Created By: WeAreAllKosh on October 15, 2012 Last Edited By: WeAreAllKosh on January 7, 2013

Alien Home Planet Capital Shot

A shot that establishes action in an alien race capital, with scene porn of its fantastic architecture

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Trope
Usually seen in science fiction TV series involving multiple alien races in its story line. The main action of such series usually occurs in a "neutral" place (such as a space station) or on a starship, but when the plot of a particular episode or scene occurs on the home planet of one of the show's alien races, we'll often see a still Establishing Shot of a major metropolis or capital on that alien planet. This shot will often display fantastic architecture that characterizes the race, such as buildings with crystalline spires for "advanced and enlightened" races, or for a warrior race heavily fortified structures (maybe under a reddish sky). A race with some sort of totalitarian government might show a capital with severe blocklike architecture reminiscent of the Soviet Union (and perhaps a bleak grey sky), a monarchy might show something like the "old quarter" of a European city (along with a stylish palace), a more hardscrabble race might exhibit a chaotic jumble of buildings or something akin to a Mideastern bazaar, etc.

Such scenes are Eye Candy and can show some cool artistry. The trope covers when such scenes are still shots of an alien skyline, usually for a few seconds before the storyline continues someplace within that setting.

Examples:

Film

  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace offers us the estabilishing first introduction of Coruscant, complete with the comments from the local Captain Obvious. Since there's no Earth in Star Wars, everyone there qualifies as alien.

  • In David Lynch's adaptation of Dune, the House Harkonnen seat on Geidi Prime looks like an industrial wasteland under a dark gloomy sky, while another shot of the planet itself shows the surface itself as black (almost like a theoretical "carbon planet").

Live-Action TV

  • Various series of the Star Trek franchise featured these, showing the Klingon capital on Qonos (gloomy sky, buildings lit in red), the Bajoran (a spiritual or religious race) capital (lots of temples and greenery), the Cardassian capital (1984-like architecture, grey sky), the Vulcan capital, the Romulan capital (with 1984-like architecture mixed with Ancient Grome), etc., as well as future San Francisco where Starfleet was headquartered.

  • Babylon 5 displayed the capital on Centauri Prime (a monarchy with architecture like Renaissance Europe); a crystal-spired metropolis on Minbar; the Narn capital (low fortified buildings and red sky); and a Drazi metropolis (narrow bazaar-like streets); all in such establishing shots throughout the show. The Earth capital ("Earth Dome", in Geneva) also got such a shot, as did the major city of Mars for various episodes involving this planet. Then there was the stock shot of Z'ha'dum, with its eerie stone spires, Mordor-like dark and chaotic landscape, and noxious-looking foggy atmosphere.

  • Stargate SG-1 liked to do this on the rare worlds like Langara and Hebridan that had civilizations comparable to or more advanced than Earth's.

  • Doctor Who's Gallifrey: The Time Lords' home planet is only ever actually seen like this unless you're inside, at which point it looks equally amazing. Any establishing shot will be the first one, though.
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • October 15, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Romulus was also a famous "Trek" scene: 1984-like architecture mixed with Ancient Grome. All gray.
  • October 15, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Also, Bajor didn't have Crystal Spires. It had Temples. Lots of them.
  • October 15, 2012
    StarSword
    • Stargate SG 1 liked to do this on the rare worlds like Langara and Hebridan that had civilizations comparable to or more advanced than Earth's.
  • October 15, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    As for Bajor, it had been awhile since I'd seen Deep Space Nine--but I think you're right, come to think of it, so I changed the above description. "Space Elves" kind of fits them in some ways (but was heavily subverted in the show, where we got to see some fissures and ugliness in their society--and they weren't that advanced relatively either), but that may not be a good description of them either--they were more a priestly or religious race.
  • October 15, 2012
    fulltimeD
    They were way too divided culturally, politically and religiously to really count as Space Elves. They had just endured decades of Cardassian oppression. The Cardies had left their planet in ruins. They spent the first 3 or 4 seasons before the Dominion War rebuilding. And they couldn't agree on how to rebuild, half the time. They went through several governments, including a coup and brief rule by a xenophobic military junta, and their government and religious orders continued to play dirty politics straight through to the Dominion War Arc when everybody more or less got on the same side, except, of course, for Kai Winn. That's not a subversion. It's just not an example to begin with. They were never Space Elves. They were always a protoypical Nation in Exile; displaced people like the ones you'd find in today's refugee camps.

    The Vulcans are the Space Elves of Star Trek.
  • October 15, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Perhaps the Bajorans saw themselves as such more than anything. They saw themselves as sort of a chosen race (chosen by the "Prophets"), and some of them could be quite self-righteous about all that. They were the stock "spiritual people" of the franchise, anyway. And Sisko seemed to rhapsodize about their world a lot, believing it to be the most beautiful place he'd ever seen or imagined. Their cities (as seen in the shot described above) look almost utopic in their greenery. They seemed to come across as the "peaceful agrarian spiritually-enlightened people" who were victimized by the horrible space Nazis, in the story (and maybe the history really was that cut-and-dried--and either way, the Cardassians did do horrible and inexcusable things to them). There were a few elements like this suggesting Space Elves I guess, but those were more their impression of themselves than anything, and the trope itself probably doesn't fit. I'll get rid of that link on their name above.
  • October 15, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Is there a trope for the "spiritual" or "religious" alien race (where that's a heavily-defining, or in some cases strawmanned, trait), btw? A "Planet Of Hats" category parallel to, say, Proud Warrior Race Guy ? I've been looking for one. The Space Elves trope would probably overlap with that a lot (although Space Elves can be races that emphasize logic or rationality as well--Vulcans would be "logical" Space Elves, but Minbari (Babylon 5) would be religious/spiritual Space Elves), but as pointed out here not all spiritual races would be Space Elves.
  • October 15, 2012
    ShadowHog
    Qo'nos's sky is more greenish blue, isn't it? ("Sins of the Father", if it matters.)
  • October 15, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Ah yes--perhaps I was remembering the reddish lights of the buildings. But that green-blue tint is pretty dark and gloomy though. Made appropriate changes in above draft.

    Narn's sky was red--and they were (to some extent) a Proud Warrior Race Guy race, or at least portrayed that way in the beginning (but a strength of Babylon 5 was that no one, or no race, was quite what they appeared). But I think the only times we saw a scene of the Narn homeworld was after the Centauri bombarded the place with asteroids, so perhaps the red sky was the result of all that debris in the air.
  • October 15, 2012
    NimmerStill
    Isn't this just an Establishing Shot? Why *wouldn't* they do this, given that the action does in fact take place inside that city?
  • October 15, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    True, but in this trope, the city is fictional and alien (or else a fictional imagining of a real Earth city in the far future), and thus subject to a lot of artistic license: its designed appearance gives clues (as described) to the general culture of the aliens (or future humans), which may be a Planet Of Hats to some degree. I think it is often done to be Eye Candy too (much like a lot of sci-fi scenery), where the artist or production team gets to show off a little.
  • October 16, 2012
    StarSword
    @WeAreAllKosh: I think the trope you're looking for six posts up would be a version of Proud Scholar Race, possibly overlapping with the religious version of Scary Dogmatic Aliens.

    As for this trope, I'm not sure it it qualifies to be a subtrope of Establishing Shot, or if it's The Same But More Specific.
  • October 16, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Proud Scholar Race makes specific mention of the mystical/spiritual variant, as well as the more Vulcan-like super-rational stoic variant.
  • October 16, 2012
    fulltimeD
    @ We Are All Kosh: good. yeah, it's a stretch. I can think of many better examples from "Trek" of the Space Elves trope, and examples from other fiction that are deconstructions, subversions, etc, but the Bajorans just don't come to mind. They were always conceived of as an analog for the displace persons of the 3rd world, and later, arguably, both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
  • October 20, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    I think what distinguishes this from a normal Establishing Shot of a city is that it can provide a concise vehicle for a number of tropes involving Planet Of Hats races: red skies or lighting for warrior races, gloomy settings or severe architecture for totalitarian races, gleaming crystal spires for "enlightened" races, etc. (as described in the draft).

    Especially in the modern day, a typical stock Establishing Shot of, say, New York or Shanghai, will tell you little if anything about the culture of either city or nationality--as the architecture of both skylines is fairly similar. Whereas if the cities are fictionalized, a number of liberties can be taken, and usually there are more tropish clues to the underlying culture.
  • October 20, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Also, EstablishingShots aren't always still skyline shots, but can depict street scenes (like bikini-clad women walking around Miami in Burn Notice, hot dog vendors and cabs in New York, steel drummers in the Caribbean, etc.), which would provide more information about the culture or invoke iconic images of life in that setting. Whereas this proposed trope is confined to (fictional) skyline shots, and once again cultural information is conveyed by the appearance of the overall city itself (often using various tropes).
  • October 21, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    Would Capital Of Hats Shot be a better name? I noticed that a better name for this trope has been called for, and this name reenforces that it is used to convey information about the alien culture through artistic license, often using tropes itself in the scenery details.
  • October 21, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    Doctor Who's Gallifrey: The Time Lords' home planet is only ever actually seen like this unless you're inside, at which point it looks equally amazing. Any establishing shot will be the first one, though.
  • October 21, 2012
    aurora369
    Star Wars Episode I offers us the estabilishing first introduction of Coruscant, complete with the comments from the local Captain Obvious. Since there's no Earth in Star Wars, everyone there qualifies as alien.
  • October 27, 2012
    fulltimeD
    re: The Narn Homeworld

    In G'Kar's flashbacks to his father's lynching in "Dust to Dust," the sky of Narn already looked pretty red, so it was definitely this way before the Centauri bombarded it with asteroids.
  • October 29, 2012
    WeAreAllKosh
    You're right--adjusted accordingly above.
  • October 29, 2012
    StarSword
    Video Games
    • Mass Effect 2 liked using these during the approach cinematic to major planets. It's a stark contrast between the gleaming, glittering skyscrapers of Illium, which is sort of the asari equivalent of New York City crossed with the Cayman Islands, and the gray, dusty ruins of Tuchanka, which stand as a testament to the krogans' self-destructive love of battle.
  • January 7, 2013
    StarSword
  • January 7, 2013
    DRCEQ
    Addendum towards the Star Trek example: Some scenes of alien homeworlds are reused, such as a shot of an alien homeworld capitol from Star Trek Voyager's "Year Of Hell" that was reused for another alien homeworld a few seasons later.

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