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Starring Sam Neill, Golshifteh Farahani, Shamier Anderson and many others, Invasion follows the lives of people from around the world as aliens descend upon Earth. While the story about an alien invasion is not new, the sci-fi series carves out its own space within the genre by putting humanity first and avoiding familiar tropes that previous versions have exploited in the past. In a conversation with ET, co-creator Simon Kinberg explains the inspiration behind the sprawling Apple TV+ series and how the premiere pays homage to Jurassic Park.
As seen in ET’s exclusive clip from the premiere, which debuts on Friday, Oct. 22, Neil’s character, Sheriff Tyson, is called to investigate a potential criminal situation at a local farm when he unknowingly happens upon the first signs of the aliens on Earth. As he climbs up the silo, the camera suddenly pulls in on his face as he reacts to seeing something peculiar in the cornfield.
That moment, Kinberg confirms, is a reference to Neill’s most popular role as Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park, when his character rips off his sunglasses the moment he first sees dinosaurs in person. “That definitely was a conscious homage,” he says, noting that he’s a huge fan of the actor. “What I love about him is that he’s a character actor at heart, and that he is a chameleon. He can play all these different kinds of roles.”
“He is also restrained as an actor. I really love that he's a very nuanced, detailed type of character -- even in the Jurassic movies – there's sort of a restraint and texture to the way he performs,” Kinberg continues.
And having Neill at the center, especially as this soon-to-be retired small-town sheriff coming to terms with the end of decades of service, is what Kinberg needed to help drive home the character-driven element and ground the emotional stakes of the story. “There was something interesting about juxtaposing the small-town sheriff with what we know is going to be the massive scale of an alien invasion,” he explains. “And I liked this idea of a man or a character who is at the end of something coming into contact with what we know is the beginning of something much bigger.”
Of course, Neill is only one of a large, ensemble cast of international stars playing characters facing their own, real-life issues, such as an Iranian-American woman confronting a cheating spouse, a teenage boy dealing with a neurological disorder, an American soldier stranded in Afghanistan or a Japanese scientist and lesbian forced to hide her truth at work.
And while Orson Welles’ famous radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds may have served as obvious inspiration for a series about characters learning about what’s happening to them in real time, Kinberg says that a 2006 film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu was also a big inspiration for the many, varying perspectives on the same, unfolding disaster.
“I wanted to create characters like the ones in Babel that were from different cultures, from different walks of life, who were all dealing with really intense, really dramatic, emotional, intimate problems,” he explains. “And so basically, I wanted to start the characters from a place of alienation and emotional turmoil. And then the alien invasion would be this magnifying glass and blow that all up onto a bigger stage.”
As a result, that stage includes various locations around the world as these characters navigate everything from gridlock in New York City to hallways of JASA (a fictionalized version of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). And while the former may be a familiar location for many disaster movies, such as Independence Day or Cloverfield, Invasion avoids using it or any other notable locations as a centerpiece for destruction.
“I wanted to avoid the sense that aliens would just show up and start blowing up our landmarks. Like, aliens wouldn't give a sh*t about the White House,” Kinberg says. “They wouldn't care about that any more than they would care about a city street that none of us had ever heard of.”
That said, Kinberg admits there are certain elements from films like Contact and Close Encounters of the Third Kind that found its way into the series. Most notably, the way those two movies dealt with sound. A huge fan of both, he says that he finds the music and sound in the latter “really, really interesting and haunting.” And so, “I wanted to create with the character, Mitsuki, and with that storyline, a feeling that the sound is part of the way that we communicate with the aliens and that we tap into their lifeline,” Kinberg says. “Because we could do that in an original way felt like a cool opportunity.”
And because this is a series, with the first season unfolding over 10 episodes, Kinberg says that this invasion will be gradual. The premiere doesn’t open with explosions in the sky. Instead, the events happen over time with characters trying to gather the information as it comes. “I wanted the audience to feel the experience that real people would deal with in that type of situation,” he says, hoping that they feel the need to put the clues together and create a more active viewing experience.
“And going forward, it obviously gets bigger. The action, the scale and the spectacle, not that there isn't a lot early on, but it gets bigger and bigger. The appearance of the aliens or the presence of the aliens becomes more prominent to the show,” Kinberg teases. “By design, it is a show that is more of a slow burn, mysterious, and suspenseful. And that is building towards something sort of climactic.”
Invasion will debut with the first three episodes on Oct. 22. Want to watch more? New episodes debut every Friday on Apple TV+. (We may receive an affiliate commission if you subscribe to a service through our links.)