Now this may not seem to be related to The Paracast, or UFOs, but it does. Back in 1989, when I first brought an Apple Macintosh into my home, I was the oddball. Whenever I visited a local computer store to buy some software, and told them it was for a Mac, the salespeople would give me a strange look and dispatch me to the back of the store.
I wasn’t surprised to see a few dusty boxes that, when I looked them over, after blowing on them to see the lettering, I found to be mostly out of date.
In those days, the Mac was the plaything. You did serious work on a PC. Period. The computing world has changed a lot in the past 31 years, but that’s another story.
Now as a preteen, I first became interested in UFOs when I borrowed a book from my brother — one he had borrowed from the public library — that was entitled “Flying Saucers From Outer Space” by Major Donald Keyhoe. Little did I know that I would still be chasing the saucers decades later.
When I brought the book home, my dad barely noticed. My mother never asked; she had already realized that I was a different sort.
I had the benefit of not being terribly social. My few friends, oddly enough, were also interested in the subject. So Marty would talk about a book he bought for one dollar at the closeout racks of a bookstore, “The Expanding Case for the UFO” by M.K. Jessup. It was the lesser-known follow up to the infamous “Case for the UFO” that managed to help trigger the Philadelphia Experiment myth.
But don’t get me started on that. Well, just this: In the mid-1970s, I briefly hosted a cable TV show for Harry Belil, publisher of Beyond Reality magazine. One of my guests was Charles Berlitz, the bestselling author of “The Bermuda Triangle.”
In response to a question about what he was working on next, he talked about the Philadelphia Experiment and his search for a copy of the Varo or Annotated Edition of “Case for the UFO.”
It just so happened that I had a copy of a republished version. He paused for just a moment, and I later realized he claimed that it was missing strictly to promote his forthcoming book. But he happily accepted my offer to give him my copy.
No, I didn’t ask for its return. I just didn’t take it seriously. Besides, I got a small credit in his book.
But I digress. During that infamous visit to the Washington, D.C. headquarters of NICAP in 1965, one of the major UFO clubs of that era, Marty came along for the ride, soon joined by my old friends, Allen Greenfield and Rick Hilberg.
That’s the occasion where NICAP’s office manager, Richard Hall, told me I wasn’t welcome there, evidently because I was receiving a paycheck as Managing Editor of Saucer News.
That was probably the last time I saw Marty. I had made arrangements to meet up with him not long thereafter, but he never showed up. He didn’t return my phone calls, so I moved on.
In any case, I continued my pursuit of UFOs, again not suffering the ridicule and scorn that affected others involved in that pursuit. When I worked as News Director for a suburban Philadelphia radio station, I would occasionally run a local news item about a UFO sighting. Management didn’t care, so long as I covered the most important local stories about the police blotter, school board meetings, and town meetings.
In a sense, I was living in a different reality. As we all recall, even in times of high UFO activity, the mainstream media usually treated the subject as a joke. If they ran out of “real” news to report, they’d sometimes trot out a filler about someone seeing UFOs, and talk about ET believers, little green men and other annoyances.
Sure, a few papers treated the subject seriously, usually ones that serviced smaller cities and towns.
But that all changed beginning in 2017, when both The New York Times and Politico revealed the news about the Pentagon UFO Study, in which $22 million was allocated to the project at the urging of Senator Harry Reid, then Majority Leader. I suppose you could quibble that all or most of it went to billionaire Bob Bigelow to continue his research.
After all, it appears to be true that Bigelow sent campaign donations to Reid’s campaigns, and one might assume that the fix was in. But Bigelow certainly has the resources — and the interest — to actually get some work done. Unfortunately, he’s also very reluctant to say much about what he knows.
So can we say the evidence went from one Black Hole into another?
But I’m not terribly pleased that the acronym UAP has been replacing UFOs in places that present themselves as more serious outlets nowadays. In a sense, this is the equivalent of switching from flying saucers to UFOs in the 1950s. It was all designed to give the subject the air of credibility. Evidently, referring to the phenomenon now as a UFO only incites the debunkers to do their thing.
I was also not surprised to see serious articles about, well, UAPs, in the Washington Post. Such cable news outlets as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and others brought on people to present serious viewpoints on the topic.
I was especially surprised to see conservative firebrand Tucker Carlson keep his cool whenever UAPs were discussed. Since he is notorious for taking the cheap shots, this may indeed indicate a serious interest on his part.
Contrast that to the first time I saw journalist Leslie Kean interviewed on Fox News, in connection with her 2010 book, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record.”
The anchors appeared to be standing on a platform, which only increased their height advantages over Leslie, who is short. She was clearly not intimated, and the interview was conducted seriously, no snickers or bad green alien jokes.
These days, the anchors and the guests were all seated, at least on the shows I’ve seen, so any height disparities were generally irrelevant.
Then there’s the To The Stars Academy of Arts and Science, which has received its share of attention.
Whatever you think about the goings on at this company, its stated purpose, on its site, is still murky. It is referred to as “a public benefit corporation that was established in 2017 as a revolutionary collaboration between academia, industry and pop culture to advance society’s understanding of scientific phenomena and its technological implications.”
Certainly flying saucers, UFOs or UAP aren’t mentioned there, unless it’s about “scientific phenomena.” The organization seems to be trying too hard to take on the veneer of a serious scientific research body.
Regardless, it’s nice to see UFOs (I’m sticking with that one!) being taken seriously by the mainstream media; well, corporate media. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are any closer to discovering some real answers about what’s going on, but it is a refreshing change.
The Paracast: this week's episode: Gene and Randall present a thought-provoking discussion with ong time UFO author/researchers Jerome Clark and Chris Rutkowski. Jerry has written over a dozen books include the multivolume magnum opus, “The UFO Encyclopedia.” He’s also a songwriter whose music has been recorded or performed by musicians such as Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Tom T. Hall. Chris is a Canadian science writer and educator, with a background in astronomy but with a passion for teaching science concepts to children and adults. Since the mid-1970s, he also has been studying reports of UFOs and writing about his investigations and research.
Back when I sat on the edge of my theater seat with clenched fists for almost two hours during Life, I tweeted immediately after that the film was the Alien of a new generation. I Tweeted that because like the original Alien film, the beauty of Life is that you don’t see much of the alien. It’s thrilling because the alien is growing quickly, and you don’t know what to expect the next time you see it. Neither do the characters, which better allows their fear to infect you.
GCN’s resident movie critic, Charles Karel Bouley, called Life an Alien “ripoff,” and I agree wholeheartedly. But I appreciate that the makers of Life utilized the successes of Alien and those suspenseful thrillers before it. But what I appreciate most about Life is that it’s at least a partially original story, with motivated plot and character arcs and an original, twisted ending that utilizes parallel editing pretty well. Life is an Alien movie with a new alien, just as Alien was Jaws with a new shark, and Jaws the Psycho with a new psycho.
It’s just too bad Alien: Covenant did its best to ruin Life’s opening weekend and gross earnings. Life has made just under $80 million worldwide, while Covenant moved up its release date, forcing Life into a crowded month and weekend. Logan and Get Out were both R-rated films still pulling strong numbers, and that’s two too many. Covenant did $4.2 million in Thursday night preview screenings at about 3,000 locations. As of this writing, Life is currently rated five points lower than Covenant on the Tomatometer and audience score.
So there’s another Alien movie. That’s six if you don’t count Alien vs. Predator. But you can tell Covenant is not a true Alien movie by simply comparing the trailers. Remember the Alien trailer? Well, I guess I don’t either. It was before my time, but I do remember watching effective trailers in film school, including that of Alien. It’s an effective trailer because the alien is never revealed. They start with the suspense right out of the gate and leave you wanting -- no -- needing to go to the theater to see that damn alien!
Covenant attempts to build suspense with its trailer but throws it all down the drain with the last shot. Sure they wait until the very end of the trailer to reveal the alien, but I’d argue they never needed that final shot of the alien. Almost everyone knows what the alien looks like by now, but the revelation used to be reserved for those who paid for a movie ticket. Now Hollywood just puts the revelation on the poster like a brand, but the art of making a great trailer has gone by the wayside as well.
Karel said Covenant doesn’t offer us anything new regarding suspense, “but it goes back to the same cinematography, the same type score, the same lighting that the original did oh so many years ago. BUT that had things we had not seen before.”
So Life can’t be an Alien ripoff with a mostly original story, villain and ending, and things we haven’t seen, but we can remake the same damn movie over and over as long as it shares part of the name of the original film? I might be in the minority, but I’d rather see someone attempt a film that’s even partially original than see the same film with the same shots and same music I saw 20 years ago with better computer graphics. Speaking of exactly the same...
The trailer for Life is almost an exact replica of the Alien trailer and is equally suspenseful. You never see the alien in its grown form -- only the faces of its victims -- which is plenty. The trailer doesn’t give too much away, and neither does the poster. The last time I was that excited to see a film (besides 2017’s Get Out for obvious reasons) was Dark Knight Rises five years earlier (and that’s because I’m a Batman freak). I just had to see that alien! And I am in no way comparing Life to either Get Out or Dark Knight Rises. I’m merely commenting that the feeling of excitement I had going into the film was piqued thanks to the trailer and movie poster. I was sold, and the people responsible for creating those marketing materials should get mad props.
As a fan of film and not necessarily of the Alien franchise, I appreciated what Ridley Scott did with the Alien prequel, Prometheus. He made it like the first Alien movie. The Xenomorph in Alien had just four minutes of screen time and didn’t appear until an hour into the film. That’s how you build suspense. The only horror or thriller villain to win an Academy Award spent 20 minutes onscreen. That’s all the role required thanks to Anthony Hopkins.
The Prometheus trailer never reveals the alien and neither does the poster. If you had never seen an Alien film you could have gone to the theater not even realizing you were going to see an Alien film. Then, after the most gruesome, on-screen c-section ever, that newborn alien just sits in that locked room. You almost forget about it while waiting for the big payoff -- the fight with the “engineer.” And when those doors open, the alien does not disappoint. It’s suspenseful more than it’s scary, and suspense is better.
But moviegoers have made things easier on filmmakers these days by turning out in droves for horror flicks and action movies that aren’t nearly as dedicated to cinematic and thematic quality as thrillers and dramas. I mean, a handheld-shot, horror movie made nearly $250 million. And while Covenant looks to be on its way to good payday, it’s also surrounded with the likes of a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a third animated movie about talking Cars, a sequel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and a remake of The Mummy with Tom Cruise (which I find to be incredibly disturbing).
My point is the standards of moviegoers have fallen tremendously, likely due to the lack of originality and variety available at movie theaters these days. Hollywood is getting away with it and will continue to do so until people stop paying exorbitant amounts of money to see bad films.
“Ridley knows how to terrorize us...but when Scott discovers that we can be terrorized again with less, instead of more, and when the writers can innovate instead of capitalize, the next great horror film will be made,” Karel said.
I would venture to say horror isn’t a genre that lends itself to originality, and if writers want to innovate, they wouldn’t write horror or action. They’d write suspenseful thrillers, which require new monsters and new stories like Life has given us. I so hope there's a sequel called After Life and a sequel to the sequel called Life After Life. Given the ending of Life, I'd say the future of the franchise is brighter than the box office numbers indicate.
I have no problem with the Alien franchise continuing. It’s a fantastic story and now a fantastic pre-story. But if you’re going to make an Alien movie, make an Alien movie -- trailer, poster and all. Leave some wiggle room for the imagination to fantasize prior to throwing the alien in our face. That’s what made Alien so great, and while Life and Prometheus are contrived by design, at least they stayed true to the inspiration. If Alien: Covenant stays true to its inspiration, it’ll be contrived from the sci-fi, action movie Aliens, which, by design, means it can’t be as cinematically or thematically entertaining as Life or any of its predecessors.
Editor’s Note: An update will follow with my review of Alien: Covenant.
Editor's Note: I finally watched Alien: Covenant, and since it's been almost four months since this was originally published, you are right to assume that I didn't see it in a theater. I'm glad I didn't, because the latest Alien movie isn't even worth renting. While I'll appreciate the franchise continuing tradition and making a woman the film's strongest character, that's about the only thing I like about it besides Daniel McBride's performance. Michael Fassbender returns as David and also plays Walter -- an updated version of David. But Walter is duller, too, and for good reason. The humans don't want him to create anything for fear of what he's capable. This doesn't allow Fassbender to carry the screen like he did with David in Prometheus, but the film does do a good job illustrating the potential hazards of artificial intelligence, leaving you wondering for how long you'll be atop the food chain -- and not because of the aliens.
The plot is oh so predictable from beginning to end. Upon introductions of the Covenant crew, I knew exactly who would live and who would die. But even their deaths weren't especially entertaining or creative, with one crew member slipping on blood and injuring her leg to make things easy for the newborn alien. The biggest problem I had with the film was how almost everyone panics (and unrealistically at that) the moment something goes wrong. It might be just a colonizing mission, but they're in outer freaking space. If this crew had any training whatsoever, most didn't show it. And whether or not you're aware aliens exist, you must assume aliens exist, and have a plan in case you make contact. Apparently, NASA doesn't have a protocol for dealing with aliens, either, but that's because they're not even close to getting far enough from Earth to find any. Covenant, however, is en route to a planet that could sustain human life, and therefore other life, and the crew awakes seven years from their destination. I'm sorry, but anyone who boards a spaceship and falls asleep for a decade while roaming outer space and awakes with the assumption they're still the only intelligent life in the vicinity is either incredibly vain or incredibly stupid, or both. Alien: Covenant is equally as stupid. The entire film exists because Prometheus was so good and revived the franchise. They certainly didn't need Ridley Scott to make and sell this garbage. Prometheus did that. Life, however, is a fresh take on the alien story and far more entertaining than Covenant. It might not be as introspective and thought-provoking, but Life is more suspenseful, offers believable performances, and has a much better ending because I didn't see it coming when the movie started. The only thing I was wrong about is Covenant wasn't as scary as Life.