Hunting the aliens: movies and TV

The second season “mytharc” of X-FILES ramps up considerably from S1: With the X-Files officially closed, Mulder’s stuck with a new partner, Krycek (Nicholas Lea) who’s secretly taking orders from the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Then in the two-parter “Duane Barry/Ascension,” Mulder’s called in to negotiate with a mentally ill FBI agent who believes he’s a victim of alien abduction. Mulder, of course, takes his claims seriously; Scully becomes convinced Barry’s a delusional schizophrenic who’ll say whatever he has to to get what he wants.

It’s a classic debate, except the story throws in a third layer — this all turns out to be a scheme by the CSM that culminates with Scully getting abducted. What’s really going on? Were there aliens or just humans involved? Was Barry abducted, delusional or a conspiracy agent? Scully would return, comatose, a few episodes later and make a miraculous recovery.

Some of this would be eplained in S3 (I’m working through that now), some of it’s still murky and I don’t think Scully’s resurrection is ever really explained. It’s an excellent example of the kind of mystery that enthralled regular viewers and turned off others. “To win a war you have to pick the right battles, Agent Mulder — and this is a fight you can’t win.’

Rewatching THE CONEHEADS (1993) makes me appreciate what an old-school look at the American Dream it is: illegal immigrants (Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin) come to America, works their way up to a middle-class lifestyle, stays one step ahead of immigration and realizes their daughter (Michelle Burke) has become thoroughly Americanized. The humor, of course, is that they’re so ridiculously extraterrestrial in appearance, body language and language that everyone blandly accepting them as French is ridiculous. It’s a one-joke film in a sense, but the joke works for me.

Michael McKean as their nemesis in immigration is unusual in that while very anti-illegal immigration he’s not the usual fanatical zealot dedicated to catching the protagonists. When he gets a promotion that moves him away from New York, he chooses career over continuing the hunt, and only goes after them again when his failure to catch them is a black mark on his record. At the climax, he and Beldar work out a deal to get the aliens their green cards without too much conflict. “I would draw the shades and I would live in the dark … my cone would shrivel and I would die, miserable and lonely. The stench would be great.”

PAUL (2014) has nerds Simon Pegg and Nick Frost doing a UFO tour of the US when they pick up the eponymous Grey (Seth Rogan’s voice) escaping from Area 51 and help him reconnect with his people before fed Jason Bateman catches up with them. Like Pegg’s Hot Fuzz this is a movie about movie nerds caught up in a movie; it also invokes the idea of Silver Screen Saucers that the government is using Hollywood to prep humanity for when the aliens go public. I enjoyed this but my friend Ross found if flat; while some of the Easter eggs feel off (how many watchers would get a joke about Lorenzo’s Oil — and these don’t seem the type of nerds to have watched it). Still, funnier as a bro-comedy than Aliens and GUFORS or Ben Stiller’s The Watch (which I’ll be writing about in a few days). “No, you idiots, I did not set my phaser to ‘faint.’”

HANGAR 18 (1980) has the flimsiest reasons for covering up our government possession of a UFO I think I’ve ever heard. According to sinister presidential adviser Robert Vaughn, people think UFO believers are crazy so if the president says there’s a UFO stored in Hangar 18, everyone will laugh and he’ll lose the election. Right, it’s not like actually having a UFO and being able to prove they’re real would make a difference (my guess, the president wins on a landslide). Gary Rhodes is the space shuttle pilot who knows too much, Darren McGavin the head of NASA, Joseph Campanella the head of the CIA and William Schallert and Pamela Bellwood are scientists.

This will get a mention in the Gods From Outer Space chapter as it reveals the aliens posed as gods, then interbred with our ancestors (“There’s a reason we and the aliens look so much alike.”). However the emphasis on specifically pre-Columbian contact (them making the Nazca carvings as landing strips, for instance) reminds me of complaints this is as racist as countless older theories showing how Romans, Israelites or Egyptians did the building because those primitive savages who lived here certainly couldn’t have done it. “They’re light years ahead of us in intelligence, yet they were killed because of a stupid accident.”

Rewatching STARMAN (1984) in the context of Alien Visitors hurts it a little: while Jeff Bridges earned his Oscar with his sweet, awkward attempts at imitating a human, it’s not that far removed from The Coneheads or the Brother From Another Planet. This is an interplanetary love story with the stranded alien coercing widow Karen Allen into helping him, taking the cloned body of her husband in the assumption this will make it easier for her (it doesn’t, at least at first). While I found the similar kidnapping/romance plotline in 12 Monkeys very unsatisfying, the leads and the script make it work here. Both actors are excellent — I particularly love how Bridges’ final ascension back to his people is shown entirely through the expressions on Allen’s face.

Richard Jaeckel as Fox, the security official determined to catch or kill the alien, is a lot less satisfying. Jaeckel plays it well, but his character’s a blank slate: we never get any explanation why he’s so determined to treat the alien as a threat. This is yet another film that implies the aliens’ attaining a peaceful, disembodied existence is kind of regrettable, compared to the physical joys of “the singing and the dancing and the eating.” One I’m glad I bought to keep. “I understand greetings in 54 Earth planet languages.”

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One response to “Hunting the aliens: movies and TV

  1. Pingback: One book, one movie, our place in the universe: This Island Earth | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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