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Film / Evolution (2001)

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Have a nice end of the world.

Evolution is a 2001 Science Fiction Comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman, written by David Diamond, David Weissman and Don Jakoby from a story by Jakoby, and released by Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks SKG on June 8, 2001.

Glen Canyon, Arizona, The Present Day. Wayne Grey (Seann William Scott), practicing at night in the desert for his upcoming firefighter entrance exam, witnesses the impact of a meteor throw his car 200 feet in the air and crash down. The next day, biology teacher Dr. Ira Kane (David Duchovny) and geology teacher Harry Block (Orlando Jones) from Glen Canyon Community College manage to get to the meteor, which has crash-landed at the bottom of a system of underground caverns. By taking a sample, they discover a slimy blue fluid coming out of the meteor.

A little later, Ira finds out that myriad nitrogen-based single-celled lifeforms dwell in the fluid, evolving at a rate that condenses millions of years' worth of evolution into the span of a couple hours, evolving quite literally while he's watching. What first seems like a sure ticket to Sweden for the Nobel Prize soon develops into a nightmare: by evolving and adapting at that the unbelievably fast rate they are, the aliens start spreading out, killing people, and the military — led by Brigadier General Russell Woodman (Ted Levine), who's accompanied by epidemiologist Dr. Allison Reed (Julianne Moore) — comes in. Now it all comes down to what Darwin so rightfully stated: Survival of the fittest...

It gave rise to a short-lived animated series, Alienators: Evolution Continues. Its character sheet (which includes characters from this film) can be found here.

Evolution contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Ira doesn't trust government types because "I know these people." In-universe, he knows because he's an ex-army colonel. However, David Duchovny's previous role as Agent Fox Mulder is a notorious Conspiracy Theorist. This is especially notable because it wasn't on purpose; Ivan Reitman had never seen The X-Files. But those making the trailer evidently did, as it's used in quite a few.
    • In addition, the name 'Ira' is a Caesar cipher of 'Fox'.
  • Adaptive Ability: Thanks to thousands of years of evolution artificially sped up by the energy reaction from the meteor, the organisms from the meteorite spit out creatures that become increasingly more resilient to oxygen - which is normally lethal to the organisms.
  • Alien Invasion: Via superior adaptability, the aliens will take over the North American continent within months.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: The movie takes place around Glen Canyon and Lake Powell, near the Arizona/Utah border. The town in the movie is usually just referred to as "Glen Canyon" as well, but is actually the small real-life town of Page, Arizona.
  • Apocalypse How: Anywhere between a Class 3 to Class 5 - the aliens threaten to take over the planet through explosive breeding and evolution on steroids, driving other species to extinction while simultaneously replacing them with their alien counterparts.
  • Armies Are Evil: Downplayed. At the end of the day, Woodman and his troops are just trying to quarantine a rapidly growing threat, but they are arrogant and stubborn jerkasses who refuse to listen to the science experts, making them secondary antagonists who are easy to root against. Their methods of trying to kill the aliens also wind up making things ten-times worse for everyone.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • The earlier aliens look pretty weird, but there's some pretty weird stuff in Earth's evolutionary history too; some of the Burgess Shale critters are pretty strange in their own right.
    • The aliens are supposed to be "nitrogen-based lifeforms." A huge variety of theoretical exotic biochemistries have been suggested, but nitrogen-based life in the sense of carbon-based life has not featured highly in discussions due to nitrogen's dislike of forming stable chains with itself. The issue ultimately comes down to the semantics of "'X'-based life", however. Nitrogen features heavily in many proposals, such as much stronger (if somewhat volatile) candidates of Boron- or Phosphorous-based life, and the term is also used in the sense of "water-based life", with a number of xenobiologies substituting nitrogen compounds like ammonia for water.
    • The aliens reproduce asexually, which is implied to be one cause of their rapid evolution ("no time for sex"). In fact, sexual reproduction is thought to accelerate evolution — since two organisms with different beneficial mutations can combine them in their offspring.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: There are two takes on this based on the discovery of the alien's weakness.
    • The heroes figure out the weakness of the nitrogen-based aliens by comparing arbitrary patterns on the Periodic Table of Elements. "Hmm, well, Arsenic is the weakness of carbon-based life-forms, and Arsenic is two down and one across from Carbon. So that means that the weakness of the nitrogen-based life-forms must also be two down and one across!" Of course, because this is a comedy film, the logic is perfectly sound.
    • As an adjunct professor of geology, Harry should know better than to smoke a cigarette in a laboratory setting and should especially know better than to casually flick a lit match at an unidentified alien organism. Depending on the chemical that could result in a serious accident or at minimum just destroy whatever is being experimented on. It's handwaved for the sake of revealing the aliens as nitrogen-based lifeforms.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Not as overt as the usual examples, but, when the Giant Amoeba "pops" after the heroes give it its Selenium Enema, they are only a few metres away, something that big popping like a balloon would cause a huge concussive blast wave, probably big enough to liquify the protagonists, or at least throw the fire truck a good distance away.
  • Asshole Victim: Wayne's boss, who is eaten by an alien when he is about to have sex with a woman on a golf course.
    Wayne: (trying to suppress a grin) "Well, uh... that's too bad."
    • He later add, "That doesn't make it right," but you can see him still trying to suppress a smirk.
    • Also, the shoplifting teen girl in the mall, who gets attacked by one of the pterodactyl creatures, although she survives. Her asshole status is mitigated by her immediate apology afterwards.
  • Ass Shove:
    • Harry himself has an alien extracted from his body - rectally.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Harry and Ira's plan for seizing back their stolen samples is simple: dress as military superiors and march in, barking orders at the stationed soldiers.
  • Big "NO!": Played for Laughs during the "alien extraction" scene:
    Dr. Paulson: Maybe we can catch it in his colon.
    Nurse Tate: How are you going in?
    Dr. Paulson: (dramatically) Rectally.
    Harry: (in a VERY high-pitched squeal) Nooooooo!
  • Bigger Is Better: One of the organisms, in response to being napalmed, becomes a HUGE amoeba-thing with an anus. This becomes the superior life form that kills/absorbs the other aliens
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: The dying "bird" gives birth by coughing up a membranous sac with a juvenile inside.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The Trope Namer, though it is almost immediately defied.
    Ira: Snag it and put it in the bucket.
    Harry: I've seen this movie; the black dude dies first. You snag it!
  • Bloodless Carnage: A lot of people are attacked and mauled by the evolving life-forms, with little mess to show for it. A flying raptor takes several slugs at point-blank range, and there's STILL no gore.
  • Brick Joke: Near the beginning, Nadine mentions that her ambition is to be Miss Arizona. At the end, she can be seen in the background wearing a "Miss Arizona" sash.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": For some reason, the lead characters refuse to call the obviously dragon/raptor-looking flying aliens that, and instead insist on calling them "birds." Maybe it's a case of Not Using the "Z" Word, and they're not shown to be capable of breathing fire either. Earlier models of the dragon/raptor actually show it to look a lot more like a featherless oviraptor. Now that would have been weird. Also, perhaps models weren't complete until after the live-action filming. That would also explain why the creature that looks like a snub-nosed seal is mistaken for a dog.
  • Came from the Sky: The aliens came to earth from a meteor.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': In one scene, a shoplifter is wearing her stolen clothes under her already-worn ones. As she comes out of the dressing room, she's snatched away by the flying raptor. Once she's rescued, she vows never to shoplift again to a somewhat confused Harry. It's actually fortunate for her she was wearing the layers, as without them, the claws of the bird thing could have badly hurt her.
  • Chekhov's Gunmen: Deke and Danny are introduced on a The Ditz joke. They are the key to finding a sufficient supply of the alien's weakness in the climax.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Harry either takes up smoking or fell off the wagon after the general stages an all-out attack on the aliens.
  • Completely Off-Topic Report: Professor Kane is pleased to report most people in his biology class got As on their research papers, only for the Deke and Danny to complain that they got C-:
    Prof. Kane: Allow me to share something with the entire class. Last night as I was grading papers, I came across two gems both entitled "Cells are Bad" and both with just one paragraph which I unfortunately committed to memory: "Cells are bad. My uncle lives in a cell. It's ten foot by twelve and he has to read the same boring, old magazine everyday. The end." Although my standards are nowhere near where they used to be I could not bring myself to put As atop those beauties.
  • Cool Teacher: Ira is pretty laid back as a community college science professor, even giving Deke and Danny a C- on their identical one-paragraphed completely off topic papers.
  • Cute Clumsy Girl: Dr. Allison Reed. She trips over sand. And it was Julianne Moore's idea.
  • Cute Creature, Creepy Mouth: One scene shows one of the aliens as a cute little pug. But when it opens its mouth, it reveals a scary vulture head inside.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ira and Harry regularly make snide remarks to each other, and to others.
  • Doctor's Disgraceful Demotion: Dr. Kane lost face with the military after he developed an anthrax vaccine for them that had a wide variety of unpleasant side effects. As a result, he was disgraced and reduced to teaching Chemistry at a community college.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Deke and Danny, two biggest idiots in Ira's class, end up saving the day in the end by point out that Head and Shoulders shampoo has selenium in it.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Two of these happen; one leads to the discovery that fire makes the beings grow faster, while the other leads to the discovery that selenium kills them. Both are the products of incredibly dodgy science.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Played with. In fact, the later stages of the habitat spawn dinosaur-like creatures and apes. But the last creature to appear is a nigh-unkillable (well, except for the occasional enema) amoeba-like creature. This is lampshaded in the movie.
    • The director's commentary explains that the final evolution was supposed to be an Ultimate Life Form, evolved beyond primates, beyond humans. The problem was that it wasn't "big" enough; so they replaced it with an amoeba.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Oddly enough averted, given the type of movie it was. When Ira and Harry go down into the underground alien world, they note that "everything down here is food for something else; let's try to stay off the menu". Yet almost none of the creatures try to harm them. There was a carnivorous tree, but really the only one to go after anyone was that big mosquito.
  • Explosive Breeder
    Nadine: Um, Professor, the little wiggly worm things in there are breaking.
    Ira: It's not breaking, it's splitting. It's mitosis. It's how they reproduce.
    Harry: No sex?
    Ira: No time for sex.
    Nadine: Bummer.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Nobody seems to care much about Lieutenant Cryer being taken away by the fuzzy no-nosed chimps. He isn't mentioned and no attempt is made by Woodman to rescue him.
  • Fun T-Shirt: Allison's T-shirt with the periodic table on back leads to one of the eureka moments referenced above.
  • Genre Savvy: Harry knows the black guy dies first in horror/alien films.
  • Giant Flyer: The big dragon/raptor thing that gets loose in the mall. Wayne lures it back with his skills at karaoke, which enrages it.
  • Goal-Oriented Evolution: The aliens' evolution from unicellular organisms to invertebrates (like worms), then dinosaurs/dragons, then apes — the protagonists even say the aliens "have reached the primate stage", as if it was an expected development. Subverted at the very end, where the "ultimate life form" is a giant amoeba and Ira comments that "survival of the fittest" does not always coincide with "survival of the most complex".
  • Groin Attack:
    • Wayne suffers one, courtesy of his fire hose falling and hitting him right in the crotch during his exam.
    • Lewis threatens to send the military guys who botched containment to state prison "with the crotch-biters".
  • Grotesque Cute: The dog-like alien a club member finds in a house, slowly dying of asphyxiation, with a sad expression. When one of them tries to pet it, it unleashes its defense mechanism: A really ill-tempered tongue with a beak. It bites one of them on the hand before it dies.
  • "Have a Nice Day" Smile: The movie poster features one of these with three eyes. It is also used for the movie's Viral Marketing, where the three-eyed smiley began appearing all over New York City in the months prior to the film's release, much like the Ghostbusters "Coming To Save the World" poster was before that film's release.
  • A Head at Each End: Sported by one of the first critters Ira and Harry encounter in the cavern's "bug period". Harry doesn't know if it is "coming or going".
  • Heroic Wannabe: Wayne wants desperately to be a firefighter or some other type of hero to get girls. He ultimately gets his wish when Governor Lewis makes him a fully credential firefighter at the end of the film.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ira and Harry. They spend most of their time together and share their discoveries and work stories.
  • Hidden Depths: Deke and Danny are smarter than they appear, at least in regards to their grooming practices.
  • Hollywood Evolution: "Evolution" in this movie depicted as the rapid development of single-celled organisms instead of more and more complex ones. At the end, it is noted that the giant amoeba is still considered "evolution" over the apes and such because evolution is the ability to survive.
  • Ignored Expert: Ira tries to warn Woodman that napalming the aliens may be a really bad idea. He turns out to be right.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Harry's mocking impressions of what he imagines Allison's sex noises to sound like.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The dragony Giant Flyer.
  • It's Personal: After getting an alien extracted from his ass, Harry insists on being the one to deliver the selenium formula enema.
  • Jerkass: General Woodman and his fellow army officers are rude, arrogant, sexist and dismissive of the science experts.
  • Kaiju: The giant blob-creature at the end of the movie.
  • Killer Space Monkey: Literally comes in the form of noseless ape-like beings that are one of the last to breach the habitat seal.
  • Kill It with Fire: The military decided to burn the entire alien habitat with napalm. This backfires because fire accelerates their evolutionary process.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: After Harry's mishap with the alien sphincter, he demands that Ira tell nobody of what happened.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: When Harry finds himself with an alien fly burrowing into his leg, he refuses to let the doctors amputate his leg until he hears that it's headed for his testicles. Then they decide to Take a Third Option and remove it rectally. That poor guy.
  • Mad Scientist: Ira did some very nasty things with an anthrax vaccine. Unfortunately, he tested it on people who were equipped with really large guns.
  • Made of Explodium: The final alien creature, after receiving an enema of anti-dandruff shampoo, explodes.
  • Miracle-Gro Monster: Fire makes the aliens grow faster. It is why napalm should not be used as a Kaiju attack Band-Aid.
  • Mooning: Ira's goodbye to General Woodman, after their first meeting:
    Ira: (over his shoulder) Fruit basket for Russell Woodman!
  • Multipurpose Tongue: One creature that looks kind of like a green pig has a beaked creature for a tongue. It is used as a weapon.
  • Must Not Die a Virgin: A girl holding an "I can't die as a virgin" sign can be seen during the Arizona evacuation party.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The aliens are hostile all right, but they're not evil. They are just lost and confused on a strange planet. They're also hungry.
  • Not Really a Birth Scene: When the doctors have to get the alien insect that cut its way into Harry's body by going in through the colon and pulling it out, and the scene plays out in this way.
  • Nuke 'em: Offered as a solution to the alien problem, but the military decides to use napalm instead. Considering what napalm eventually does to the alien lifeforms, one shudders to think what would have happened if the military had taken the nuclear option.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Wayne at the start of the film when he sees the meteor and realizes it's about to hit the place where he's practicing for his firefighter entrance exam.
    • In the court case between Ira and Harry vs the military over access to the meteor site, General Woodman has this reaction when he dismisses the scientific facilities at the pair's college...which just happens to be the judge's alma mater.
    Woodman: The facilities at Glen Canyon Community College are a joke, Your Honor!
    Judge: (scowling) They weren't a joke when I went there, General.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: The Kane Madness, the incident that led to Dr. Kane losing his career and having to start over as a small-town science teacher. An anthrax vaccine that did immunize people against the cost of a month of debilitating stomach cramps, severe diarrhea, memory loss, partial facial paralysis, temporary blindness, drooling, bleeding gums, erectile dysfunction, uncontrollable flatulence...
  • One-Handed Shotgun Pump: Ira, Harry and Wayne do this after killing the first oxygen-tolerant alien. It is presented as a post-victory swagger rather than something to do in actual combat.
  • Orifice Evacuation:
    [Dr. Paulson is going to pull the alien bug out through Harry's rectum]
    Nurse Tate: I'll get the lubricant...
    Dr. Paulson: No time for lubricant!
    Harry: There's ALWAYS time for lubricant!
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Alien predators resembling dragons are prominently featured, though the characters prefer to call them "birds." And they reproduce by regurgitating.
  • Prison Rape: Defied by Governor Lewis when he's lashing out at the military for screwing up containment. He threatens to send them all to prison.
    "And not that cushy federal place with the loose jumpsuits. State prison! With the crotch-biters!"
  • Product Placement: Subverted. Head & Shoulder's dandruff-killing formula also happens to kill aliens. This is parodied after the end of the movie, where the actors do a cliched commercial with forced smiles. And Harry holding his bottle backwards. The commercial was Ivan Reitman's son's idea. However, according to Reitman, the production wasn't paid for product placement by P&G, and that the bottles shown were all acquired by the production through purchase.
  • Propaganda Hero: In a deleted scene, General Woodman's aide, Colonel Flemming, advises him that eradicating the alien menace in as spectacular way as possible will do wonders for Woodman's career (and Flemming's by extension); the man who discovers the existence of microbial extraterrestrial life may earn 15 minutes of fame and a promotion within the Army; but the man who saves mankind from a dangerous invasion?
    Flemming: Well, there's no telling how far he might go...
    Woodman: We all love a good war, don't we?
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: We have an ex-colonel, a women's volleyball coach, a wanna-be fireman and a fiery redhead fighting off an alien invasion,
  • Revolting Rescue: The plan to defeat the rapidly evolving aliens, which have now evolved into a giant amorphous thing, is to pump it full of Head & Shoulders, because the active ingredient, selenium, is toxic to them. Harry becomes firmly lodged in the creature's rectum(?) and when he's retrieved he firmly declares, "Don't you tell anyone where I've been!".
  • Sarcasm Failure: As the guys watch an alien give birth to a newborn-which is able to thrive in the Earth's atmosphere—all Harry Block can do is shrug and say, "Mazel Tov! It's a boy!"
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Allison quits the CDC after Lewis approves of Woodman's plan against her objections.
  • Sequel Hook: Not all the aliens were killed. This leads into the sequel series.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Also, one of the bird calls that Wayne tries is "Aww-aww, ee-ee, tukki tukki!" from George of the Jungle.
    • The heroes discover that selenium is toxic to the nitrogen-based alien lifeforms. Selenium was also one of the materials used by the evil architect Ivo Shandor to build 55 Central Park West (Dana Barrett's apartment building) in Ghostbusters (1984).
  • Smart Ball: The two guys who failed biology forever by confusing a prison cell with a biological cell? They help save the day.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: A map is used to show how the highly-adaptive alien lifeforms will own the United States in about a month from when they start to expand from the impact site in Glen Canyon.
  • Starfish Aliens: While the later aliens resemble dragons, apes and giant single-celled monstrosities respectively, the aliens earlier in the animated series look really odd by Earth standards. Sketches of some storyboards show even more strange aliens, including trees with metallic scales (possibly based on Earth's Lepidodendron?).
  • Small Name, Big Ego: It's downplayed here with Harry. He is well-aware that he's not on the same-level (scientifically) as Ira or Allison, but that doesn't stop him from milking what he does know for all it's worth.
  • Spiritual Successor: To the first two Ghostbusters films. Dan Aykroyd was unable to get his co-stars to do Ghostbusters III, so Evolution was born.
  • Those Two Guys: Deke and Danny are a pair of fat idiots who are used for comedy except for one scene.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Deke and Danny handed in the worst science paper ever, copied off each other to boot. They are responsible for an "Eureka!" Moment.
    Ira Kane: "You just earned your A's!"
  • Troperiffic: The movie borrows tropes from any number of cheesy 1950s sci-fi films.
  • Unusual Euphemism: When Ira and Allison sneak away to have sex in a truck, the Governor notices they're missing and asks where are they going. Harry's response: "I think he's giving her the Kane madness".
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The aliens are weak to Selenium but this is not what counts; what counts is that the only way to get enough of the stuff on extremely short notice is to empty out dozens of bottles of Shampoo.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: While our heroes, Ira Kane, Harry Block, Wayne Grey, and Allison Reed are a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, they're still pretty decent people who nonetheless save the planet from certain destruction. The military indeed play an antagonistic role, but they're understandably holding a failed quarantine over the aliens because of their threatening nature, and as mentioned in Non-Malicious Monster above, the aliens are simply hungry and confused animals.
    • Averted in the animated sequel, where while the aforementioned heroes and a 5th party member named Lt. Lucy Mai are still good, the aliens are straight-up malevolent invaders bent on destruction, turning the conflict into a case of Black-and-White Morality.
  • Xeno Nucleic Acid: When Ira examines the microbes from an asteroid that fell to Earth, he finds that they have DNA with ten base pairs.