Who, or rather what, are the most iconic non-(fully)human characters in science fiction?
We can all pick out iconic human characters whose names have now become so well known it’s not necessary to quote the film or book they appeared in. But what about those other characters that get under your skin? The ones that evoke a sense of wonder, represent our fears and desires or hold up a mirror in which we can view a distorted (we hope) version of ourselves.
Where would Sarah Connor be without a Terminator trying to kill her? How would Neo have turned out if he hadn’t come up against Agent Smith? Would Han Solo be the same person without his best bud Chewie?
Here are five of the most recognisable non-human characters on the side of the good guys (next week, the ones you wouldn’t want to spend an evening down the pub with):
- Klaatu and Gort – The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Quick plot rundown: An alien (Klaatu) and his robot (Gort) arrive on Earth as ambassadors. Earthlings misunderstand greeting protocols and shoot alien. Robot neutralises puny Earth weapons. Alien recovers. More misunderstandings when robot neutralises puny Earth electrics. Alien shot again and killed. Robot stopped from neutralising puny Earth permanently by the words, “Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!”. Robot revives alien. Alien delivers ultimatum – “Join us in peace or destroy yourselves!”. Robot and alien leave.Klaatu and Gort were iconic in the classic 1951 movie. Not so much in the remake with Keanu Reeves.
In the 50s version, Klaatu had that classy silver space suit thing going on and was played by the austere and inscrutable Michael Rennie. Gort looked like the ultimate enforcer, huge and menacing. But both just wanted us to play nice. Plus kudos to director Robert Wise for allowing the “Klaatu barada nikto” line remain untranslated and ambiguous.
- Data – Star Trek: The Next Generation
An android striving to become more human, Lt. Commander Data was, after Captain Picard, the best thing in Star Trek: The Next Generation.His constant puzzlement at human foibles and weaknesses, his battles to discover his own identity and his sad/wise commentary on the vagaries of the universe were a joy.His never-ending quest to become more human now seems somehow dated. The idea that an android could find its own destiny, without any need of human involvement had, pre-Battlestar Galactica, yet to be fully explored. But Data, child-like and all-knowing, still compels.
- C3PO and R2D2 – Star Wars and sequels
The Droid odd couple. C3pO, the fussy protocol droid, and R2D2, the feisty little three-wheeler. As much a part of the resistance as their human companions, they are probably the best loved robots in the history of science fiction. Even if Threepio is incredibly annoying at times. As double acts go, it doesn’t get much better than this.
- E. T. – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Small stature, huge eyes, limited vocabulary – yep, if you have one of these hanging around your home costing you a fortune in Ben 10 and Nintendo gear, rent a copy of E.T. and wallow in the unashamed emotional punch Spielberg delivered with this tale of a lonely, stranded alien and its friendship with a lonely, emotionally-stranded boy. Nearly thirty years old now, E.T. and the request to “phone home” are still the most recognisable of cinematic moments.
- Aliens and Mothership – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Another Spielberg movie, this time aimed at adults but with the aliens still in friendly mode. Tall, spindly and humanoid, the creatures with huge, almond-shaped eyes and their shorter brethren had entered popular imagination as typical alien body types. Smiling, communicative and friendly, this is what we thought aliens should be like until Ridley Scott came along a couple of years later and showed us how wrong we were with Alien.
But for that moment we enjoyed the whole hopeful package. Even the mothership became a character in its own right – the musical motif and the light show becoming iconic in their own right. It will be interesting to see how Falling Skies, the Spielberg-produced TV series coming later this year, presents aliens thirty years after Close Encounters.