Wasp-Men From Mars isn’t being created in a vacuum. It’s inspired by many of my favorite sci-fi and horror films and TV shows. I will take a look at a few of them and how they inspired the short. Today’s inspiration: Tremors.
During my most recent viewing of Tremors I looked for the character arcs. I’ve seen the film several times, but if I was asked how Val and Earl changed, all I would’ve been able to say was that Val learned to appreciate a woman who didn’t meet his ideal, but that’s not much of a character arc. No, what Tremors is about is two intelligent men who have always been viewed as screw-ups who finally live up to their potential. All it took was a push from some violent monsters.
The film starts by a cliff, where Val and Earl are setting up barbwire fences after a stampede prank and an argument over who’s making breakfast. As Earl stretches out some barbwire, he hurts himself and spits out, “Is this a job for intelligent men?” Val’s response is, “I don’t know. Show me one and I’ll ask him.” This moment establishes Val’s personal struggle: he thinks they’re screw-ups. And everyone else in Perfection, NV, thinks so, too. No one believes that they’re gonna leave town for something better. Their leadership is questioned during the battle with the graboids, when Burt calls them out as screw-ups, and mockingly calls Val, “fearless leader.”
Earl recognizes that they’re smart, and he’ll have the opportunity to prove it, so it’s Val who has to go through the most growth. Earl even pushes Val during the film when he scolds him for never having a plan.
Compare them to Burt and Heather, the gun-loving survivalists. They’re the take-charge pair. Sure, they’re mocked for their survivalism, but on the surface they’re better equipped to be the heroes. And while Val and Earl are stuck in Perfection with hopes of leaving, Burt and Heather want to be there.
Meanwhile, all the characters acknowledge how smart the “graboids” are. They’re the perfect monsters to show Val and Earl’s growth: they’re intelligent, problem-solving creatures. Val and Earl need to outsmart them to save themselves and the others.
Even the deaths of the graboids show a progression our leads’ development: the first is killed by dumb luck, the second by the prepared and equipped Burt and Heather, and the third by Earl, who comes up with a good plan. That leaves the final showdown between Val, the one who didn’t seem convinced in his intelligence, and Stumpy, the smartest of the graboids. Pay attention to the dialogue during the climax. Val dismisses Earl and Rhonda’s advice to throw the bomb and recognizes that Stumpy isn’t falling for their trick. “This one ain’t dumb.” He embraces his intelligence when he says, “This son of a bitch ain’t smarter than us.” He finally comes up with his own “goddamn plan.” And he does this near the cliff where he had mocked the idea of being an intelligent man. As a matter of fact, when his plans goes into effect, Earl and Rhonda, both of whom already proved their intelligence, abandon Van by the cliff, leaving him to face Stumpy alone. And he wins.
So how was Wasp-Men From Mars inspired by this? Well, like the graboids, the Wasp-Men push my characters to their limits, although the characters don’t succeed the way that Val and Earl did. In fact, one of my characters, when pushed, makes a terrible, selfish decision while another makes the smart, heroic decision. But the truth of who these characters are deep-down wouldn’t come out without the Wasp-Men.
There’s even a scene where the characters speculate about the monsters’ origins. It’s not a rip-off of the speculation scene in Tremors, which is one of my favorite scenes, but I do lovingly refer to it as the “Tremors scene.”
While I was hoping to achieve a tone similar to Tremors when I was writing Wasp-Men, it ended up developing its own tone, one that’s made the film stronger. It will probably never become a beloved classic like Tremors, but I’m hoping that it will at least be better than the sequels.
Next: Buffy the Vampire Slayer