Are your eyes wide and watery? Limbs prickly with anticipation? Your heart torn between a swoon and a scream? Chances are you’re all primed up for this weekend’s premiere of Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1, which signals the beginning of the end for yet another massive pop culture phenomenon. It is also the latest entry in the “two-part finale” trend that is quickly becoming its own viable subgenre.
As we brace for the penultimate showdown between Bella and Edward and Jacob and Rufus and Sandy and Shadowfeather and Skinwalker (don’t bother correcting me; I drew the line at Harry Potter) let us meditate on the fundamental conflict that all of us, Twilight fans and snide detractors alike, can appreciate. I refer, of course, to the age-old feud between vampires and werewolves. Warring supernatural (or at least non-human) factions are a crucial element of science fiction and fantasy since time immemorial. The involvement of the human race in such a story may be incidental. At other times it is either the possession or destruction of humans that brings the various forces together in combat. In any case, vamps versus wolves is only one of the time-tested feuds that film and television have offered for our amusement. This week, Brett Harrison Davinger and I (Dan Fields) take a look at some other monstrous matchups, scary skirmishes, and curious critter clashes. Now please keep your voice down, and for the safety of the human race, try not to take sides.
Alien vs. Predator (dir. Paul W. S. Anderson, 2004) and
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (dir. the Brothers Strause, 2007)
[SCENE: The world's top scientific minds and eccentric billionaire Lance Henriksen are staring at a holographic image the size of the room they are in. It is clearly a gigantic pyramid reminiscent of an Aztec ruin.]
SOMEONE IN THE ROOM: What the hell is that?
LANCE HENRIKSEN: My experts tell me… it’s a pyramid.
Let us be clear up front. These are not great films. In most measurable ways these are not even good films. However, they represent such a monumental movie crossover that those of us interested in both the Alien and Predator franchises flocked to them anyway. Even now, remembering how bad they were, I find myself tempted to hunt up the double-DVD pack… not to watch it, just to have it around.
Alien(s) vs. Predator was already well established as a pop culture franchise before these movies came about. Initially a series of pulpy comic books which envisioned the two scary aliens in the same universe, the concept managed to become at least two really great video games. Anyone who played Aliens vs. Predator Parts 1 and 2 as first-person shooters on the PC knows what I mean. Apparently the newest version for next-gen consoles was a flop. Shame!
Behold a world in which the Predators are breeding those nasty aliens for ritual hunts. In the first film a group of sexy young scientists blunder into an ancient temple/hunting ground far below Antarctica. Unfortunately, John Carpenter’s Thing is not also there. It seems like a really cool premise, but the writing categorically sucks and the cast of nobodies leave a great deal to be desired.
No sooner than the events of the first film come to a satisfactory close for the human race than things get a heck of a lot worse. A stray baby alien (you know, the kind that pop out of you at the dinner table) has sneaked aboard one of the departing Predators and causes mayhem as a terrifying hybrid of what already qualified as nature’s two most perfect killing machines.
In the ensuing mayhem, the Predators crash land back on earth, allowing the aliens to sneak out into the public at large. This film, in tone and execution, comes much closer to the spirit of a really good Alien/Predator crossover, but still falls flat compared to the impact of its ancestors. In the case of the first film, it seems director Paul W. S. Anderson could not match even the flawed beauty of Event Horizon. And the Brothers Strause, though respected in the special effects industry, could have held out for a really strong script and made the sequel truly excellent. These films are a pair of legendary disappointments, but are still infinitely more watchable than Predators or the third and fourth chapters of the Alien saga.
Mothra vs. Godzilla (dir. Ishirō Honda, 1964)
Mothra vs. Godzilla may stand in for any number of kaiju (Japanese movie monster) crossovers, but as one of the most familiar and popular it deserves a special place at the top. Godzilla, the reptilian darling of the Toho studio, has done a lot of stomping across Tokyo over the years, but is by no means the only host of giant monster brawls. The Daiei company built its own rival kaiju universe around Gamera, the giant turtle whose fierce but friendly attitude has captured its own devoted audience.
The saga of Godzilla, who slumbers beneath the sea and stirs only for the odd typhoon or nuclear blast, is a fairly straightforward monster formula. Mothra, however, has a rather more complicated mythology. Ruling as a deity over her own island, she is chiefly interested in breeding larvae to carry on her legacy. When one of her eggs washes ashore in a storm, interloping humans attempt to capture and exploit it.
Now stay with me… a warning to leave the giant moth egg alone comes in the form of tiny twin priestesses called the Shobijin. Their function is to express the will of Mothra to the outside world and help protect her progeny. Their pleas fail to prevent humans from tampering with and seizing Mothra’s egg, or from preventing nuclear tests on their home island.
When Godzilla happens by for his latest assault on metropolitan Japan, the humans realize that an ally as powerful as Mothra might be a good thing to have. They attempt to make peace with Mothra and her worshipers, with no success. Even the Shobijin cannot appeal to the good graces of their insect goddess, as the loss of her egg and her impending death has presumably left her in a towering funk.
The ailing Mothra could never be induced to sacrifice herself for Japan. However, she is still willing to risk life and wing for her babies. Once Godzilla makes a move on her egg, the fight is on. Despite Godzilla’s unchallenged ability to stomp hotels and melt tanks with a single breath, he gets a pretty good run for his money from the giant all-powerful moth mother. Subjected to the indignity of being dragged around by his tail, the fearsome lizard ends up looking like a fool as Mothra and her hatchlings save the day.
True Blood (created and produced by Alan Ball, 2008-present)
You thought vampires and werewolves could stir up trouble among themselves? Alan Ball’s True Blood, based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, unpacks the concept exponentially by staging a battle royale with just about every conceivable supernatural entity. The vampires hate the werewolves, the werewolves hate the shapeshifters, the shapeshifters hate the skinwalkers, the witches hate everyone but especially the vampires, and the human race has little choice but to live in constant mortal dread.
Cast your minds back to the early days of Sookie Stackhouse, the sassy young waitress who flouted the social order by romancing a gentleman vampire named Bill Compton. In the world of True Blood, vampires walk the night freely among human society. However, the human race is less than welcoming to the unmasked night creatures, and especially in little towns like Bon Temps, Louisiana. Most of Sookie’s friends and family discourage the union, as do Bill’s vampire cohorts. A cultural war is brewing, and radical factions on both sides are simply aching to draw first blood.
The tighter Sookie clings to Bill, the more bizarre and dangerous their life together becomes. In the first season, a killer stalks Bon Temps hoping to eliminate all vampire/human relationships. Just when that problems seems to be solved, stranger things begin coming out of the woodwork.
Rather than steer straight into werewolf lore, season two takes an unexpected turn by introducing a maenad – ancient Bacchanalian nymph – who puts the whole town under a dangerous and sexy spell. The vampires of True Blood are already dangerously divided among themselves, but must frequently drop mutual hostilities to combat a common enemy. The maenad plot takes up most of season 2, leaving a clear opening for werewolves at the beginning of season three.
Bear in mind that Sookie’s friend, especially her closest friend Tara Thornton, tend to get mixed up and damaged in these adventures. Before long the cast has branched into so many distinct storylines that each character gets only a small portion of a given episode. As with ensemble shows like Twin Peaks, everyone can have their own character to root for.
Considering the unorthodox trail blazed in season two, it seems natural that the variety of species in True Blood should become wider and stranger as the series progresses. In addition to werewolves, we meet general-purpose shapeshifters, plus the rogue variety that can turn into other people. Local bar owner Sam Merlotte is a shifter, and in meeting other like himself he usually gets entangled in some woeful story or another. We also discover, thanks to Sookie’s oversexed brother Jason Stackhouse, that with enough inbreeding one can cultivate a whole brood of were-panthers.
Oh, and don’t forget fairies. They have plenty to add on the subject of vampires, and are as intent as everyone else in keeping Sookie out of Bill’s hands. And just when you were ready to relax, here come the necromancers. Those who embrace witchcraft at various levels also constitute a threat to vampire well-being, and you can be sure of some nasty confrontations.
True Blood‘s fourth season recently ended on a high-adrenaline cliffhanger. What lurks up the road for our various heroes and villains? Only time can tell. The vast and imaginatively crafted world of the show has established only one firm rule for itself: anything can happen, and will. Let’s see The Vampire Diaries – or Twilight: The Hastily Spun-Off Series if you prefer – compete with that (Hint: it can’t).
Star Trek (creator Gene Roddenberry, 1966-PRESENT)
When you’re traveling the galaxy, going where no man has gone before, meeting new people, trying new ales, you’re going to run into groups of creatures who want to destroy other groups of creatures. While these shows mostly let us identify with the “humans” (as they generally are the star/Captain), the intergalactic tiffs extend well beyond us v. aliens. There’s Klingons v. Romulans, Vulcans v. Romulans, humans v. Romulans– Romulans are dicks. The most common bad guy in the Star Trek universe, Romulans played the villains in numerous episodes and films, including J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. The Ferengi are another species out solely for themselves, but they behave more as manipulative traders than warriors.
At least the Romulans and the Ferengi have humanoid properties. They can be reasoned with, they have weaknesses, they can be destroyed. Some entities beyond the stars are God-like creatures, all-powerful, at least to the best of our conceptions. These beings might not always have a pure antagonism towards inferior species, but they nevertheless enjoy studying them, messing with them, and maybe destroying them afterward. Like the Q Collective or the Metrons, who forced Kirk to fight a Crocodile Man.
And, of course, many planets spread out across the universe are involved in their own civil wars. Admittedly, I’m not a Star Trek expert and many species seems primarily humanoid so I can’t recall many of them. However, notable examples include the Son’a and the Ba’ku in Star Trek: Insurrection (“Browns and beige people, earth tones!”) and the Ekosians and Zeons in The Original Series‘ Nazi parallel episode “Patterns of Force.”
Even though Earthlings seemed to get over most of their personal issues and divisions by the 23nd century, that doesn’t mean that interstellar racial conflict ended. It’s easier for people to get along when there’s another, larger enemy who we can combine our hate against. Adrian Veidt realized it, and he’s the smartest man on Earth
Doctor Who (creator Sydney Newman, 1963-PRESENT)
The Doctor might look like a human, but he isn’t. He’s a Time Lord from Gallifrey, and his (and his species) greatest enemy is The Daleks.
Originally featured in The Doctor’s second adventure, The Daleks quickly emerged as a dangerous foe. These entities (mutants in a metal suit) threatened Earth and many other galaxies for numerous centuries. They even practically exterminated Earthlings in 2164, causing The Doctor’s granddaughter to stay behind and assist with the rebuilding.
The Doctor’s constant interference with the Daleks’ plans of world domination easily ran afoul of the species, but nothing pissed them off more than the events of Genesis of the Daleks. In that story, the Fourth Doctor travels to the past on a mission to stop the creation of the Daleks. Unwilling to commit genocide and in fear of the effect it would have on the time stream, The Doctor simply retards their progress by about a thousand years.
This action is said to have been the catalyst for The Last Great Time War. Throughout time and space, the Daleks and the Time Lords battled each other to near extinction. However, when Rassilon, the Time Lord’s leader and founder, threatened to destroy the rest of creation to preserve his species, The Doctor destroyed his home planet in order to save everyone else’s. In doing so, he became the Last of the Time Lords and started harboring a tortured past. Although their numbers were diminished, several Daleks survived and continued to wreak havoc on the rest of the galaxy.
The Simpsons: Itchy & Scratchy (creator Matt Groening, 1988-PRESENT)
Violent speciesism happens often in cartoons. Tom and Jerry. Sylvester and Tweety. Daffy and Bugs. Donald and Mickey.
Since the 1920s, Itchy and Scratchy has played a significant role on the alternate America pop culture landscape. Stolen by Roger Meyers, Sr., Itchy and Scratchy served as the genesis of our more than 80-year-old tradition of extreme cartoon violence. Starting with Steamboat Itchy (though the two had been featured in separate cartoons earlier), over the next many decades, they expanded into other realms: commercials for Laramie cigarettes; a Westworld style theme park; an Oscar winning feature film; an X-rated one from the 1970s co-starring R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cat; and a short lived variety show with other, less successful spinoff characters. Though Disgruntled Goat had his moments.
Nevertheless, the animated shorts remain their most lasting legacy, and directors such as Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino have directed their own episodes. The cat and mouse go at each other’s throats, with Itchy regularly getting the upper hand using guns, knives, bombs, missiles, light bulbs, lasers, medical devices, and broken baby bottles. Although prone to monosyllabic sounds, the two animals can talk in full sentences, and they have done so more often over the past few years. Attempts by parents groups to tone down the violence and by studio executives to add more marketable characters have failed, and the cat and mouse remain the classic pairing.
The Last Starfighter (dir. Nick Castle, 1984)
When Xur, a former member of the Rylan Star League, was chosen by the Ko-Dan Emperor to obtain control of Rylos and several other planets, the RSL needed soldiers to assist in its battle. To defend against the encroaching invasion, it sent video games throughout the universe and recruited the high scorers, just like the U.S. Army does.
Although The Last Starfighter is a human (Alex Rogan), the war spreads across numerous star systems. The troops in the Star League come from a variety of different planets and contain different looks that showcase the myriad of alien cultures affected by this war. It’s like the Green Lantern Corps, except these fighters seem more competent and cooler. Alex even befriends a reptilian creature as his copilot.
Like Tron, though to a lesser extent, The Last Starfighter has retained cult popularity over the past three decades. Kevin Smith mixed the concept with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in one episode of his short-lived Clerks cartoon series. Also, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have referenced the movie in both Team America: World Police and South Park (specifically, the Go God Go two-parter).