“They’re archaeologists!” says an obviously pleased Henry Jones when he discovers that aliens have an interest in human cultural history.
It’s a throw-away line in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” the latest installment of the popular (and lucrative) Indiana Jones franchise. This ongoing cinematic success – in case you’ve been living in a bank vault since 1981 – features a slouch-hatted professor who is as practiced with his fists as he is with off-handedly dishing out Olmec and Mayan history.
The premise of the "Crystal Skull" is that aliens have come to Earth. Jones' mission – which he takes on only under duress – will eventually get them to leave. Lamentably, the story line is less than crystal clear, and credibility is flagrantly absent. But when
In nearly every other film in which extraterrestrials have alighted on our planet, their intentions are malevolent or insipid. They either blow the place apart (e.g., “Independence Day”) or help neighborhood kids have fun (e.g., “E.T.”)
But what would motivate real aliens to come to Earth? Detonating the White House – while amusing in its own way, and probably without consequence – hardly sounds like a project justifying a trip of hundreds of light-years. A romp with the local rug rats is similarly implausible.
Equally suspect are scenarios in which the extraterrestrials have come for the water or other natural resources. These are substances they can find much closer to home, thereby ensuring that the transport costs don’t dominate the price tag.
But what the aliens can’t find at home – what is inevitably special in a universe where chemistry and physics are everywhere the same – is culture. Our physics texts will inevitably mirror theirs. But our art works, music, and literature won't.