The Smackdown DespiteÂ what some UFOlogists believe — that Hollywood has been enlisted in some kind of unofficial “disclosure” drive about space visitors — don’t look for commercial films to tell you the actual truth about […]
If you’re old enough to remember the marketing campaign for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” then you’ll remember the goosebumps you got when you heard the phrase, We are not alone. What was great about that simple sentence was that it promised a movie about aliens that was about wonder and mystery and wasn’t about the same old Hollywood treatment of life in the universe, namely that if it bothered to interact with humans it was for a nefarious reason, like “Independence Day” and “War of the Worlds.” Twenty years after “CE3” came another film that promised to make first contact a matter of humanity’s growth out of the cradle and not some intergalactic cage match. Both “CE3” and “Contact” were aliens for smart people brought to you first by the immense talent of Steven Spielberg and later by the immense intellect of Carl Sagan. In my Hollywood career, I’ve had the good fortune to discuss UFOs and extraterrestrial life with both of these men and found them to have some very different visions of the subject. They each have used film to express their views about life as it might exist “out there.” The question is, which version comes closest to what might be the truth about first contact, and which one is the better film?
The truth about alien visitors may actually be different than what Hollywood has traditionally told you. On the one hand we’ve had the space brothers who have come to help us save the planet and ourselves (“Close Encounters,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still”). On the other hand, we’ve had the cosmic badasses who’ve come to create hell on Earth (“War of the Worlds,” “Independence Day”). The two films in our Smackdown ring each suggest another alternative. The aliens are here for a more unknown purposes. They’re not cuddly scientists like “E.T.” but bizarre and harsh. Both “Communion” and “Fire in the Sky” tell us that they’re here taking people out of their homes and neighborhoods in the middle of the night, tagging them like deer in a Lyme disease study, probing and poking them in ways that suggest rape as much as anything else. Possibly more unsettling is that these two films were both based on books which were based on true stories. You may scoff at the word “truth” here but, the fact is, the central characters in each — Whitley Strieber and Travis Walton — have both passed lie detector tests. Show me a Hollywood agent who could do that about today’s phone list and you’ll begin to appreciate the accomplishment. The questions — as we continue our film exploration of alien contact — are, which version comes closest to what might be the truth about alien intentions here on Earth, and which one is the better film?
Nothing persists like a good idea. Its power and elegance hold up no matter how it is reinterpreted in movie sequels, prequels and remakes. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” became a surprise science fiction hit in 1956 and remains a popular model for imitation. You can trace elements of the basic storyline on film and TV today: Bad things happen when you fall asleep. This sturdy premise spawned well-made remakes in 1978 and 1994. Now, a new version of Jack Finney’s tale of alien takeover steps up, “Invasion.” This remake arrives with plenty of drama behind the camera. It offers an otherworldly Smackdown: Does “Invasion” snatch a good idea from the original movie, or lose its identity?