Think of famous alien encounter films: War of the Worlds, Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Signs, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. All of these movies look at the initial contact between alien and human, whether it is an invasion, a warning, or an enigmatic message.
But then you have District 9--Neill Blomkamp's 2009 film set in Johannesburg, South Africa--which skips over the initial contact almost entirely and focuses on the after-effects of how to deal with a population of refugee aliens. TNT's TV show Falling Skies moves in this direction as well. The show begins after the alien invasion, rather than before--we get information about the invasion courtesy of flashbacks, and while the show was still about how to fight off the aliens, it was a fight over the long haul, rather than a single, coordinated, glorious battle.
The SyFy network has a new show along these lines--Defiance, which premieres on April 15, 2013. This show tells the story of relationships between humans and aliens known as Votans after a years-long war between the two races. After the war, lines between Votan and human are no longer so strong, and members from the two groups even find themselves banding together to survive. Take a look:
Interestingly, this TV show is being released at the same time as a video game that covers the same setting and events. As the show's website excitedly claims, "For the first time in history, a TV show and a game will exist concurrently in a shared universe, influencing and impacting the other!"
While I am interested to see how the multimedia aspect of Defiance works out, I am perhaps more intrigued by the larger trend toward alien movies that look at the world after the encounter, rather than just the encounter itself. And while this is just speculation, I wonder if this trend says something about shifting attitudes toward "the Other" in real-world society. Instead of portraying the Other as something outside of everyday life, something that can be shut out and neatly contained, something against which "we" define ourselves, movies like District 9 and shows like Defiance show how the Other is an integral part of society. And this gives me hope--hope that shows like Defiance can model ways of interacting with, cooperating with, and depending on those different than us, rather than just seeing them as people to be fought, gawked at, or shunned.
By Jen Miller