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For the last few weeks, I've been chatting about serious real-world aspects of science fiction filmmaking, like movie grosses and award nominations and what it all means and so on. But this week I'd like to get back to the basics. To the essentials. To what really matters in scifi cinema.
And thus: A list of the pros and cons of totally getting killed by various scifi creatures. In chronological order:
1. Stormtroopers (The Star Wars series, 1977-2005)
Approved methods of killing: Shooting you with laser guns; setting fire to your moisture farm with you inside (which suggests your attempts at moisture farming are not so successful).
Pros: Stormtroopers are rumored to kill lots of folks on a daily basis, so at least you're dying in an efficient and government-approved way.
Cons: Aside from just being dead (we'll take that as a given going forward): Really? Shot by a Stormtrooper? The dudes make one shot in ten thousand, and the one that hits, hits you? That's gotta suck.
2. Deceptively Friendly Aliens (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977)
Approved methods of killing: Luring you to a remote location and then conning you into entering their spaceships where they will do horrible things to you. Oh, don't look so shocked. You always knew that was going on.
Pros: At least you got away from that annoying synth theme.
Cons: The snickering the cute aliens indulge in before they do the deed.
3. The Alien (The Alien series, 1979-2007)
Approved methods of killing: Bursting from your chest; drilling into your skull with auxiliary teeth; spraying you with acid blood; violating you impressively with a sharp and pointy tail.
Pros to dying this way: It's a perfect killing machine, like a shark or Simon Cowell, so at least you know you're being killed by the best; nothing says "party" like a chest burster.
Cons to dying this way: You might wake up cocooned and when your friends find you they'll set a flamethrower on you. Which is painful and also real friends don't burn each other. Also, Weyland-Yutani is likely too cheap for a nice funeral.
4. Klingons (The Star Trek series, 1979-2009)
Approved methods of killing: Photon torpedoes, phasers and/or disruptors, Bat'leths, headbutts with crenelated foreheads.
Pros: It is a good day to die!
Cons: Your frantic explanations that if they just wait until the Next Generation timeline kicks in we'll all be friends fall on deaf ears.
5. The Thing (The Thing, 1982)
Approved methods of killing: Waiting until the two of you are alone, then whipping tentacles into your eyes and orifices, and becoming you; biting off your arms inside a suddenly toothy abdomen.
Pros: As you are stationed in Antarctica, you no longer have to be cold, smelly and eating nothing but canned peas during the six month night.
Cons: Talk about identity theft. You just know the thing is going to run up your credit cards, and, like, buy Snuggies or something.
6. Replicants (Blade Runner, 1982)
Approved methods of killing: Shooting you; crushing your brain via your eye sockets; suffocating you with their hot gymnast thighs.
Pros: As you die you may be able to appreciate the irony of dying prior to a creature genetically designed to expire quickly.
Cons: Either just before or as you die, they may wish to engage you in a series of philosophical conundrums, which is odd timing and anyway, as if you weren't busy.
7. Sil (Species, 1995)
Approved methods of killing: Murdering you after she's mated with you, unless you're genetically unfit and pushy, in which case she'll give you a french kiss that takes out your brain stem.
Pros: You know all those times you said that you wanted to die while having sex with a really hot woman? Well, guess what?
Cons: As she's killing you, you'll likely wish to revise that previous statement.
8. The Bugs (Starship Troopers, 1997)
Approved methods of killing: Biting, slicing, dicing; rather improbably launching flaming projectiles at spaceships in orbit out of the tail end of their digestive systems.
Pros: These babies can kill 100,000 humans an hour, so you'll likely die with friends.
Cons: As you die you'll wonder if this isn't some sort of karmic retribution for that time as a kid with an anthill and a magnifying lens (answer: Oh, you betcha).
9. Martian Tripods (War of the Worlds, 2005)
Approved methods of killing: Zapping you into dust; setting your escape train on fire.
Pros: Well, if you wanted to be cremated, you got your wish.
Cons: The knowledge that that if you had just managed to hold on another couple of hours, that Kleenex covered with the swine flu you've just recovered from would've taken them out.
10. The Na'vi (Avatar, 2009)
Approved methods of killing: Poison-tipped arrows with shafts as thick as broomsticks; having their pet flying dragons bite the hell out of you; leading you up the Hallelujah Mountains and pushing you off.
Pros: A sort of natural and organic death with none of those troubling industrial overtones.
Cons: In the afterlife, the Na'vi goddess Eywa will point and laugh at you for being such a skxawng.
So: Which death would you choose?
Winner of the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man's War and Zoe's Tale. He's also Creative Consultant for the Stargate: Universe television series. His column appears every Thursday.