"Plan 9 From Outer Space" was our group's unfortunate movie choice. The movie debuted in 1959, another in a long line of painfully awful movies made by Ed Wood. As the poster above states, "unspeakable horrors" (meaning aliens) "from outer space paralyze the living and resurrect the dead!". The movie followed this basic premise, but what was the aliens' underlying motive? What did the movie say about human culture? What did the movie predict about the future? Finally, how did the movie relate to our group's particular focus, journalism? For the discussion below, we will ignore the incredibly poor quality of the acting, directing, and editing found in this film; indeed, it is possibly one of the worst films ever made.
Strange sounds that go bump in the night, UFO sightings from an airplance, the walking dead, and murder all combine to form our exciting movie choice, "Plan 9 From Outer Space". Aliens have tried to contact humans, but have been summarily dismissed by the governments of the world. The aliens have no choice. They must resurrect the dead in order to destroy the living, and in the process, save the galaxy.
Why are the aliens bent on human destruction? The answer becomes clear. Humans have developed fire-crackers, which advanced to guns and cannons, to bombs, and finally to atomic weaponry. The next level of discovery, and thus destruction, was close at hand: "solaranite". When humans discover this, they will accidentally blow up light particles, triggering a chain reaction across the entire universe. Human beings had to be stopped.
The aliens hatch a pitiful plot that centers on zombies as a vehicle to defeat the earthilngs. Needless to say, when all is said and done, the aliens have been routed, the U.S. military is once again victorious, and peace is restored to earth. Remember, though, that the alien mother ship still lurks...
Our group thought that the movie gave an interesting perspective on women's role in society. The women in the movie were subserviant, secondary; their role was to assist the men, not much else. Strangely, even in the alien culture, the female alien was often chided and maligned by one of the male aliens. Clearly, even in an advanced society such as the aliens, the makers of the movie could not envision women in leadership roles. While this probably was not atypical in movies from this genre, it sticks out like a sore thumb to a modern audience.
The anti-military feeling of the movie could not be overlooked. First, the military of the United States implicated in a cover-up, since they would not "acknowledge the existence" of the aliens. In fact, this strange lack of communicativity by the military lead directly to the aliens' more sinister plot to destroy the humans. Perhaps if the armed forces had contacted the aliens, all would have been well. Second, the military was guilty of building weapons of destruction. This slant was clearly colored by post-war negativism, perhaps fore-shadowing the pending arms race of the cold war. The message was clear: stop developing these weapons, or one day face the consequences of a weapon more powerful than the military can handle.
The aliens in the movie were a study in contradiction. They weren't menacing and evil like one would suspect. In fact, their purpose was noble: to save the universe from destruction. Given that, they attempted to communicate with the humans, with the hope of altering the path to destruction. When that failed, they hatched a strange plot to destroy humans by controlling dead human bodies. How come this technologically advanced race had to resort to such primitive tactics to force their will upon others? We also noted the hierarchical power structure among the aliens, with the two main aliens reporting to their leader. If they were technologically so far ahead of us, why did their social structure mirror ours in so many ways?
One conclusion is that the movie-makers could not forsee how an advanced race would behave, and thus defaulted to the known: human behavior circa 1950. Perhaps, though, the point was more subtle. Technological advance does not map to social advance. The aliens, though light-years ahead of humans in all technical skills and knowledge, still relied on a primitive military hierarchy, and resorted to aggression when communication failed. Were they really the advanced race that they claimed to be?
The movie left little hope for the future of human-kind. Technology was applied by humans with a single, ultimate purpose: to build better weaponry. The past had seen this, and the future (as predicted by the aliens) would see more of the same; however, this time the consequences would be on a much grander scale, jeopardizing not hundreds or thousands of lives, but the fate of the universe instead. As one of the aliens stated, humans were just "stupid, stupid, stupid!" If they were not stopped, all life would be destroyed.
The one small positive outcome of technology in the film was the "Universal Language Computer", developed by the military to communicate with the aliens. Apparently, this device could translate any language to English, and vice-versa. However, we felt that this optimistic view of computer science was more of a plot gimmick than a commentary on the positives of technology, since the humans needed to be able to understand the aliens when the two finally met.
Since our group's focus is on the internet and journalism, we were especially hoping to find some relevant commentary by the movie on journalism of the 1950s. Alas, we only saw one direct allusion to journalism in the entire movie. When the UFOs entered the atmosphere, they immediately flew to and hovered above the NBC and CBS buildings. While we suspect that this had something more to do with the availability of stock footage, perhaps the point was simple: aliens like to watch the nightly news, too.