Hollywood’s close encounters with UFOs, aliens and the otherworldly
Like “Battle: Los Angeles,” “Apollo 18" takes a historical event and twists it a bit, in effect positing that if you thought these were just UFO thrillers, you had better check the history books.
In February 1942, Angelenos woke to air raid sirens and a city blackout. At first, residents thought the city was under attack. For nearly an hour anti-aircraft shells were fired at reported aircraft. However, the next morning, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox told the press it was a false alarm. Just “war nerves,” he said. The press and the people didn’t buy it and rumors of a coverup ensued. Some even believed the alleged aircraft were really unidentified flying objects. “Battle Los Angeles” stretches the theory, weaving a fictional tale about a world under alien attack while L.A. becomes the last stand for mankind.
And now comes “Apollo 18,” which, through the promotional material released so far, suggests that someone has found “classified footage” of a secret space mission. The film’s effectiveness has yet to be judged, but, of course, this isn’t the first time Hollywood has dealt with extraterrestrial contact. Let’s look back at more big screen encounters with UFOs, aliens and the otherworldly.
-- Emily Christianson and Jevon Phillips (Dimension Films)
Alien agenda: The aliens came and destroyed. They employed a divide-and-conquer strategy and forced mankind into hiding and using hit-and-run tactics until they could figure something out.
Did it work? That’s the “figure it out” portion. Humans kept adapting until they were able to glean the whole spire concept and basically disrupt the aliens’ communications, weakening them enough for the human military strikes to be effective. Mankind had a long way to go at the end, but they at least had hope.
-- Jevon Phillips (Columbia Pictures)
Alien agenda: Conquest. The aliens first send down a “homing” alien that emits pheromones to guide other dark, bear-like creatures to it. Along the way, they kill whoever is in their path.
Did it work? A 15-year-old kid and his roving gang of teen friends were able to, with the help of a stoned-out zoologist, figure out how to take out these creatures (though some did perish in the effort). As fearsome as they were, and in at least this little corner of London, it definitely did not work.
-- Jevon Phillips (Liam Daniel / Screen Gems)
Alien agenda: The extraterrestrials want a meet and greet with the human species. They send a signal embedded with video of Hitler (the first television signal to project beyond Earth’s atmosphere) and a set of complicated technical drawings on how to build a space pod.
Did it work? Kind of. Lucky scientist Ellie Arroway gets a chance to man the pod and travel via wormhole to find the aliens. Taking the form of her father on a familiar Florida beach, they explain that this is only the first step in humans joining the greater space community. Too bad for Ellie, almost no one believes her. What everyone else saw (the pod dropping to the ground) isn’t in sync with her otherworldly encounter.
--Emily Christianson (Francois Duhamel / Warner Bros.)
Alien agenda: Aliens on a mission to collect flora flee in haste when the government comes after them, accidentally leaving behind one of their own. Now, the new mission is to get him back.
Did it work? The alien, E.T., passes the time by drinking beer, learning English via “Sesame Street” and hanging out with a few local kids. Once he crafts a phone out of a Speak and Spell he’s able to get in touch with his fellow extraterrestrials and catch a ride home.
-- Emily Christianson (Margaret Herrick Library)
Alien agenda: Aliens heighten activity around the planet as those who have witnessed the alien ships are increasingly troubled, and government coverups increase. The aliens apparently want to return abductees and communicate with humans -- peacefully.
Did it work? A few now-famous musical notes later, and eventually contact is made with the aliens without a crazy military skirmish erupting. Persistent people who had had encounters with the aliens are allowed to go with them.
-- Jevon Phillips (Columbia Pictures)
Alien agenda: This alien’s ready to live a little. After being buried in Antarctica for thousands of years, the “thing” will take the shape of any human or pet it can get next to. The big picture? Create a flying object and set out for the mainland to infect the masses.
Did it work? Probably. After most of the members of an arctic research team are killed off, the movie ends with the last two residents questioning whether the other is really human as their camp burns to the ground.
-- Emily Christianson (Universal)
Alien agenda: Human abduction with some attempted communication in Sumerian.
Did it work? Yes. Residents in Nome, Alaska, were prime for the picking and aliens terrorized many of the town’s families by visiting them as owls and then snatching them up.
Alien agenda: There isn’t much of one -- either for the aliens, refugees from their home planet, or the humans who encounter them in Johannesburg and don’t quite know what to do with them.
Did it work? Not so much. The aliens of “District 9" are hardly lovable creatures, but the movie posits that the humans are really the terrorists.
-- Denise Martin (TriStar Pictures)
Alien agenda: Alien invaders, already ruling Earth for one thousand years, enslave the surviving humans and force them to do manual labor. The aliens scheme to get the humans to mine for gold.
Did it work? Nope, the humans rise up with the help of ancient but still-operational technology. The movie also failed at the box office and was widely panned by critics.
--Lora Victorio (Warner Bros.)
Alien agenda: A planned attack from the sky wipes out the planet’s major cities, and a rather large UFO descends, sending out battalions of ships to finish the job. Described as intergalactic locusts, the aliens just want to suck our planet dry of vital resources.
Did it work? The initial damage was great. But the slimy extra-terrestrials were no match for Will Smith.
-- Denise Martin (20th Century Fox)
Also ‘Body Snatchers’ (1993), ‘The Invasion’ (2007)
Alien agenda: Slowly replace the human population of the earth by creating exact replicas, minus all warmth and emotion, in big seed pods.
Did it work? You bet it worked. It worked so well in the ‘50s (where movies generally had happy endings), they did it four different times. (We’re partial to the Donald Sutherland screamy version of the invasion.)
-- Patrick Day (United Artists)
Alien agenda: Big-brained little Martians decide to invade earth and kill everybody. Why? No clue. Maybe just for fun.
Did it work? No. It turns out the Martians only weakness is the sounds of Slim Whitman’s “Indian Love Call,” which causes their big-brained little heads to explode. Nasty.
-- Patrick Day (Warner Bros.)
Alien agenda: An alien named Gallaxhar sends a robot to earth to track down a powerful substance called quantonium. If the extraterrestrial can get his hands on it, he can power up his cloning device and create an invasion army.
Did it work? No. Although he was able to extract the quantonium from a giant named Ginormica, his plot was thwarted when her friends arrived to save her. The group of unlikely heroes, made of a blob, missing link and a cockroach, hotwired his spaceship to implode, killing Gallaxhar and his clones.
-- Emily Christianson (DreamWorks)
Alien agenda: In the Spielberg version of the H.G. Wells story, a network of alien ships rise from beneath Earths surface and simultaneously destroy the worlds biggest cities. The sky-high spider-like alien ships then go about the rest of the planet spearing humans, sucking out their blood, and spewing it back on Earth in cobwebs of guck.
Did it work? Actually, yes. For a good while, too. Until the idiot fleet caught a cold from mankind and perished without a fight.