5 July 2015

Read Bryce Zabel's foreword to the Silver Screen Saucers book


By Robbie Graham Silver Screen Saucers

My book, Silver Screen Saucers: Sorting Fact from Fantasy in Hollywood's UFO Movies, is now complete, and I’ll soon be handing over the manuscript to my publisher.

It will be available for pre-order in the coming weeks ahead of its publication on September 21 of this year. This book is the product of around nine years of research on my part, seven of which, off and on, have been dedicated to the writing process. It has been a long journey, fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. My perspective on the UFO phenomenon, and the field that studies it, has shifted significantly since I conceived of the book all those years ago, which I feel is a good thing. Unbending views on UFOs are hard to tolerate.

I've poured all of me into this, and I hope it will have some lasting value as an encyclopaedic reference guide to Hollywood's historical engagement with UFOs, and to officialdom's engagement with the industry in this context. It examines UFO movies and TV shows from 1950 through to present day and features exclusive interviews with writers, producers, and directors of such products. I'd like to think that those who read this book will thereafter never view a Hollywood UFO movie, or the UFO phenomenon itself, in quite the same way.

The Foreword to my book is written by Bryce Zabel, former Chairman of the Academy of television Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the NBC TV show Dark Skies – one of the most intricately UFOlogical entertainment products ever made.

In anticipation of Silver Screen Saucers’ publication this September, I’d like to take this opportunity to present Bryce’s Foreword here and now…



By Bryce Zabel

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Flying saucer sightings or Hollywood’s depiction of them?

These questions hang over the subject like heavy clouds and they have only rarely been addressed. Robbie Graham has spent many years sorting out the fact from the fantasy and he’s written the brilliant and definitive book on the subject with Silver Screen Saucers.

If the 1947 Roswell incident is a true example of alien contact, for example, then that would easily explain how Hollywood made a batch of 1950s invasion films like Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. They could have been, as has so often been speculated, pushed forward as a kind of acclimation project for a population that was about to make a huge adjustment.

If Close Encounters of the Third Kind was just a flight of fantasy from the creative genius of Steven Spielberg, on the other hand, it could still explain the prevalence of reports of Gray aliens with big heads and spindly arms that came in the decades that followed. People would have gotten the idea from the director of a generation that this is what alien contact looks like.

I’m so glad that Robbie Graham has tackled this subject with the academic credentials he possesses, and has treated it with the importance and seriousness it deserves. I’ve waited all my adult life to read this book presented in this manner, and, finally, here it is.

What we know for sure at this point in history, is that probably more than 75% of Americans believe in the existence of UFOs, even as the media makes fun of people that do and the government denies all knowledge. This is a top level disconnect if ever I’ve heard of one. 

There’s no doubt that ET-themed films, documentaries, and TV shows have always been among the most popular and financially successful of Hollywood’s products. Are they reflecting an honest reality that suggests “we are not alone in the universe,” or are they deliberately creating a public misconception to make people believe something that isn’t true? If that’s the case, then why? And why are there more alien-themed film and TV projects than ever before?

Personally, I don’t buy the ‘Hollywood-helping-acclimate’ story at all anymore, even if it was ever true. From my personal experience, the entertainment industry makes alien films because they’re full of conflict and cater to the fanboy crowd. It’s show-me-the-money time.

Still, this mix between Hollywood product and facts-on-the-ground can’t be denied from my own personal experience either. My creative partner Brent Friedman and I certainly mixed the concept into our NBC series Dark Skies by saying that a Majestic-12 agent asked us to create a series so we could get the truth out “under the cover of fiction,” and then we returned the favor by making him our main character. It was a Mobius strip of reality if ever there was one.

It got more complicated. During our production, we were watched and approached by several people who claimed that they were part of a UFO group operating with the Office of Naval Intelligence and they wanted to give us some notes on the series. This would be laughable, except that these men were not funny at all. They were dead serious, military-sounding types who had a coherent, detailed, and powerfully odd account of alien contact that they wanted to share with us.

So, for me, the jury is still out. I just don’t know.

I also don’t know if Robbie Graham knows. What I do know, however, is that he has assembled the most comprehensive and detailed thesis on the symbiotic connection between Hollywood and aliens. After you read his book, you will be able to assess for yourself with clear-eyed insight what you think is the best theory to explain it all.

And this book excels in another way. If you simply want to understand UFOlogy and its history, then that is all here for you. Or, if you want to know more about the behind-the-scenes anecdotes and context of some culturally powerful and important films about UFOs, alien contact, and the nature of reality, then that is here too.

At least we all know that as we read this wonderful book together, it will be an experience that binds us, and proves that, for us anyway, we are not alone.

Bryce Zabel
Los Angeles, California
June 30, 2015

4 May 2015

Alien abduction movies in a rut

By Robbie Graham Silver Screen Saucers

Posters for ten Hollywood entertainment products spanning twenty-five years reveal the depths of Hollywood's creative rut when depicting the abduction/experiencer phenomenon.

I recently interviewed five of today's most notable experiencers seeking their perspectives on Hollywood's historical engagement with the UFOlogical facet that has so profoundly affected their lives. What is their state of mind when viewing these products? To what extent do these movies and TV shows reflect their own experiences? What aspects of the experiencer phenomenon does Hollywood get right and wrong? What aspects does it continually ignore or overlook? Has one movie or TV show ever captured the true complexities of a phenomenon that is reported as being both subjective and objective, physical and mental, terrifying and enriching?

These questions and more are asked and answered in my forthcoming book in a chapter devoted exclusively to Hollywood's abduction-themed entertainment products, from the 1950s through to present day.

Regardless of one's take on the abduction/experiencer phenomenon, it's clear that --but for a few exceptions-- Hollywood's treatment of the subject has been laughably crude and simplistic. All five interviewees agreed that Hollywood must move beyond the genre trappings of sci-fi and horror, past even the explicitly 'alien', toward a focus on the human, a focus on the frequently reported psychologically and spiritually transformative aspects of the experience at individual and collective levels. Surely a movie along these lines would be more interesting than yet more 'found-footage' of monstrous, motiveless aliens anally probing families at random.

Is Hollywood up to the challenge?

8 April 2015

Video: UFOs, Hyperreality, and the Disclosure Myth

Lecture delivered Oct., 2014, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Topic: UFOs, Hyperreality, and the Disclosure Myth.

In my intro I mention that my Silver Screen Saucers book would be published in the early months of 2015. Please note that the new publication date is 21 September, 2015. Details here.

24 July 2014

Messengers and Harbingers: Sneaky Owls in Fantastical Movies

By Robbie Graham Silver Screen Saucers

Owls and UFOs. To those with no interest in either the two might seem like chalk and cheese, but these ‘phenomena’ – one assumed to belong exclusively to our world, the other thought to originate ‘elsewhere’ – often go hand-in-hand; that is, at least, according to the testimonies of countless UFO experiencers the world over.

In has long been theorized in the UFO research community that the sighting of an owl or owls shortly prior to, during, or immediately after a UFO close encounter is a strong indication of a repressed abduction experience, with the image of the owl acting as a screen memory for the traumatised abductee. The logic here is that the large, penetrating (and sometimes glassy black) eyes of an owl closely resemble those of the archetypal alien ‘Grey’. Owls also swoop from the skies – the domain of the UFO.
In his fascinating and deeply personal essay Owls and the UFO Abductee, Mike Clelland considers the possible psychological function of owl imagery in abduction reports, but ultimately ascribes it a more profound and mystical meaning, concluding – or, rather, confidently speculating – that the owl in these circumstances may be “part of a shamanic initiation,” a wake-up call from the universe itself for those who suspect but refuse to acknowledge their lifetime of hidden experiences with intelligences beyond the realm of everyday perception.

Mike's essay -- which is now slowly working its way toward a book -- is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the abduction phenomenon or in the otherworldly beauty of the owl.

All of this may seem slightly off-topic for this blog, being, as it is, so tightly focused on Hollywood. But there is indeed a Hollywood connection, albeit a fleeting one, so far as I can tell (and I would welcome more input on this if anyone can offer other examples similar to those presented below).

Owl imagery was used prominently in the 2009 movie The Fourth Kind in an overtly alien context, and again more recently in the children's adventure film Earth to Echo (2014), but right now I’m more interested in how owl imagery can be used very subtly, even subconsciously by filmmakers.
Owl imagery in the 2009 abduction movie, The Fourth Kind.
A couple of months back, not long after having chatted with Mike Clelland on Facebook, and having owls on the brain as a result, I switched on the TV. The 1986 movie Short Circuit was playing. A high-concept, family-friendly sci-fi flick, the movie follows the adventures of Johnny 5, an escaped experimental military robot who gains sentience – and apparently even a soul – after being struck by lightning.

The scene that happened to be playing was a pivotal one in the movie: Johnny 5’s first meeting with the character of Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy). The scene is shot to resemble a distinctly Spielbergian 'close encounter' event, with Stephanie under the impression that Johnny 5 is not a robot, but an extraterrestrial. As Stephanie steps outside her house one night to investigate a disturbance, she sees a mysterious glow emanating from her van. “Hey, get outta there!” she yells, nervously. It is at this point that we cut to a close-up of an owl perched atop Stephanie’s personalized mailbox. The bird turns its head to her, almost expectantly.  

As Stephanie approaches her van, its side panel flips open vertically to reveal an alien-looking Johnny 5, bathed in misty light. We then cut once more to the owl, which turns its head to Johnny 5, and, in that moment, one can’t help but draw a visual parallel between the robot and the bird – both having large, round, yellow and black eyes harshly accented by a ‘frown’ (metal eyebrows in Johnny’s case, and ‘ear’ tufts in the owl’s).
Short Circuit (1986)

It is now that Stephanie exclaims: “Oh, my God! I knew they would pick me, I just knew it!” perhaps indicating that she expects – and even wants – to be abducted. “Welcome to my planet,” she says, excitedly.

It goes without saying that owls have always been a permanent fixture in the iconographic landscape of the horror genre. But Short Circuit is a sci-fi, not a horror, and, while Johnny 5 isn't actually an alien, in this crucial scene, the filmmakers have gone out of their way to present him as alien-like and as a potential abductor. Also seemingly significant is the positioning of the owl directly on top of Stephanie’s mailbox, which clearly bears her name, as if the bird has come for her specifically (just as Mike Clelland feels the owls in his own life are communicating something to him on an intensely personal level). We might expect an owl to be perched on a tree branch, but here the owl prefers a mailbox – a ‘message’ box, a communications receptacle. In Western culture, owls are often associated with knowledge and wisdom, and so it is fitting that, in the very same scene, the first thing Johnny 5 demands of Stephanie is “input.” She’s delighted: “That’s information,” she replies, “I’m full of it!” As an aside here, while writing this post I was reminded by an owl-loving friend of mine that Harry Potter’s beloved owl Hedwig was also a messenger, serving Harry faithfully for six years by delivering his mail to him.

The prominent inclusion of the owl in Short Circuit was, in all likelihood, little more than an effort to enhance the ‘spooky’ atmosphere of Stephanie’s introduction to Johnny. Nevertheless, in the implied context of the scene (a close encounter with an alien entity), as well as in the context of Mike Clelland’s essay, the presence of the owl assumes a deeper meaning, whether or not it was consciously intended.

The 1997 movie Contact, based on the novel by Carl Sagan, also features a curious owl cameo. Early on in the film, a young Ellie Arroway (Jenna Malone) -- who as an adult makes direct contact with an alien intelligence -- asks her father (David Morse) a crucial question: "Hey, dad, do you think there's people on other planets?" At the very moment the question is spoken, the observant viewer will notice a picture on little Ellie's wall...

The mystical connection between owls and otherworldly entities presents itself again in a very different film – the 1982 inspired-by-real-events domestic chiller The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey. 
This disturbing film follows the plight of Carla Moran (Hershey), a young mother of three, who, for all intents and purposes, is single (her boyfriend spending most of his time on the road). One day, without warning, Carla is viciously beaten and raped in her bedroom by a powerful but invisible entity. In the days and weeks that follow, Carla continues to be sexually assaulted by the entity and, fearing for her sanity, seeks help, first from a skeptical psychotherapist, and later from a team of parapsychologists. All the while, the entity is relentless in its aggressive sexual pursuit of this traumatised woman.

In many respects, The Entity certainly can be classed as a horror movie, but it also flirts with science fiction. It constantly defies genre expectations; perhaps, in part, because it is based on a true story – the rigidity of genre rarely applying to life as we live it.

The film’s sci-fi element is particularly identifiable in onscreen debate surrounding just what the entity actually is, and where it comes from. In the third act, the team of university-employed parapsychologists devises a plan to capture and kill the entity for scientific study. Their weapon of choice: liquid helium.

One of the parapsychologists explains:

“What we’re seeking is to determine if this entity has mass. If in fact this is the case, then we should be able to freeze it, verify its objective existence, and prove that it isn’t just a psychic projection, but rather an independent force from some other level of reality that has never been isolated.”

Spoken about in these terms, the entity seems to have less in common with the traditionally supernatural (ghosts, for example) and more with the interdimensional trickster intelligences theorized by the likes of Jacques Vallee and John Keel.

The interdimensional hypothesis posits that UFO entities might exist beyond space-time and can flit in and out of our reality at will, assuming a multitude of forms – from the faeries, goblins, and incubi of ages past, to the UFOs and aliens of modern times. This theory is explicitly brought to mind in The Entity during a scene in which Carla’s psychiatrist, Dr Sneiderman (Ron Silver), attempts to dispel her ‘irrational’ belief in the literal existence of her invisible tormentor, showing her old drawings of goblins, demons, and faerie folk: “They were supposed to abuse people sexually,” he tells her, “they were supposed to impregnate people. Do you think these things really existed then!?”

It is notable that the true nature of the entity is never discovered in the movie, although there is no indication that it is anything so mundane as the lingering ghost of a deceased man; indeed, no indication that it was ever human at all. In the movie, the entity’s few physical manifestations take the form of dazzling lights, bright, fast-moving orbs, and electrical discharges – phenomena typically associated with UFOs. In one scene, when asked by parapsychologists to reveal itself, the entity appears literally as an unidentified flying object, a vaguely spherical green light that calls to mind (to this mind, at least) the green fireballs frequently sighted over US nuclear installations throughout the late 1940s and which lead directly to the formation of the USAF’s Project Twinkle. The stunned parapsychologists look on in awe in shots that wouldn’t seem out of place in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
"Show yourself!" The Entity (1982)
So where do owls come into this? Well, they’re onscreen throughout the movie as decorative wall ornaments. In the hallway, directly by Carla’s front door, we can see a board displaying five owls made from coloured felt. In Carla’s kitchen we can see a woven owl on the wall near the sink. At one point, in Carla’s bedroom, her dressing chair even appears owl-like. The camera never dwells on any of these images, but they are noticeable to the perceptive viewer. Why this owl motif pervades the film, and whether or not there was conscious purpose behind its inclusion is debatable. The Native American Hopi people traditionally associate owls with sorcery and evil. In Mesoamerican cultures, the owl is considered a symbol of death and destruction. In the Mayan religious text the Popol Vuh, owls are described as messengers of Xibalba (the Mayan “Place of Fright”). In these folkloric and religious contexts, owl imagery perfectly complements the nature and intent of the malevolent entity in the movie.

I could waffle on about all of this for quite some time without threatening to reach anything resembling a conclusion. So, for now, I’ll leave readers with some stills from The Entity. Make of them what you will, and, next time you watch a movie – any movie – keep your eyes peeled for sneaky owls... you never know where they might decide to put in an appearance.
Five owls stand watch over Carla's front door. Is their purpose to keep something out, or to keep her in?
Above and below: In these, some of the final shots of the movie, immediately after being shut in by the entity and subjected to shocking verbal abuse, Carla calmly but defiantly opens her front door...

... Before stepping out into an uncertain future.

Above and below: the 'owl' chair.

The woven owl in Carla's kitchen.

Strangely, Carla here seems to be smiling at the owl. This is never explained.

The owl is noticeably skewed on the wall as Carla feels the strain of her abuse.




7 July 2014

'Signs', wonders, and TV

By Robbie Graham Silver Screen Saucers

Inspired by the crop circle phenomenon, the 2002 movie Signs draws broadly from the UFO mythos and, in one of its more comical scenes, has three of its characters huddled together in tinfoil hats, wracked by paranoia. Beyond such cliché, however, M. Night Shyamalan’s film exhibits a deeper – perhaps subconscious – awareness of the UFO phenomenon and of the effects of its mass-mediation in the post-modern world.

In the film, a Pennsylvanian farming family – headed by old-fashioned priest and widower Reverend Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) – is thrown into turmoil when a crop formation appears overnight in their corn field. From blanket TV news coverage we learn that hundreds of similar crop ‘signs’ have appeared suddenly and simultaneously around the world, baffling experts. Graham is quietly concerned and seeks to distance his family from the inexplicable events unfolding around them by refusing them access to the media circus now spoon-feeding the hungry masses. “See, this is why we’re not watching TV,” says Graham, “people get obsessed.” For Graham, despite the undeniable physical reality of the sign in his corn field and his own gut instinct that something strange is afoot, it is only through their mediation by TV news reports that the bizarre events can assume a sense of the ‘real’.
Discussing Baudrillard’s notions of hyperreality, John Storey notes that, “Representation does not stand at one remove from reality, to conceal or distort it, it is reality”[i]; implicitly aware of this, Graham opts to sever his own access to media images, leaving him free to interpret the events outside as he chooses and to continue to inhabit his own secure, albeit emotionally stagnant, reality. It is only when Graham catches a glimpse of an alien in his corn field one night that he submits to his family’s desire to be mediated (“Okay, let’s turn on the TV”). It is Graham’s submission to television that plants him firmly in the “present age” to which Feuerbach refers in The Essence of Christianity: an age “which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence...” For Graham, the grieving widower and priest faced with an incomprehensible threat to his family, now, more than ever, “Illusion only is sacred, truth profane.”[ii]

As the family watch “live” footage of numerous UFOs over Mexico City, Graham’s brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) quips: “the nerds were right – a reference to the generic UFO believers he had mocked in an earlier scene. Shyamalan’s decision to have the alien craft arrive over Mexico City clearly is inspired by the real-life mass-sightings of UFOs over this same locale during the solar eclipse of July 11, 1991 when hundreds of people witnessed what appeared to be a number of hovering, metallic, disc-shaped objects. Signs again draws from the UFO mythos during a scene in which Merrill reacts with horror as the TV news runs grainy, daylight footage of an alien prowling the backstreets of Paso Fundo, Brazil. This is an oblique reference the famous ‘Varginha incident’ of 1996 in which three teenage girls claimed to have been traumatised by a daylight encounter with an unearthly entity in the Brazilian city of Varginha.[iii]  

Several scenes later, the whole family has succumbed entirely to the mystical power of their television as they stare passively at the numerous “lights” now hovering over Washington DC and over hundreds of cities worldwide. Such is the magnetism of their TV screen that, rather than driving to the nearest city in an attempt to see the lights for themselves or even simply stepping outside to glance up at the sky, the family considers it more natural to watch the events on television and, most importantly, to record them. “We have to tape this,” urges Graham’s son, Morgan, “this is very important... the history of the world’s future is on the TV right now,” telling his younger sister Bo (Abigail Breslin), “We need to record this so you can show your children this tape and say you were there.” Clearly, the Hess family understand that the postmodern media do not simply provide, “secondary representations of reality; they affect and produce the reality that they mediate,”[iv] and that, “all events that ‘matter’ are media events.”[v]

As the saucer-shaped lights twinkle overhead, the anchorman informs viewers that “This image has not been adjusted or enhanced in anyway. What you’re seeing is real. It’s unbelievable.” Later in the film, Graham asks himself, “Is this really happening?” Such dialogue points to an awareness on Shayamalan’s part that the literal existence of UFOs is difficult to accept; not because of what UFOs might represent (otherworldly intelligences), but because of how the phenomenon has been mediated (i.e. ridiculed) for over sixty years. Shayamalan’s concerns along these lines are expressed subtly in his decision to confine his UFOs and aliens securely to his characters’ TV screen as objects of media scrutiny for all but a few seconds of the film’s total running time.  

The extent to which the family’s perception of UFOs has been historically mediated is also effectively illustrated through their inability to envisage what horrors might be unfolding beyond the four corners of their TV screen. When both their television and radio cease to function as a result of the unseen invasion outside, in the total absence of media to guide their perceptions, the Hess family are lost, as demonstrated when a terrified Merrill asks: “What’s going on out there?” A question to which Graham can only respond: “I can’t even imagine.” Indeed, in an earlier scene, when Merrill does attempt to make use of his imagination, he can’t help but fall back on iconographic imagery conjured by classic UFOlogical fiction, describing the scenes on TV as being “like War of the Worlds.”
During the film’s climax in which an alien intruder holds Morgan hostage in the Hess family’s living room, Shyamalan again chooses to objectify the aliens through television – this time quite literally. When Graham finally sees the alien up close it is in the form of a reflection in his TV screen, and, again, when the creature is defeated and lies dying on the floor we see only its reflection in the glass of the television. Are aliens real, or do they exist purely as media constructs? In Signs Shayamalan seems to answer the question with a question: “in today’s hyperreal society, does it matter?”

Signs is an anomaly in the UFO subgenre. Consciously or not, it engages with the UFO subject through the intellectual framework of spectatorship and hyperreality. As a meditation on UFOs as a media abstraction (viewed most comfortably through the filter of television), the film serves as a reflection of popular attitudes towards the phenomenon today, demonstrating that, when it comes to UFOs, even Hollywood in its mass-mediation of the phenomenon is acutely aware that “There is no longer a clear distinction between a ‘real’ event and its media representation.” [vi]

[i]  John Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction (Fourth Edition) (University of Georgia Press, 2006), p. 136.
[ii] Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity: Translated from the Second German Edition by Marion Evans, 1890, xiii, in Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967.
[iii] Matt Moffett,Tale of Stinky Extraterrestrials Stirs Up UFO Crowd in Brazil,’ The Wall Street Journal, 12 July, 1996. Available at: http://www.anomalies.net/archive/cni-news/CNI.0060.html. For a popular accounting of the ‘Varginha Incident’, see Roger K. Leir, UFO Crash in Brazil: A Genuine UFO Crash with Surviving ETs (California: The Book Tree, 2005).
[iv] John Fiske, Media Matters: Everyday Culture and Media Change (University of Minnesota Press, 1994), p. xv, in Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction, p. 135.
[v] Storey, Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction, p. 135.
[vi] Ibid.

2 June 2014

Looking Back at 'Contact'

By Robbie Graham Silver Screen Saucers 

In a time when the idea of alien visitation is becoming inseparable from Transformers and Battleships, the 1997 movie Contact seems more rare and precious than ever...

Based on the novel by famed astronomer Carl Sagan, the 1997 movie Contact has become a firm favourite in the UFO community. Sagan, of course, was a vehement UFO sceptic, and so it is ironic that Contact connects so profoundly with so many in the UFO field; ironic, but perhaps not surprising considering the movie lends itself freely to UFOlogical readings.

In the movie, SETI scientist Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) – whose character is inspired by real-life former SETI director Jill Tarter – discovers an alien signal beamed from Vega, a star in the constellation of Lyra, some 25 light years from Earth. Her discovery and its subsequent public disclosure by President Clinton constitutes proof that we are not alone in the universe and captures the imagination of the entire planet, sparking fervent scientific, political and religious debate. Soon, Ellie and her team realize the signal is actually a complex schematic for a transport pod designed to carry one person to a destination unknown. That destination, in transpires, is Vega itself and is to be reached via multiple wormholes. Naturally, it is Ellie who takes the cosmic voyage, and, at the end of her epic journey, she finds herself in an elaborate simulacrum of a childhood memory: a warm beach in Pensacola, Florida. It is here that she speaks face-to-face with an alien intelligence which has assumed the form of her dead father, whom she lost as a child: “We thought this might make things easier for you,” he says, smiling gently. No little green or Grey men for Ellie, then; no flying saucers, no motherships or gleaming alien cityscapes, only a mirage of Earthly forms created for her personal comfort. “You’re an interesting species, an interesting mix,” he tells her. “You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.” She longs to learn more before being sent home, but is told “This was just a first step. In time you’ll take another… this is the way it’s been done for billions of years. Small moves, Ellie, small moves.” And so an individual is selected for contact and provided with philosophical nuggets but zero physical evidence of their alien encounter, before being left to tell their story to whomsoever will listen. Ellie, it seems, has much in common with the contactees of UFO lore.
“I can’t prove it”

Back on Earth, during a government inquiry into her claims, Ellie is reminded by a panel member that she has “no evidence, no record, no artifacts. Only a story that, to put it mildly, strains credibility.” Ellie is asked: “why don’t you simply withdraw your testimony, and concede that this ‘journey to the center of the galaxy,’ in fact, never took place?” She responds:

“Because I can’t. I... had an experience... I can’t prove it, I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real! I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever... A vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how rare and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not, that none of us, are alone! I wish I could share that. I wish that everyone, if only for one moment, could feel that awe, and humility, and hope. But... That continues to be my wish.”
Ellie is visibly frustrated. She has experienced direct contact with an alien intelligence, but she has done so in a manner that flies in the face of our preconceived notions (a saucer on the White House lawn, for example – a notion, which, ironically, was borne of cinema), and thus her claims are dismissed by official culture.

As Ellie leaves her hearing, the hardheaded atheist realizes that her contact experience was, in essence, a spiritual awakening not so different from those claimed by religious disciples. Indeed, the throngs of worshippers who greet her outside with placards hailing her discovery of “the new world” confirm her new status as a religious icon. Like many a contactee, Ellie has attracted followers with her stories of otherworldly communion. Certain elements of society see fit to believe her, while most do not. Either way her story is out there.

Although Carl Sagan was a UFO sceptic, the screenwriter for Contact, James V. Hart, is a self-proclaimed UFO believer. Not that this seems to have had much bearing on the film. Any UFOlogical readings we might ascribe to Contact the movie are also identifiable in the book. Intentionally or not, the idea of ‘missing time’ features prominently as Ellie assumes her hyperspatial voyage has lasted hours or even days, when to the eyes of outside observers her transport pod travelled nowhere at all. It is implied that her experience occurred in the space between spaces. Certainly it was beyond her limited comprehension and of those she would seek to convince of its actuality – something UFO witnesses can relate to.
Contact and Clinton

An intriguing UFOlogical side-note on Contact relates to President Bill Clinton. When in the movie the President announces the discovery of the alien signal, the Clinton we see and hear is the real Clinton – which is to say his image and words have not been manipulated by the filmmakers, as could so easily have been done through digital trickery. The President says, in part:

“...If this discovery is confirmed, it will surely be one of the most stunning insights into our universe that science has ever uncovered. Its implications are as far reaching and awe inspiring as can be imagined. Even as it promises answers to some of our oldest questions, it poses still others even more fundamental. We will continue to listen closely to what it has to say as we continue the search for answers and for knowledge that is as old as humanity itself but essential to our people’s future...”

These words, however, although actually spoken by Clinton, were presented out of context in the movie. While in the scene in question it certainly sounds like Clinton is delivering a cautious disclosure of contact with an alien intelligence, in reality his comments were delivered in August 1996 and referred to the possible discovery of fossilized microbial life in a Martian meteorite. Director Robert Zemeckis simply lifted this part of Clinton’s speech and used it to heighten the believability of his fictional movie. It was a decision that landed the director in hot water with the White House, which issued a complaint to the film’s producers citing unauthorized use of the President’s image. In truth, Clinton was probably delighted to be seen on the big screen announcing alien contact. By his own public admission, the Democratic President was and is fascinated by the idea not only of extraterrestrial life, but of UFO visitation; he has even spoken publicly of his frustration at being stonewalled on the issue. At a speech in Belfast in 1995, the President made a point of bringing up the famous Roswell Incident of 1947: “If the United States Air Force did recover alien bodies, they didn’t tell me about it, either, and I want to know.” He was even more direct in a question and answer session following a speech in Hong Kong in 2005. When asked about Roswell, the President replied: “I did attempt to find out if there were any secret government documents that revealed things. If there were, they were concealed from me too. And, if there were, well I wouldn’t be the first American President that underlings have lied to, or that career bureaucrats have waited out. But there may be some career person sitting around somewhere, hiding these dark secrets, even from elected presidents. But if so, they successfully eluded me.”

A contemplative film calling to mind the likes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and even 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact is a spectacular sci-fi that milked every penny of its $90 million budget to gross in excess of $171 million worldwide. Seventeen years on from its release Contact remains distinct from most all other movies to have explored the idea of human/alien interactions. It belongs to that lonely group of films which has dared to dream that life beyond the stars might one day extend to us a peaceful hand. Although from a screenwriting perspective it is arguably more challenging to explore the positive implications of otherworldly contact than the negative – explosions being easier to pen than profound socio-political or spiritual debate – Contact is testament to the fact that the challenge can be met with gusto, and to both critical and commercial success. Here’s hoping that, in the years to come, Hollywood will be more inclined to shake ET’s hand rather than to blow it off with a bazooka and a one-liner.

This article was originally published in Exopolitics Magazine, Issue 1, Summer 2014, which is available now for free download.

30 May 2014

'Stargate' trilogy headed for big screen in "re-imagined" universe

By Robbie Graham Silver Screen Saucers

Big UFO movie news outta crazy old Tinseltown today… MGM and Warner Bros. have announced they are teaming-up with director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin for a “re-imagined trilogy” based on the pair’s 1994 Ancient-Astronaut-inspired blockbuster Stargate. Incidentally, Emmerich and Devlin are also currently deep in development on Independence Day 2, a.k.a. ID-4ever: Part One (a title which implies yet another sequel).

Speaking for MGM, Gary Barber said Emmerich and Devlin will “bring their reinvigorated vision of this wildly popular property to audiences of multiple generations.”

Emmerich and Devlin have said of their new project: “The Stargate universe is one that we missed terribly, and we cannot wait to get going on imagining new adventures and situations for the trilogy. This story is very close to our hearts, and getting the chance to revisit this world is in many ways like a long lost child that has found its way back home.”

The original Stargate, of course, went on to spawn an epic TV franchise with SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe, all of which have tapped into UFO mythology to varying degrees. It seems a fair bet that this “re-imagined” trilogy will also owe a significant debt to UFO literature and debate. No release date has yet been announced, but with the Independence Day sequel still a ways off in 2016, it’s unlikely cinemagoers will be journeying through a Stargate any time before 2018.