The Earth. Home to millions of species. But what might live … beyond?
So begins Netflix’s fantastical sci-fi nature docuseries Alien Worlds. It’s a feast for the eyes and mind, rearranging scientific observations about our world into fascinating scenarios on imaginary planets beyond.
The cinematography is excellent with high-resolution graphics. The scientists are knowledgeable and down to earth. Our narrator’s melodious voice lends a lullaby-like element to the series, as if she’s reading you a story while you lie in bed. To further titillate the mind, the CG animation is high-quality.
Attention: Spoilers ahead!
The four-part mini-series explores what alien life and life-forms may be like on four fictional planets.
The series comes from a macro-evolutionary bias.1 I noticed an interesting theme that I will share later.
Over four thousand exoplanets (planets that exist outside our solar system) have been discovered. This leads to a rather exciting thought that trillions of planets exist in the universe. Does alien life exist on those worlds? How would the different compositions affect the evolution of alien life?
Focusing mainly on alien life in two categories: predators and grazers (prey), we take a glimpse into the unknown.
The four planets of Alien Worlds
Our first fictional world, Atlas, portrays how alien life may evolve on a world that is double the size of Earth, with twice the gravitational force. The evolution of the species is centered on surviving this dense environment.
Through the view of a professional paraglider floating on air currents, we learn about the thermal layer of gravity. Falcons show us how they use the force of gravity to drop onto prey from the sky.
On Atlas, our grazers, the six-winged herbivores never land. Our predators, bug-like bad boys use hydrogen-producing bacteria to inflate their sacks and attack from the skies. However, Atlas’s greater gravitational force lures asteroids. Could these species survive an asteroid impact?
Janus is a planet locked into orbit around its red dwarf sun. One side is in perpetual day and the other endless night with an eternal sliver of twilight in the center. How would alien life evolve to live in extreme environments?
Back on Earth, we follow the leaf cutter ant colony with a polyphenic trait that allows for different types of ants to arise from one genotype. Or, to put it in Parker-speak, they all come from the same larvae but based on diet, genes are switched off and on to provide the colony with the type of labor needed—workers, foragers, and soldiers.
The ten-eyed hermaphrodite pentapods of Janus are the dominant form of life. Born in the twilight, they use the winds to scatter their spawn across the planet. Whether they land in sunlight, moonlight, or twilight, the pentapods’ survival is guaranteed because they adapt to the environment.
Eden orbits two stars and boasts of high oxygen levels and an axis tilt of 31 degrees. Under these conditions, life thrives, leading to greater competition among the species. Predators get better at hunting; prey get better at running.
Guppy fish provide an example of an animal who reproduces based on the level of predation in their area. Lots of predators lead the guppy mama to produce numerous small babies. If the level of predation is low, the guppy mama gives birth fewer and bigger babies.
The grazers on Eden are too busy trying to survive to take time to date. Instead, they release worm-like spawn which goes in search for a partner and fuse together to create a cocoon that soon lifts into the trees to protect the young from predators.
Terra is a dying world whose sun has grown bigger and brighter as it aged. Due to this, the world is barren, but the formless advanced intelligent species lives in artificial domes and are serviced by robots. Their sun’s volatility causes them to have to relocate to another planet further away.
Scientist states that the future of energy consumption will shift to using the sun’s energy to power our civilization. Showcasing the Noor Solar panel plant, it gives us a glimpse into a possible future of maximizing the use of our star.
The citizens of Terra use their sun’s energy to help manufacture a new world further out in their solar system. Thus, the star that ends their life on Terra makes it possible for them to live on new Terra.
Analysis and underlying theme
Each planet is used to highlight how evolution would possibly shape alien life. On Atlas, evolution shaped the life due to the planet’s unique characteristics. Janus’s alien life evolved based on the characteristic of its proximity to the star. Eden’s alien life evolved due to an abundance of optimal conditions on their world. The inhabitants of Terra evolved to where they no longer need bodies and thus, are free from the clutches of evolutionary processes.
In every scenario, the focus is on survival. I couldn’t help but wonder if the writers and makers knew of the rather dismal outlook they poured into this otherwise fantastic series. All life is only here to survive.
This is clearly seen on the last planet, Terra. This hypothetical race of super intelligent beings had evolved to where they no longer needed their bodies. They existed in artificial domes in square boxes as “neural tissue.” As the narrator points out, “They never age. They never die. Each is an individual but are connected to think as one. A hive mind. They are monitored and maintained by robots.”
Perhaps all the other planets were still in the process of evolving, and the Terran inhabitants reached the pinnacle of their development.
As I sat watching these inhabitants, I mourned for them. Do they create works of art any more? Does someone sing a song or tell stories any more? Did they have family barbecues or witness the wonder of the birth of a newborn baby? Do they even care anymore about exploring the universe as we are so excited to do? Or, were they just focusing on surviving in smarter ways? And, with highly intelligent robots doing all the work, I guess they have nothing else to do but—be fed glucose from plants.
Is this the utopia of the evolutionary process? If it is, count me out.
As I listened to this, I couldn’t help but think how differently God speaks of our existence:
- God created the Earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18).
- We have stewardship (Genesis 1:26).
- God created us for relationship with him (Genesis 3:9).
- After humans disobeyed God, he cursed creation (Genesis 3:17).
- He speaks of the bad times we’ll have (John 16:33), the good times we’ll have (John 10:10), and our temporary existence (Psalm 90:9-10).2.
- Our new bodies to come (1 Corinthians 15:50-52).
Life is about more than survival.3
Alien Worlds was a great and thoughtful exercise of what possibly lies beyond. For writers, it gave a decent framework for practicing world-building for galactic exploration, advanced civilizations, and colonization. For Christians, the series showed a wonderful look at creation in glorious detail. But when Alien Worlds focused on survival as the only reason to exist, it showed dismal weakness.
Which alien world did you like the most? What does your alien world look like? The series focused on predators and prey, but what would you have done differently? What places on Earth might seem truly alien? Share your thoughts.
- I do not adhere to that school of thought, but still found the show enjoyable. ↩
- After seeing the inhabitants of Terra, thank goodness! Another thought I had was that these inhabitants without bodies do not experience the pleasures we have of the temporal world—basking in sunlight, playing in the water, eating fried chicken, and the intimate connection of human touch. How sad! ↩
- I am reminded of the movie, A Quiet Place, where blind alien monsters attack. The mom and dad, in the beginning of the movie, lost their son to one of the aliens. A year later, we find them pregnant with another child. Fans had plenty of discussion about how irresponsible the mom and dad were to get pregnant in a world full of man-killing aliens. But, I have to wonder: are we only meant to survive? Or, are we meant to thrive? Some people swear that the blind, random, macro-evolutionary process is beautiful. Yet, as depicted in the series there was nothing beautiful about it. ↩