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Dramatic Alien VTOL

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It looks something like this.

"This spaceship takes off really slowly. It's a little awkward."
Paul, Paul

A highlight of many movies, a point where the score, pacing and cinematography will often gang up and try to underscore the drama of the moment, is the Dramatic Alien VTOL where we see an alien spaceship, like a chariot of the gods ascending or descending from heaven, make a Vertical Take-Off or Landing. It will fill the screen as the music swells and slowly take time to hover so that the camera can take Reaction Shots of amazed onlookers. Sometimes there is some kind of added environmental effect like water shaking, the wind blowing or radio signal static. You might not be able to make out the shape properly due to all the bright lights.

In the case of aggressive alien invaders arriving on Earth, it’s rather curious that the defenders almost never shoot the spaceship down with their Cool Plane, tank or warship fleets, even in cases where the craft is known to be a threat.

The sense of awe is often added to by the craft being of a very un-plane-like design. It will be unfeasibly massive or perhaps a Spheroid Dropship. It will also possibly be the most expensive visual effects shot in the movie.

See also Take Me to Your Leader.

Very much related to Power Floats. Often results in Ominous Floating Spaceship. Compare Standard Establishing Spaceship Shot.


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    Films — Live-Action 
  • E.T. is finally going home. The music swells, the bright lights of his egg-shaped spacecraft bathe him in an orange aura and after the ramp pulls in, it lifts off.
  • It happens in the original Stargate movie when Ra's ship descends on the pyramid. You see them use the pyramid as a landing pad which means the ship must be something that plants itself on a pyramid and uses something that big as a landing pad.
  • Spielberg did a lot to help make this trope. The climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind has the ship come in first, just as the bright lights at first with the shadow of the Flying Saucer shape eventually becoming clearer as the five notes we've heard through the movie come through the score. It lands and then the ramp opens; a crack of light, and then the shadows of the aliens themselves - stamping the image of The Greys, in their first appearance on film, in our heads.
  • Spielberg apparently loves this trope, it appears again in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. His buddy George Lucas borrows it for the scenes of the Star Destroyers lifting off in Attack of the Clones. And his buddy Ron Howard used it in Cocoon.
  • Also happens in Back to the Future Part II, although it was the flying time machine instead of an alien craft that time.
  • The Vulcan ship in Star Trek: First Contact descends in the middle of the night, its landing lights illuminating the awed faces of the humans.
  • A reverse example in the Russian film Hard To Be A God based on a novel by the Strugatsky Brothers, where a climactic battle on a planet of primitive Human Aliens is stopped by everyone dropping to their knees, watching a descending human spaceship, lights an everything.
  • The alien motherships in Independence Day are mistaken for dramatic when they shine giant energy beams over strategic buildings across the world.
  • The giant craft in District 9 subverts this with a permanent, stationary Dramatic Alien VTOL stuck in neutral over Johannesburg due to quarantine of the alien refugees aboard. Oddly, there are no human attempts to hang ladders off it or tow it away. But we do see documentary-style flashbacks to the ship's arrival.
  • Happens in Paul, with plenty of lampshading and some subversion. First is a scene with the characters gazing in amazement and wonder at bright lights flashing and spinning behind the trees, which turns out to be a helicopter carrying the Big Bad. Then when the real alien spaceship comes in, it's apparently so quick and discreet we don't see it actually arrive. But it makes up for it with its dramatic departure, with Paul remarking that it takes a long time to take off, making the final goodbye awkward, and he asks the pilots, "Can't this thing take off any faster?"
  • The ending of Super 8 when the alien ship departs into the night sky.
  • Inverted in the beginning of The Fifth Element. The Mondoshawan ship's arrival is very dramatic, but when it leaves it shoots rapidly up into the sky.
  • Happens in Louis de Funès' film The Gendarme and the Extra-Terrestrials where the alien spaceship is disguised as the full moon in the night sky but then comes descending down onto earth underscored by a dramatic soundtrack.
  • Parodied in The Last Jedi where a scene of a ship landing, among much steam and dramatic music, pans out to reveal it's really a clothes iron.
  • This happens in Spice World. Just as the Girls run out of their tour bus to pee in the woods, an alien spaceship lands slowly, and four of their fans from outer space come out to greet them, asking for tickets to their live gig, autographs, and kisses.

    Live Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • In "Wormhole X-Treme", the episode ends on this, with it forming the ending shot of the Show Within the Show as well and with two techies lampshading the fact that it would be the money shot and the most lavish technical effect, likely to get a SFX Emmy. The ascending spacecraft itself, is genuinely impressive (which is part of why the lampshading works so well) with a shape more like a castle than anything aerodynamic, and the exhaust blowing a wind across the sands of the set.
    • Used in the episode "Thor's Chariot." SG-1 has just been captured by Jaffa on an Asgard protected planet and are being escorted to certain doom when a perfectly clear day suddenly becomes dark and stormy and, as everyone watches in awe (and fear, in the case of the Jaffa), an Asgard mothership appears and begins scooping the Jaffa up in seconds. Thus Thor not only shows off his incredibly powerful ship, but saves the day as well.
  • The pilot of ALF.
  • Dynasty (1981) spin-off The Colbys (of all things) attempted one of these, but it was total Narm.

    Video Games 
  • The first view of Saren's dreadnought Sovereign in Mass Effect is it landing, apparently without effort, vertically on Eden Prime. It later takes off in the same position, and in full view of the player. Unlike most of these examples, it isn't ponderous at all — a two kilometer warship just up and leaves, as though it were a space taxi; an ominous indicator of just how powerful the ship really is.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama has an episode where Fry's out camping in the woods with his co-workers, sees some unearthly lights, and looks up to see a UFO hovering overhead. Dramatic music plays... and we're reminded that it's the year 3000 and Fry works for an interplanetary delivery company.
    Fry: Oh, it's just a flying saucer. Excuse me, you can't park here!
  • This is the way the massive Nautilus-class warship of Cassiopeia debuts in Il Était Une Fois...... Space, landing and later taking-off from the planet Omega.
  • The alien ship from Lifted departs in a slow, dramatic climb straight up from its position over the farmhouse, then gets slammed into the ground by the student pilot.
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show", this is how they actually kill off Poochie in The Itchy & Scratchy Show.
    Itchy: Hi, Poochie! You look like you have something to say. Do you?
    Poochie (with Homer's voice): Yes, I certainly do!
    [Poochie is about to open his mouth, but stops moving]
    Poochie: (with Roger Meyers Jr.'s voice): I have to go now. My planet needs me.
    [Poochie's cel is immediately pulled off the screen, followed by a title card reading "Note: Poochie died on his way back to his home planet"]
    Bart: Wow! Poochie came from another planet?
    Lisa: I... guess.
    Homer: Hey, that wasn't supposed to happen! Those finks double-crossed me!
    Krusty the Clown: (Gleefully) Poochie's dead!
    [kids all start cheering]
  • An episode of South Park where an alien ship descends in the town, an obvious homage to Spielberg.