'Extraterrestrial’: No Cuddly Creatures Here


It seems that “real” aliens are all the rage these days. Hot on the heels of Discovery Channel’s Alien Planet, National Geographic Channel explores what might be out there in Extraterrestrial.

Like Discovery, Nat Geo consulted a brain trust of respected scientists, armed with computer models projecting everything from climate to atmospheric composition to extrapolate what life might be on alien worlds.

Like the Discovery project, Extraterrestrial uses CGI to bring the creatures and their environments to life.

And like Discovery, Nat Geo did not find any little green men.

The special, a well-thought-out work of speculative fiction, spotlights two planets that could be found by an orbital telescope in the near future.

The first planet visited, called Aurelia, orbits a red dwarf star. Aurelia is locked in the star’s gravitational field, which has stopped the planet’s rotation, leaving one side a frozen wasteland and the other permanently in daylight — and teeming with life.

The aliens in Extraterrestrial are a far cry from Steven Spielberg’s cuddly E.T. The planet is dominated by giant plantlike animals called Stinger Fans, slowly crawling across the land. At their feet live a small six-legged creature and the birdlike predator. The waters are patrolled by a tiny amphibious animal that hunts for prey in swarms.

The second planet, called Blue Moon, is a moon circling a gas giant in a twin star solar system. Its atmosphere is three times denser than Earth’s, allowing the moon’s life forms to spend their lives in the air as if they lived in an ocean. Large Skywhales glide through the atmosphere grazing on the plankton that drifts along the air currents. Flora consist of a giant, interconnected plant and a seaweed-like plant that suspends itself with giant air bladders. Every ecosystem needs an apex predator, and here it is the Caped Stalker, which hunts intelligently and in packs.

The CGI creatures and environment at times look almost real and create a rich viewing experience. As one would expect from Nat Geo, the science is sound and there are plenty of interviews explaining why the scientists envisioned certain life forms.

Extraterrestrial might not get as much attention as the heavily-hyped Alien Planet, but it is definitely worth a look.

Extraterrestrial debuts May 30 at 9 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel.