With the recent release of Skyline, which I have not seen (and have no intention of seeing), I was thinking about the depiction of aliens in film and television. We are gearing up for more alien invasion flicks to be released next year. A couple of those have piqued my interest and I may go see them.
Earlier this year, Steven Hawking asserted that meeting extraterrestrials would likely not be a good thing. Members of SETI debated the subject, as well, asking whether or not we should make contact. I wrote a couple of posts that I felt that the cat was already out of the bag. NASA has already sent messages in a bottle into the “cosmic ocean” that contain maps, which disclose exactly where we are, among other projects. It’s too late to hide. So friendly or not, if they are out there and can travel this far, they can find us.
The depiction of aliens as the enemy is nothing new. There was a brief period of time when they weren’t always the enemy. When I was growing up, a number of extraterrestrials were presented as friendly. On television, we had Mork from Ork, “Alien Burt”, Alf, SNL’s Coneheads, and many others. Not long after that, we had lovable E.T. in the movies.
During that period of time decades ago, our view of extraterrestrials was generally positive.
One film of the time stands out as presenting an extremely positive, almost religious, meeting with extraterrestrials. That film was Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Perhaps it was the love-in at the end of the movie between extraterrestrials and earthlings that made it stand out.
Anyway, I Googled the film to see when it was released. Lo and behold, it was released this week in 1977.
I’m feeling nostalgic this morning, I guess.
To those interested, I’m sharing a review, which was published by The New York Times, 33 years ago today.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
NYT Critics’ Pick
CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND
By Vincent Canby
Published: November 17, 1977
In the 1950′s, the decade in which we fought the Korean War, witnessed the rise and fall of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and fretted (along with Mort Sahl) about the atomic bomb’s falling into the hands of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, science fiction films enjoyed a new, lively popularity largely by feeding on our wildest nightmares. We watched movies in which planets fought wars with each other, worlds threatened to collide, and a huge malignant carrot, a vegetable with a higher form of intelligence, landed at the North Pole.
A favorite theme was the invasion of earth by alien creatures who, nine times out of ten, were up to no good. The unholy immigrants in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers attempted to usurp earth by catching the souls of the incumbents in giant peapods, receptacles that suggested the work of an early Jasper Johns.
Sometimes the visitors were motivated by a territorial imperative—they were running out of air back home or there were no more materials for beer cans. Often the creatures were simply making mischief, though occasionally they expressed benign intentions. From Krypton came Superman to play the role of a supercharged savior whose work would never be done.
Klaatu, the impeccably space-suited, English-accented visitor in The Day the Earth Stood Still, wanted earthlings to stop fooling around and live in peace. The implied threat of Klaatu’s “Or else…” might have struck some of us as galactal neo-fascism, but that was to read the film deeper than it was meant to go.
Steven Spielberg’s giant, spectacular Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which opened at the Ziegfeid Theater yesterday, is the best—the most elaborate—1950′s science fiction movie ever made, a work that borrows its narrative shape and its concerns from those earlier films, but enhances them with what looks like the latest developments in movie and space technology. If, indeed, we are not alone, it would be fun to believe that the creatures who may one day visit us are of the order that Mr. Spielberg has conceived—with, I should add, a certain amount of courage and an entirely straight face. [Read the rest of the review at the NY Times]
Copyright © 2010 Cherlyn Gardner Strong