of The Handmaids Tale and “Loose Change” there, but I digress. After being passed over by the nuclear holocaust, Britain found itself being flooded with refugees and victims of the war. Bit by bit, authoritarian measures were put into place to deal with the crisis, until eventually, the fascist government of Norsefire took over, and that’s when the real changes happened!

They’re motto: “Strength Through Purity, Purity through Faith” pretty much sums it up! In addition to pushing a religious agenda, they were also very much concerned with purging British society or minorities and “undesirables”. A police state was put into place where a series of departments – the Eyes, Ears, Mouth, and Hands – were tasked with controlling and monitoring all aspects of society. The Eyes handled surveillance, the Ears listened to people’s by tapping their phones and bugging their homes, the Mouth disseminated propaganda, and the Hands investigated criminal activity. And of course all minorities, be they racial minorities, homosexuals, or just political dissidents, were sent to concentration camps where they were exterminated and experimented on.

Into all this enters the character of V, an anarchist revolutionary who is the product of one camp’s twisted experiments. As a result of their invasive procedures, he became an enigmatic genius/amnesiac with a serious chip on his shoulder who is now on a quest to pay the government back for its crimes. His famous disguise, the Guy Fawkes mask and robes of black and red, are as intrinsic to establishing his character as his monologues and affinity for blowing up government buildings!

Judging by the color scheme alone, one immediately can tell that this man is an anarchist by his use of the color black (or anarcho-syndicalist seeing as how he combines it with red). The mask is a further indication of this, given that Guy Fawkes was a radical who tried to blow up parliament because he believes any vestige of government to be anathema to freedom. So in the end, we can see that this a man who wants to bring down the system and is reaching into Britain’s forgotten past to resurrect the idea of civil liberty.

In contrast, Norsefire’s logo was pretty straightforward too. In the comic, Norsefire represented itself on its “motivational posters” with a set of white wings with a space in the middle that was in the shape of a cross, and behind it lay flames. This is obviously meant to conjure up images of religious propriety, or holy war, and of action, all of which are clear allusions to fascist and religious-right iconography. It was also meant, in my opinion, to call to mind Britain’s Action Party, a fascist political group that played a small but influential role in British political life during the 1970′s.

In any case, one can see several staples of dystopia at work in this series, hence why it earned a loyal following and garnered so much critical acclaim. In addition to the idea of a nuclear war breeding totalitarian regime in Britain (right out of 1984), of “Lifeboat Britain” giving rise to a fascist regime (which may have helped to inspire the novel Children of Men) and countless allusions to Nazism and how it really could take root in Britain – which calls to mind Orwell’s essay “England Your England” where he basically asserted that it couldn’t.

Final Thoughts:
Wow, this sort of stuff makes me feel head-heavy and tired! It seems that when you get into a subject as rich as dystopian literature and its various offshoots, there’s no shortage of material! But I think I’ve learned something from all of this and it’s important that I get it right. So bear with me…

As I said in my last post, utopian literature predates dystopian by a couple centuries at least. And I also focused on the differences between the two, how utopian lit shows our failures by using a prefect society as a comparison while dystopian societies show the logical outcome of our most worrisome flaws. However, I’ve now come to think that the issue is far more complicated than all that. For starters, one can find elements of the former in the latter and vice-versa. What’s more, utopian novels and treatises were often loaded with irony, at times truncated themselves to make the point that perfect societies were not so perfect, or perhaps unattainable.

On the other hand, all dystopian novels take as their starting point the idea of a failed utopia. Whether it was a willful lie (as O’Brien revealed in 1984) or an attempt at perfection gone wrong, all dystopians arose out of attempt to create a “perfect society”. In the case of the classics written after the 18th century, the inspiration for this is clear. Beginning with the French Revolution, then the Russian, and countless other revolutions who’s aim was to radically transform society, it seemed that every attempt to create “real equality” and an “earthly paradise” was doomed to result in tyranny and abuse. Sometimes horribly so!

But the earlier utopian writers didn’t have these failed social experiments to point to. In their case, saying that utopias were unattainable would have had to have been purely philosophical. And examples abound! The very word Utopia, for example, is Greek for “no-place”. And the narrator of this book, the man who is an apparent specialist on this fabled society, is named Raphael Hythloday. This last name has a Greek root which loosely translates to “expert in nonsense”. Samuel Butler, another utopian writer, named his fictional society Erewhon, which is simply “Nowhere” written backwards. In addition, in his “perfect” society, people are punished for being sick and treated for criminal behavior, an inversion of the usual procedure!

I guess its like the dividing line between heaven and hell, or revelation and madness. Somehow, the line is fine, and one misstep can take you from one to the other in the blink of an eye! And, as with everything else, we carry these things with us  and project them wherever we go. Well… that was deep! Stay tuned, I’m sure to have something more cheerful for next time!

Aliens, revisited

After doing my due diligence to learn what I could about the Xenomorph for my post on Ancient Aliens, I found some interesting additional info that kept me reading. For one, I came to learn that there were a lot of details about the Alien universe that were revealed by Ridley Scott and James Cameron in the course of interviews, but never made it into the movies themselves. At the same time, there was plenty of info that made it into comics, novelization and other sources in the expanded franchise which fans of the movies would want to know about. There were a lot of mysteries in the Alien universe that were left deliberately vague, basic questions that never got answered.

For example:

  1. What was that derelict ship from the first movie and where did it come from?
  2. Why were there eggs aboard the ship in the first place?
  3. And of course, where do the Xenomorph’s come from?

Well, here are some of the answers that I found out:

1. Space Jockeys:
This is the name of the race that built the derelict craft that crashed on LV-426 and was investigated by the crew of the Nostromo. Based on the design of the skeleton that was featured in the movie, and additional material from the alien comics, this race was apparently humanoid, very large, and had elephant-like trunks on their faces. According to all sources on the subject, the Space Jockeys are millions of years old and go by many different names.

In fact, “Space Jockeys” was the name the set designers came up with, whereas H.R Giger (the designer of the Alien) called it “The Pilot”. This second name was used in the video game AVG 2, where the aliens are known as Pilots and examples of their technology as “Pilot Technology”. Yet another name comes from the novelization entitled Aliens: Original Sin by Michael Friedman, where they are known as the Mala’kak. Where they come from remains a mystery, but the fact that their ship was carrying Xenomorph eggs would seem suggests that there was some kind of relationship. Which brings us to question two…

2. The Eggs:
One theory has it that the Space Jockeys were the original victims of the Xenomorphs. Another has it that they were in fact their creators. This second theory is far more detailed and shows up in various sources. Apparently, the Space Jockeys (or Mala’kak) bred the Xenomorphs for use a civil war that was raging millions of years ago. This would certainly explain why the Xenomorphs are so hostile, so adaptive, and proliferate so quickly. Ultimately, the Xenomorphs turned on their creators and caused their extinction, and live on as weapons leftover from a forgotten war.

I got to admit, I didn’t like this theory too much. Somehow, it made the Aliens less scary to know that they were cooked up in a lab as opposed to say, borne out of conditions we can hardly imagine on a planet we have yet to discover. However, I also have to admit that it fit with something I notice whenever I watch the original Alien movie. Compare the Space Jockey ship to the architecture of a Xenomorph hive. Do they not look similar? All those curved surfaces and H.P. Lovecraftian sensibilities? Would it be so crazy to conclude that the Xenomorphs inherited their sense of aesthetics from their creators?

However, there remains the question of why a derelict ship was discovered on LV-426 carrying eggs. Could it be that this was a simple transport that was hauling eggs for the sake of the war effort? If so, then the most likely scenario would be that the pilot became infected accidentally and crashed into the planet, programming the ship to send out a distress signal before his untimely demise. However, we won’t know that for sure until the new movie comes out (see below!)

3. Xenomorph Prime:
According to various sources, the Xenomorph homeworld is a hostile planet named Proteus.  Much like LV-426, it boasts a cold and harsh climate that is rife with volcanoes and turbulent wind storms. According to one theory, the planet is not the actual source of the Xenomorph species, but was used as a storage house by the Space Jockeys to contain and breed them.

The exact source of this info is unclear, but in the 2010 AvP video game, things end with Weyland Yutani discovering the location of their homeworld. This would seem to indicate that it will be revealed and/or detailed in the sequel. Also, the info on Proteus (as it stands) is clearly linked to the theory that the Space Jockeys were responsible for the creation of the Xenomorphs, so I can only assume that it came up in one of the AvP comics or novels.

Prometheus:
In the course of learning all this, I also came to learn that Ridley Scott has been dropping some serious hints of late. Apparently, the concept of the Space Jockeys, the Xenomorph homeworld, and the link between the two species will be explored at some length in the upcoming movie, Prometheus. For those who don’t know, this upcoming movie is a prequel to the Alien franchise where the crew of an Earth starship discover the derelict years before the Nostromo. Originally, I was planning on avoiding it. But successive previews and all the promised explanations are starting to get to me. Coming to theaters this summer, people!

Cityspeak (Blade Runner)

bladerunner“That gibberish he talked was Cityspeak, gutter talk, a mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you. I didn’t really need a translator. I knew the lingo, every good cop did. But I wasn’t going to make it easier for him.” – Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), Voiceover

That’s how Ridley Scott explained it in his adaptation of Blade Runner. Well, technically Ford did the explaining through the character of Deckard, but that’s neither here nor there. Point is, Cityspeak was something that did not appear in the novel version of Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It was instead an original creation, designed to give the future-noire city of LA some subtext and a more gritty, realistic feel.

I mean, let’s face it. Overcrowded cities have a way of spawning their own lingo, and in a mega-city that is congested with millions of people, hundreds of cultures and dozens of languages, something like this would be sure to emerge. It was simply a matter of predicting which major languages would be involved, and writing the script in the 80’s, it was only natural that the languages of the most populous and wealthiest nations would do.

English was and still is the trade language of the world, Japanese was quickly becoming another one, Spanish was already spoken by millions in California and all over the South-Western US, Germany was next to Japan as being the world’s strongest economies, and Chinese… well, there were over a billion speakers of Chinese even back then. So really, Cityspeak was a legitimate sci-fi concept.

But here’s an interesting fact: turns out Edward James Olmos – who played the character of Gaff, the only one who spoke Cityspeak – was the man chiefly responsible for its creation. Relying on his diverse ethnic background and some in-depth research, he managed to come up with all the lines his character spoke in the course of that opening scene where it makes it debut.

Not only did he rely on his own Hungarian background, he took some night courses and studied inner-city youth lingo, relying even on his own experiences of living in the Philippines. As he recalled, Filipino cab drivers had their own lingo, a combination Spanish, Tagalog and the occasional English words which they would insert into their speech. One can see this in the lines of dialogue he composed, which were diverse and had several words in English for which no translation would be found.

Here’s the conversation as it appeared in the movie in full:

Gaff: Monsieur, azonnal kövessen engem, bitte!
Sushi Master: He say you under arrest, Mister Deckard.
Deckard: Got the wrong guy, pal.
Gaff: Lófaszt! Nehogy már! Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!
Sushi Master: He say you blade runner.
Deckard: Tell him I’m eating.
Gaff: Captain Bryant toka. Meni-o mae-yo.
Deckard: Bryant, huh?

The first section breaks down as follows:
Monsieur (French): Sir
azonnal kövessen engem (Hungarian): follow me immediately
bitte (German): please

The second, however, was entirely in Hungarian:
Lòfàszt!: Bullshit! (Or horse dick, depending on how literal you want to get!)
Nehogy már!: Do it!
Te vagy a Blade, Blade Runner!: You are the Blade, Blade Runner!

The last sentence… Well, it stumped me! Yep, not even a few full-on Google searches or several rounds with Google Translate and Babel Fish could crack this code! And I tried everything they listed, Japanese, Chinese, German, even Hungarian. But luckily, the Blade Runner crew had already provided a translation, it’s just that there was no mention of which languages were used. It reads as follows:
“Captain Bryant toka. Meni-o mae-yo” (Captain Bryant ordered me to escort you to him).

And that’s Cityspeak for you, something Ridley Scott and his Blade Runner adaptation was famous for, but which was mainly the creation of Edward James Olmos. I guess he’s not just a pretty face, or the man that played Adama and won the love of countless Battlestar Galactic nerds…