Miss Manners, for all her strengths, is strangely silent on the correct behaviour when making first contact with an extraterrestrial race. But where other etiquette guides fail, Empire is here to help. If, like the stars of Battleship this week, you find yourself in a first contact situation, the following examples may prove to be useful illustrations of what to do – and what to avoid…
For example:* Signs, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Chicken Little*
There are often signs and portents ahead of first contact with an alien race. Perhaps ships lost at sea are appearing in the desert, or the same five-note sequence is being heard all over the world. Perhaps crop circles are appearing in farmers’ fields in odd corners of Pennsylvania. In rare cases, the sky might be falling down.
However improbable the reports, it’s important to take them seriously because they will rarely lead you astray. That old weirdo up in the woods is worth listening to; that schoolchild is worth listening to, and that incredibly fit scientist is definitely worth listening to. If we've learned anything from the movies, it's that hot scientists are pretty much always right. And at least if you pay attention now you’ll be prepared when the aliens finally descend in number.
For example:* Battleship, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Doom, Outlander, Starship Troopers*
As Jack Reacher so wisely says, “"It's easy enough to shoot a man. But there's absolutely no way to unshoot one". That holds true for aliens as well. First contact is obviously a tense and worrying time, and we can understand why you might have your finger on the trigger and an itch in that digit – but hold back! When encountering a possibly-big, possibly-scary alien, remember that it too may well have a mother / progenitor-beast, and that unless you want to meet said beastie it might be wise to tread carefully and not fire until fired upon.
It might, in fact, be willing to treat you as a civilised species until you try to lay the smackdown – and a misplaced bullet now could lead to the utter devastation of your planet. Try to scope out the newcomer’s firepower before making rash decisions that might result in the vaporisation of half the human race. And when we say "scope out", we mean thoroughly. Don't just rely on the fact that he looks like Keanu Reeves; check to see if he has any all-powerful nanobot armies back on his ship.
For example:* Independence Day, Mars Attacks!, Battle: Los Angeles, Predator, Attack The Block*
That said, some alien races are thorough bad’uns who are here just to kill us all and take our precious bodily fluids, and those mo-fos should be shot on sight. He who hesitates in this case is lost and probably splattered across a large area. So if you’re certain sure that these visitors are violent, and certain sure you’re not a warmongering, paranoid nutcase yourself, then lay the smackdown already.
But how to tell the difference? Look out for these warning signs: spaceships 14km across, hovering over every major city on Earth. Tendency to say “Ack” a lot. Firing of death rays. Eating people with their glow-in-the-dark teeth.
Hints like these are like red and yellow stripes on a snake: nature’s way of telling us that these things are out to get us. Staying alert to these subtle warning signs will help you avert a global extinction-level event.
For example:* Independence Day, Battleship, Knowing, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial*
The arrival of aliens is, for some reason, often accompanied by the advent of hitherto unguessed-at powers of telepathy, empathy, prophecy or mysticism among the human populace. It’s a quick on-screen way of filling the audience in on necessary exposition – er, we mean, a way to bridge the inter-species communication gap. Sometimes it gives Our Hero (Bill Pullman, say) an insight into an alien civilisation’s modus operandi. Sometimes it is a harbinger of a planetary disaster that threatens Nicolas Cage. Sometimes it merely helps a poor lonely child of divorce bond with a squishy-faced alien visitor. Whichever way you look at it, don’t dismiss any strange dreams or bizarre visions that arrive concurrently with the aliens. They’ll almost certainly prove helpful.
For example:* Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, The Thing, Village Of The Damned, Slither, Little Shop Of Horrors*
Alien invaders: they look just like us. Or alternatively they hide in our bodies / an innocuous flower shop until they have bred in sufficient numbers to pose a real threat. Eternal vigilance, then, is the key. Is everyone you know suddenly acting like an emotionless robot? Is every woman you know suddenly pregnant with creepy golden-eyed children? Are there freaky-looking red slug-things everwhere?
In cases like these, you’re going to need to find a flame-thrower, stat. You may also want to avoid sleep, devise some sort of test to determine who’s still human, and/or buy chocolates instead of flowers for the foreseeable. Safer that way.
For example:* E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Coneheads, Race To Witch Mountain, Explorers*
One or two aliens are nothing to worry about really, so don’t overreact to small incursions that pose no real danger of spreading. While the human instinct to protect children – and tabloid hype about the myriad dangers that surround youngsters – might lead you to freak out on discovering that your offspring has been hanging out with aliens, the situation is, counter intuitively, likely to turn out just fine.
Aliens who pitch up and befriend small kids are almost always friendly and even comical, while aliens that either look like or are small kids are guaranteed to do your children no harm at all. Families of aliens with cones for heads are also A-OK.
For example:* Cocoon, Transformers, Green Lantern, I Am Number Four, Men In Black, Outlander, Superman, The Man Who Fell to Earth
On a related note, there’s a fair chance that the visitors are here for reasons of their own that have nothing to do with conquest, theft or slaughter. They may be hiding out from enemies, hunting down enemies, or saving the Earth from enemies. They may simply be trying to live out the American dream, in which case you’ll need to set up a special sunglasses-wearing police force to keep an eye on them, but that's about it.
Heck, it could go even further than that. The alien visitor may be a selfless boy scout from a dying world, dedicated to saving us all from destruction with nothing but superpowers and a spit-curl. Or they may be here to rejuvenate senior citizens, and what kind of heartless grandchild would deny their dear old granny a second chance at romance with Don Ameche?
For example:* Contact, Species*
Sometimes, the aliens don’t come to visit in person. They may send instructions for getting in touch instead – like when you try to tutor your parents on using Skype. Now this can go relatively well, or completely disastrously.
If the aliens send instructions to build some expensive big spaceship machine, and Jodie Foster throws her oar in the ring, all will be fine and the worst that will happen is that the aliens provoke some unnecessary kerfuffle by neglecting to provide any evidence that the damn thing worked, for obscure alieny reasons of their own involving the intersection between faith and science and humanity’s continued growth.
However, if they send instructions to Ben Kingsley to tinker with a few genes and build a stunning blonde who looks like Natasha Henstridge, things are not going to turn out nearly so well.
In other words, pretend the extra-terrestrial instructions are from Ikea, and give them to someone with a good understanding of what’s involved before actually beginning construction. Because in cases like these, the equivalent of a wobbly bookcase and a suspicious number of leftover nails is a series of corpses and aliens breeding in the sewers, and no one wants that.
For example: *2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull*
Aliens, like, totally exist on another plane of reality, dude. So stay frosty if things get a little far out. Giant babies floating in space, monoliths, the reappearance of dead wives, enormous crystal-headed beings: it’s all par for the extra-terrestrial course.
The good news is that – crystalline bonces aside – a bit of incomprehensibility is usually the hallmark of a really high-quality film alien. After all, if our puny human intellects could understand their actions, they wouldn’t be enormously powerful supreme beings, would they?
For example:* War Of The Worlds, Mars Attacks!, The Faculty, Signs*
The first rule of hostile alien first contact is that conventional weapons are generally useless. If the army are called in, they will fail against the alien menace (sorry, guys!). The second rule is that bizarre everyday substances or items will turn out to be more helpful.
The common cold, hip designer drugs or good old water may turn out to hold the key – so in extremis try sneezing on them, or offer them a hit of something illegal with a tall cool glass of H2O to follow. If none of those options work, start going through your record collection; we recommend Slim Whitman’s Indian Love Call, which is effective against at least 10% of Martians.