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9:01 p.m. - 2018-08-07
A while ago I pointed out similarities between "Alien" and an earlier scifi/horror movie called "It! The Terror from Beyond Space." Now after viewing another 1950s movie of the same genre called "Them!" I am struck by its similarity to "Aliens," the sequel to "Alien."

"Them!" is about the discovery of a colony of giant mutant ants in the New Mexico desert--the result of radiation-induced mutations following nuclear testing near Alamogordo. Scientists warn that, if the ants are allowed to migrate and proliferate in other areas, it could be the beginning of the end for humankind. A united effort of scientists, law enforcement and military sets out to find and destroy the mutant insects. Though the story begins in the wide open spaces of New Mexico there are several memorably dark and claustrophobic scenes in a remote general store, the ant colony and a labyrinthine storm drain network under Los Angeles.

So in both "Them!" and "Aliens" we have military style operations aimed at finding and destroying xenomorphs (the giant ants). In both movies there is widespread skepticism about the seriousness (perhaps even the very existence) of the threatening species. Innocent lives are lost, but bravery, team effort and individual self-sacrifice eventually lead to the destruction of the deadly creatures.

The creatures in the Alien franchise have more than a passing resemblance to ants and other social insects. They inhabit a nest guarded by fierce warrior/soldiers, ruled by a large and formidable queen, and reproduce by laying vast quantities of eggs which are hidden in the deep tunnels of the hive. Even the parasitic phase of alien reproduction (the "face hugger") is mirrored by the behavior of some wasps, which paralyze spiders and lay their eggs within the spiders's body.

Some of the best-known characters in "Aliens" have at least a rough counterpart in "Them!" Although there is no female in the 1954 movie who shows the courage and leadership of Ellen Ripley, the myrmecologist Pat Medford shows strength and independence in defending her father and later insisting on being allowed to accompany the men into the ants' nest. Pat's determination and courage are even more impressive when we take into account that the movie takes place just a few years before the "Mad Men" era, when it would have been exceptional for a "mere" woman even to get a degree in science. Ironically Ripley's maternal protection for the young girl Newt in "Aliens" is most closely paralleled by the behavior of State Trooper Ben Peterson, who looks out for the little girl found wandering in the desert and later sacrifices his own life to save two young boys.

Newt, the lone survivor of the colonists on LV-426 also has multiple counterparts. The Ellinson girl who somehow has managed to survive the attack of the ants is appealing and sympathetic; she draws us into the story almost from the first scene. The later rescue of Newt by Ripley is paralleled by Peterson's rescue of two boys in the storm drains. Also noteworthy is that the soldiers, like Ripley, use both guns and flame throwers to fend off the attacking monsters.

There is no equivalent to the mercenary company Weyland-Yutani, unless it is the callous disregard of twentieth century society to the possible consequences of atomic power unwisely used. There are no androids in "Them!", and the other strong female characters in "Aliens" have to counterpart in the earlier film. FBI agent Graham could be seen as a loose parallel to Hicks, but the memorably comic Hudson has no predecessor, unless it be the handful of extroverted alcoholics the investigators encounter in a Los Angeles "drunk tank."

"Ant Man and the Wasp" features a scene for "Them!" near the end of the movie, but "Aliens" has a more direct lineage to the 1954 film.


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