The two big science fiction-ish hits of Steven Spielberg's early career, Close Encouters and ET, were notable for the niceness of the aliens: little squishy botanist ET wouldn't harm a fly; and although the CE3K aliens appeared to have no concept of how disorientating it may be for humans to be sucked up into a mother ship and returned to their families 60 years later, they were touchy feely nice guys in the end. No alien's perfect, I guess: ET may well have turned rapidly into an alcoholic if he could have tolerated family absence better.
So, while watching Cowboys and Aliens on DVD last night, which Spielberg executive produced, I wondered why he now only seems to be involved with films showing aliens that want to squash humans like so many bugs.
His own War of the Worlds showed physically weak looking aliens who nonetheless thought humans were the most convenient source of blood and bone fertiliser for the lawn; last year's exec produced Super 8 had an alien that was (if I recall correctly) being treated unfairly, but nonetheless was ultra violent in response; and now Cowboys and Aliens had another set of grotesque designed aliens who, despite having the technology to come to Earth in a pretty cool looking spaceship, thought the best way to dispose of interfering mammals is to bite their neck out or stab and slash them with their built in dagger fingers.
Doesn't anyone write science fiction with nice aliens any more?
As for Cowboys and Aliens as a movie: the critical response was about right - not great, not horrendous, but had a bit of a feel of a lost opportunity to do a cool genre mash up better.