"Look out, puny world of humans, here I come!" Babies are supposed to be tender, fragile, and altogether lovable, not lethal weapons emerging from the womb ready to threaten mankind. Yet Vincenzo Natali's Splice, which opens tomorrow, features not one but two disquieting birth scenes. The second is more disturbing, as a quickly-developing fetus grabs hold of biochemist Sarah Polley and doesn't want to let go, requiring the intervention of fellow scientist (and love interest) Adrian Brody to come between them.
Splice features a high degree of entertainment value, especially after it takes a turn into darker, more outlandish -- and funnier -- territory. I think it's too outrageous to be truly unsettling, but I enjoyed myself, and it offers food for discussion, especially for fans of both horror and science fiction. The latter element is important in establishing the initial tone and setting, so it's inevitable that I began thinking of other distinctive sci-fi babies, beginning with, perhaps, the most obvious.
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
The first time I saw the movie, I had no freakin' clue what the ending might possibly mean. In the years since then, I've read the book, I've read many reviews, I've seen the movie maybe 18-20 times, and I think I have a better idea. The collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke reflects Kubrick's sensibility much more than Clarke's, but Clarke's scientific grounding allowed the film to take flight. And the startling image of the Star-Child -- a baby in space -- is indelible.
If only they had listened to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)! The creature that has attached itself to Kane (John Hurt) was all safe and warm in its egg and native habitat, but the Nostromo crew becomes witness to a gross, disgusting, and very upsetting "birth" scene.
If you're watching Splice and something about the fusion of DNA from different creatures seems awfully familiar, here's the connection: the splicing of alien and human DNA in Species produces a new and unique form of life, one that rapidly becomes Michelle Williams and then Natasha Henstridge. The tale of a baby who becomes a babe moves forward relentlessly under the expert hand of director Roger Donaldson.
4. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Hello, melodrama! As Padme (Natalie Portman) goes into labor, her beloved Annie (Hayden Christensen) is going through his own changes. The birth sequence, with a robotic midwife, is a bit much, but it produces two key characters, and thus, two of the most important babies in science fiction cinema history.
Another possible inspiration for Splice, as noted by Jacob Hall a few months ago, this 1976 potboiler stars Rock Hudson as a scientist who goes mucking around with the genes of a hapless fetus. Amazingly, the fetus turns into Barbara Carrera -- lucky break! -- in just a matter of days. Alas, things do not go well, especially after said scientist falls for the newly-adult babe.
A cautionary tale for would-be parents, David's Lynch's nightmare pits Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) against his newborn child, a mutant baby who can't stop crying. And screaming. And screeching. Like many new parents, Henry feels like he can't take it anymore, as though he's losing his mind. This is the apocalypse in one room (basically).
7. The Andromeda Strain
A screaming baby also plays an important role in Robert Wise's adaptation of the Michael Crichton bestseller. The child and an old alcoholic are the only two survivors in a town that's been decimated by an alien virus. Scientists race against the clock to discover the link between the two; this is one time when you don't want the baby to stop crying.
8. Star Trek
Origin stories can't start any earlier than this. Amidst tragic circumstances, James T. Kirk makes a great entrance into the universe in the opening sequence of J.J. Abrams' reboot.
At last, something normal: an infant who ages at a normal rate. Of course, Kal-El is no ordinary human, and he has the benefit of three years of interstellar travel to soak up the wisdom of the universe before landing on Earth. The person we first meet as a baby will grow up to become the protector of mankind.
10. Children of Men
In a world with no babies, the future of mankind rests upon the survival of an unborn child. Alfonso Cuaron's great drama throbs with the rhythms of a decaying universe, sparked to life by the cry of a baby. The simplest things mean the most.