As Battle: Los Angeles comes out in theaters, a look at the history of the genre
Golan-Globus Productions/David Foster Productions/Solofilm
Battle: Los Angeles blasts into theaters today, yet another warning that audiences are facing a full-on invasion of alien-invasion movies. Late last year, Skyline and Monsters imagined different parts of the earth laid to waste by extraterrestrials, as apparently do summer 2011 releases Cowboys & Aliens and Super 8. In the midst of these fights for survival, with all their toppling infrastructure and menacing creatures, it's worth retreating to the television (or computer) to consider the genre's evolution.
Alien life forms started appearing at the movies en masse in the 1950s, in B-movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space and The Blob, and earnest Cold War parables running the gamut from anti-nuclear sermons (The Day the Earth Stood Still) to nightmares of collectivization (Invasion of the Body Snatchers). This material proved rich and thematically fungible, meaning lots of remakes, some of which remain the most enduring specimens of the genre.
The most completely sobering alien-colonization scenario unfolds in Steven Spielberg's 2005 version of War of the Worlds (this from the director of benign-flying-saucer films Close Encounters and E.T.), but Philip Kaufman's 1978 riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers rates a close second, its mordant sense of humor paving the way to a defiantly unhappy ending. Like Kevin McCarthy's small-town doctor before him, Donald Sutherland's San Francisco health-department inspector confronts pod-people panic as a public-health concern before it infiltrates his circle of friends (Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Brooke Adams).