It’s shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are a number of films focusing on kids and ETs. Some of them are geared for a kid audience, such as Explorers, The Space Children or (at the same link) Invaders From Mars.
Some are teen-centric such as Pajama Party (same link again). Others, such as E.T., work well for all ages. Super 8 is a nostalgia fest I suspect works much better if you’re old enough to remember the 1980s.
As I noted in my post on The Space Children, family conflict is a running element in a lot of these films. The kids and Mom in the core family are stressed out at relocating to an isolated rocket base for Dad’s job; another kid suffers from an abusive, drunken stepfather. By end of movie, the problems have been resolved. E.T., according to Spielberg, was meant to show a suburban family that was disintegrating in the wake of the parents’ divorce; E.T. again heals them.
Another theme I’m noticing is the idea of children having a secret friend nobody else knows about, or even believes. Which is a concept that can range from innocent and adorable to ominous, depending what the friend really is and what they want. It overlaps with a theme my friend Ross has mentioned, that an alien can serve as a Pied Piper type leading a child in their wake … but where?
The example that sparked Ross’s thought was the Outer Limits episode The Special One. Dignified Mr. Zeno informs a father played by MacDonald Carey (best known for his soap opera career) that his son is a super-intelligent mutant selected for special tutoring by the federal government. In reality Zeno is an alien hoping to recruit the boy’s genius (other aliens are working with other kids) for his plans of conquest, building weapons to attack Earth from within. In the end, Zeno fails: the kid’s a nice, decent Earth boy who wants a nice normal life, not to be feted as a conqueror’s lackey. It’s an uninspired episode (I’ll be discussing Outer Limits‘ mixed record when I finish the first season), partly because the kid’s stiff and wooden.
The alien in Alien Lover, a 1975 episode of Wide World of Mystery, a late-night ABC series. Kate Mulgrew is a teenager who who had a mental collapse after the death of her parents; recently released from a mental hospital, she’s staying with uncle Pernell Roberts and his family. When the TV in her MIT-genius cousin’s lab starts talking to her, Mulgrew assumes she’s delusional. Or maybe her cousin’s playing a trick? The delusion introduces himself as Mark, resident of a parallel world where parents are banished as soon as they give birth — no oppressor parental figures harshing their freedom, man! The cousin eventually reveals Mark talked to him too, trying to gain access to Earth so his people can invade. Mulgrew, however, is in love and she doesn’t really care what Mark wants if he’ll be her friend. Suffice to say, Mark ends up with more success than Mr. Zeno found.
In 1984, British TV adapted CHOCKY, one of John Wyndham’s novels (yes, the same guy who gave us Day of the Triffids and Midwich Cuckoos). A young middleclass couple are bemused when their son Matthew suddenly acquires an imaginary friend, just like his younger sister. Then they notice Chocky inspires Matt to ask really strange questions — why aren’t cows more intelligent? Why are their two sexes? And what sort of kid in that era would imagine a nonbinary friend (though they settle for calling Chocky a “she” after the son says she’s bossy, just like girls are)? A psychiatrist friend talks to Matthew and gives the parents a startling conclusion: Chocky, whoever or whatever she is, is real.
It turns out Chocky is an alien consciousness, seeking to help us through Matthew. Unlike Klaatu, it’s pure selflessness: intelligent life is rare and they want to help ours flourish. By steering Matthew into science, Chocky would have eventually inspired him to discover a new source of cheap, clean energy, transforming the world. Unfortunately she told him too much too soon and the powers that be are now interested. Fearful they’ll kill him to preserve the status quo, Chocky decides she needs to go; Matthew’s life can return to normal and he’ll be out of danger.
It’s an excellent story and unlike Second Chance the kid playing Matthew is up for the role. British TV made a couple of sequel series, which I’ll watch soon.
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