Richard Dreyfuss    Roy Neary
François Truffaut    Claude Lacombe
Teri Garr    Ronnie Neary
Melinda Dillon    Jillian Guiler
Bob Balaban    Interpreter Laughlin
Lance Henriksen    Robert

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Steven Spielberg. 1980. Running time: 132 Minutes.

june2.jpg (13824 bytes)Believe or not, but there was actually a time when the aliens weren’t out to get us, a time when we believed that they would come in peace. Yeah, strange but true. Today we know better: of course aliens who are technologically advanced enough to travel thousands of light-years from star to star would want to do little else than kidnap some redneck in his pickup truck and stick metallic objects into every single body orifice they can find on the poor sucker!

This summer sees the release of The X-Files movie on the big screen. Of course, The X-Files is the quintessential ‘Nineties TV show, a reflection of the predominant mood of our times. And let me tell you: it ain’t a pretty mood. Paranoid to the point of psychosis, distrustful of government and those around us, ignorant and superstitious – these are the phrases that come to mind. Now don’t take me wrong: I’m a big fan of the show. Along with The Simpsons it’s almost the only stuff I watch regularly on the small screen. The X-Files is well written, well acted and definitely a cut above most of the mind-numbingly dull and unoriginal dreck that television seems to consist of these days. The only problem is that for a lot of people The X-Files isn’t fiction, but non-fiction – a scary thought that . . .

The X-Files isn’t alone in believing that the aliens are out to get us. From the beginning of time, visitors from outer space have always supplied Hollywood with a steady flow of monsters out to get us. From the Martian invaders of The War Of The Worlds to Alien Resurrection’s beasties who were out to have us for dinner, very movies few actually pondered the possibility warlike alien creatures would probably have destroyed themselves long before they discovered interstellar flight. Or that their most overriding ambition upon encountering Earth wouldn’t be to blow up the Empire State building. These movies are, however, so far in-between that one can almost count them off on one’s hand: 2001, E.T., Cocoon and The Abyss are examples. But in recent years they have been fewer as the paranoia of The Arrival is preferred to the clarity of Contact.

Of course the one movie that featured benign aliens is the one that should be blamed most for reviving the interest in UFOs, namely Steven Spielberg’s 1977 Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Not only did the movie revive interest in the phenomenon of UFOs but it also reinvented UFOs themselves not only in movies but in our perception of them as well. In much the same way as 2001 gave us space ships that seemed as if they might actually work, Close Encounters gave us flying saucers that looked as if they might work. Instead of the old flying hubcaps of yesteryear audiences were treated to a veritable laser light show of objects that swooshed through the air in defiance of all we know about aerodynamics. Surely these creatures would be capable of traveling hundreds of light-years through space? Who would want to travel in what looks like a silver Frisbee in any case?

Except maybe for those dumbasses in Independence Day. But they were using AppleMac software in any case! Spielberg thus single-handedly changed movies as well: after Close Encounters the light spectacle show would serve the climax of any movie whether it featured UFOs or not. It wasn’t until the brave ending of the 1989 Batman movie (set in a darkly-lit Gotham cathedral) that filmmakers realized that it was okay for them not to deploy Jean Michel Jarre’s lighting specialists. But despite its excellent special effects, Spielberg didn’t allow them to overwhelm his human characters. It remains a very watchable movie for this reason: unlike other films we actually care about and are interested in the characters in it. More or less the same reason why I like The X-Files even though their hearts are in different places.

Close Encounters believed that not only might the aliens be benign but that they might be our saviors, come to save us from the drudgery of everyday suburban existence. The phrase is ‘a sense of wonder.’ However, it would seem that all we in the 1990s have to look forward to (if The X-Files is to believed) is a plague followed by alien colonization abetted by our own elected officials . . .


Copyright © June 1998  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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