Close Encounters of the Canadian Kind, or...
Starship Invasions (1977)
That fellow seems to me to possess but one idea, and
that is a wrong one.
For about thirteen years, the Canadian government was in the B movie business.
No, that's not technically correct. But follow....
Starting in about 1974, special tax and loan incentives were offered to filmmaking groups in Canada. The goal was to indirectly subsidize film production in their country, giving audiences a chance to see Canadian movies as opposed to those ubiquitous American things coming out of Hollywood.
And in some cases, this form of government influence in arts and entertainment worked well. For example, David Cronenberg rose to critical fame thanks to the opportunities this program presented. This is not to say he wouldn't have made it in an environment without these financial incentives, but, hey, it worked for him.
On the other hand (and you knew this was coming, didn't you), some of the films were not exactly the pride of Canada. For example, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (1975), plus its sequel Find the Lady (1976), were not what you'd call good. Aw, the hell with being nice. We're talking about two of the worst things in John Candy's movie career.
However, if any of these films were mediocre or worse, this may not be problematic for the critical and popular success of the program. In a scholarly article by Keith Acheson and Christopher Maule, which was published in the Canadian Journal of Communications, the authors optimistically suggest in retrospect that if a movie was bad, then few would see it. Therefore, it was no problem if some of the movies were bad.
But south of the border, a notorious counterexample was given a good buildup in the popular press and released to theaters. Result? When conservative politicians wanted to speak against broad government funding for the arts, they could point to this one....
We open with a star background and the opening credits. During the credits we are treated to other planets in our solar system, beginning with Jupiter and continuing through Mars (what, no asteroids?), the Moon, and then Earth. Fade to a red sunset over water. From over the horizon, a flying saucer zooms in, flying over the audience's heads. (Not to worry; little else will be flying over your heads.)
Fade to a middle-aged farmer (Kurt Schiegl) on his tractor in a field. The flying saucer floats along in the sky overhead. The farmer leans over in his tractor, which has stopped. He looks up and sees the airborne troublemaker. (We suppose he's thinking, Danged kids. Used to be they'd just tip my cows. Now they use tractor beams.) But instead of shaking his fist at the out-of-towners for (allegedly) messing with his tractor, he beats feet. Unfortunately, the saucer hovers over him and zaps him with a bright blue beam. (Or rather, a poorly realized special effect of a blue beam is inserted into the shot.) The farmer stops running.
The saucer lands and a door opens. Out come the Men in Black. No, my mistake. Out come a couple of guys in black leotards with lots of should padding, a dragon symbol on the front, and funky headgear. (They're Caucasian as all get out, too. Physically and in terms of dress, they're about as alien as the average Canuck.) They stand to either side of the farmer, then the three of them walk to the flying saucer.
Inside, the aliens give the farmer a physical, which seems to consist of waving a high tech looking light in front of his face and sticking another gadget on his temple. Apparently satisfied, the two aliens leave, and in walks an attractive naked woman - or at least as naked as this movie is going to allow. She seductively approaches the farmer, who seems to brighten up. (The aliens seem to have a pretty good medical practice. The best I ever got from a doctor at the end of an exam was a lollipop.)
Later, the farmer (we learn his name is Rudi) tells the sheriff (Al Bernardo) what happened. Right after Rudi tells him about the girl, the sheriff laughs and tells him that he must've dreamed it.
Go to a radio show with Professor Allan Duncan (Robert Vaughn). When asked if UFO's are real, then why don't their owners reveal themselves. Dr. Duncan says he thinks they don't for our own good. If they let us know they were there, it would mess with our civilization. (I suppose a child's imaginary friends won't reveal themselves to adults for the same reason.) Furthermore, Dr. Duncan says that the toughest revelation in the first third of the century was relativity. In the second third, it was atomic power. In the final third, it will be an explanation for UFO's. (I would've hoped for an explanation of Jim Carey's salary, but I suppose we should just take what we can get.)
Afterwards, Dr. Duncan is in his study looking over a UFO magazine. (Hot sheet? I think not.) He gets a phone call from Rudi. The farmer asks the UFOlogist if he'd believe a UFO sighting. (Well, duh!) Fade to Dr. Duncan at Rudi's farm. He tells the farmer credible people have seen UFO's. (Of course, he doesn't cite examples of nut cases.) They walk to where the flying saucer landed. It's a circle of dead grass. Dr. Duncan measures it with a Geiger counter. He tells Rudi it's radioactive. (Natch!) Then he tells him he's seen other circles like this, and that he (Rudi) isn't crazy. (Wait. Did Dr. Duncan give him a psych eval?)
Onboard the flying saucer, Captain Rameses (Christopher Lee) telepathically tells his assembled crew their mission. (Note: All aliens speak telepathically. Whether it makes sense in a cross cultural context or just saves on post production is up to you.) The sun in their home system may explode at any moment, and he has a funky wristwatch (hereafter referred to as the Doomsday Watch) that will tell him when it happens. Therefore, the folks at home need to do a massive change of address. While the rest of their fleet is hiding behind the Moon, they'll be checking out this planet for its residential potential. (You know, checking out the shopping centers, finding out about nearby schools, testing the locals for religious awe, that sort of thing.) Oh, and they need to run an exam on a local female.
On a typical country road, a typical family of three is driving along in their typical station wagon. They're making typical small talk. However, they're typical quality road time is interrupted by the typical appearance of the flying saucer. The typical woman freaks at her typical husband for slowing down. Their boy snaps a typical shot of the flying saucer with a typical Polaroid. Then the flying saucer zaps them with the typical blue beam.
Onboard the flying saucer, the lone female crew member Sagnac (Sherri Ross - we met her earlier when she was out of uniform) is giving their female captive an exam. She's passively resisting. Captain Rameses enters and asks how it goes. Sagnac says the woman is in the proper hypnotic trance, but she's resisting because she's trying to speak. (Oh, sure. Give us an easy gender stereotype set up.) Rameses says let her speak. After Sagnac cuts loose the inhibition, the woman starts freaking out, begging her captives for her life. Rameses tells Sagnac to shut her off.
And the typical family is in their typical station wagon again. Unlike the farmer, they don't have a memory of where they were nor why they've stopped. However, they do have a dashboard compass that spins wildly and a Polaroid of a flying saucer. (Anything less is just a memory. No, strike that...)
Rameses explains the facts of life and death to his crew. Given the sperm sample from the male (as opposed to a sperm sample from, what, a female? - and we also assume they mean Rudi), they now know that everything they know is wrong. They're the descendents of transplanted humans from Earth. For their race to survive, they're going to have to wipe out their parent race.
Rudi sits in his barn loading a revolver. When he's done, he has flashbacks of the time that alien stuck a gadget on the side of his head. Then he puts the barrel of the revolver in his mouth and permanently clears his sinuses.
A typical maid enters a
typical motel room
and freaks. The typical family is on the floor dead, covered in
typical blood. (Feh! No tip? Typical....)
The flying saucer drops into the ocean. Rameses tells his crew that they're going to visit a base for the Intergalactic League of Races, but they need to be cool about what they're doing on Earth. On the seabed, they approach a pyramid. A hatch irises open and in they go. They arrive at what looks like a motor pool for flying saucers. (Somehow, there's no mention of this being in the Bermuda Triangle.)
After they parallel park their flying saucer, Rameses gets out and is greeted by a robot (Paul Campbell). "Greetings," it says. "I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations." Nah, just kidding. It identifies itself as Durbal, 1240Z android. He asks to take Rameses to the office for clearance. While they talk on their walk through a reestablishing shot of motor pool, they magically appear in corner of the screen. (Thanks, special effects. Next time, maybe pay attention to your blocking in a composite matte shot.)
Dirtball, er, Durbal escorts Rameses to the base commander. The bubble headed official asks Rameses his business on Earth. (No, that ain't one of my folksy colloquialisms. I mean "bubble headed" as in he's got a big round cranium, no hair, and teeny tiny little ears. Aliens in this movie fall into two distinct groups: "bubble heads" and "Canadians.") Rameses tells him they're on an exploration mission. The base boss tells him that this planet is protected by the League of Races; they're free to explore, but don't contact the locals. Then Rameses asks the overly mellow bureaucrat to validate his parking, but no go. Nah, just kidding. However, they do high-five each other slowly, which we suppose is the way intergalactic civilizations shake hands. (Guess it kind of works out that everybody in the known galaxies has humanoid bodies, ergo hands to high-five with. We shudder to think if the only common anatomical denominator among races was the tongue....)
After the meeting, Rameses goes for a walk and runs into a couple of Illuminati. Nah, just kidding. He enters a brothel. Yeah, not kidding. It's a lounge with bimbos in disco fashions, feathered hairdos, and that "come hither" look. (To be fair, it could be they've adopted this mode of dress and hair style because they've gone native.) One of the girls (Victoria Johnson) introduces herself as Gazeth. Rameses locks his eyes on her. Under his superimposed gaze, she gets up, walks toward him, and begins to undo the straps on her disco top. But the special effects guy remembers this ain't a Dracula movie, so he drops the superimposed shot of Mr. Lee's eyes, and Gazeth goes back to being dressed.
Rameses and Gazeth walk into another room with working women. No, calm down. It's a room where they monitor Earth's television programs. On one of the monitors, Dr. Duncan is telling a talk show group about Rudi.
Later, Rameses and Sagnac are in the motor pool. He points out a reconnaissance flying saucer to her (which looks pretty much like the others). She goes to work. While Rameses is hanging around a surprisingly unsuspicious deck crew, Sagnac goes inside the flying saucer, pulls a circuit card, removes a component from the card, puts the card back, and leaves. (Three points: First, you'd think advanced alien races would have better security. Rameses even asks a deck hand when that saucer is taking off, and there's nary a trace of a warning bell going off on this guy. Those of you who've seen Plan 9 from Outer Space (1958) would probably be ranting, "You space people are stupid!" Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" Second, you'd also think that a highly advanced race would have something more esoteric than big, white, clunky printed circuit boards under the hood of a star spanning vehicle. Third, as Sagnac exits the flying saucer, she pulls the component out from her sleeve. Pockets? They haven't gotten around to inventing pockets yet?)
A couple of base aliens enter the motor pool and walk toward the flying saucer in question. (And they enter a extra-dimensional portal while walking. Thanks again, special effects. You're batting a thousand on blocking in the composite matte shots. That or it's way past time to write the editor a nastygram.) Rameses watches while the flying saucer takes off. Inside the saucer, the bubble headed alien in charge smiles and tells his Canadian looking aide this should be a short trip. (Heh heh heh....)
Elsewhere, Dr. Duncan, his trophy wife Betty (Helen Shaver), and their young bratty daughter Diane (Kate Parr) are in a car traveling a back road. Diane sees a flying saucer (presumably the one from the base) and shouts about it excitedly. Dr. Duncan stops the car and has a look, but doesn't see it. They resume their trip, but Diane is hacked off that her parents are humoring her by saying they believe her. (You could make a lot of this, and if you did, you'd be doing more than the movie.) Dr. Duncan smiles broadly. (We suppose this is his way of ridding himself of stress. Unfortunately, on Mr. Vaughn, the smile says, "I'm Godlike.")
The Duncans arrive at the home of Malcolm (Henry Ramer), a stout pipe smoker who is either a psychologist or just plays one on TV. While they walk and talk, Malcolm tells Dr. Duncan this whole UFO thing could be bad for his career, and that UFO's fulfill a psychological need left in the absence of traditional religion. Dr. Duncan replies he's a scientist and has to figure out the unanswered questions. (We haven't actually seen Dr. Duncan do anything resembling a scientific method, nor do we know what his area of expertise is supposed to be besides looking good in a suit, but let's play along.)
Then Dr. Duncan turns the argument around, putting Malcolm on the defensive, by asserting that denial of UFO's also fulfills a psychological need to avoid acceptance of the fact that there may be civilizations more advanced than ours. ("Fact" and "may" probably shouldn't go together, and we've yet to see any aliens that are particularly advanced.) Malcolm counters this by stating he's in the computer business and has no problems with facts. (OK, scratch the premise that Malcolm is a psychologist. Not that the two jobs are all that different....)
Meanwhile, the two base aliens are still tooling around in their recon-o-saucer. At a "military" installation, two "military" men have picked up the saucer on radar. (That's "military" as in their uniforms are unconvincing to the initiated. The subordinate has a circular US enlisted's insignia on one shirt lapel and an artillery symbol on the other. His superior has two huge artillery insignias on both lapels of his shirt. Neither are wearing anything resembling rank. And you know what that means: Someone who doesn't understand the US military is about to show us how evil they are.)
In the recon-o-saucer, the aliens are amused by the primitive radar that has detected them, and they go in for a closer look. (So much for their policy of avoiding contact with the locals.) On the ground, the "military" commander and his flunky are not amused by this thing coming in closer. The "military" commander tells the other "military" man to shoot it down. The subordinate "military" man flicks a few switches, and this turns on some stock footage of a hawk missile launch. (Heh, told ya so. Why is it people who don't understand the military make it their mission in life to demonize it? By the way, shooting things out of the sky with a missile battery ain't nothin' like shooting skeet; you usually need more than two people for this complicated task.)
The aliens detect the inbound missile and discover that they have a malfunction. The command flunky pulls open a panel (where Sagnac was playing around earlier), finds the sabotaged card, and tells his boss, to their too late horror, that they don't have a force field.
saucer blows up real good. (Serves these guys right,
too. First Rameses gets a lecture on avoiding contact with the locals,
then this bubble headed hypocrite intentionally buzzes a "military"
At the alien base, they've lost contact with their reconnaissance saucer. They scramble a few other recon-o-saucers. (Or rather, we are shown a shot of a single saucer launching.) Gazeth confronts Rameses about this. In return, Darth Rameses telekeneticly tosses the representative from Star Whores into a bulkhead. He tells her she won't get another warning. (Too bad he doesn't tell her about it. For example, he might've explained how he knew that the recon-o-saucer would be encountering a missile on that trip.)
Rameses assembles his crew onboard his saucer. They arm themselves with little gadgets that stick on the end of the fingers and are attached by telephone cords. (We'll be referring to these as fingerguns, 'cause they're not handguns.) From there, Rameses crew fans out and wastes everyone in the base, zapping them with their fingerguns. (What? They didn't tighten security when they lost contact with one of their units?) They also shoot all the base's Derbal units (or rather, we get several shots of a guy in a robot suit getting shot with different dialogue) and dump them down a stairwell; however, one of them is still flickering with light. (Gee, you don't suppose that'll be important later, do you?)
Back at the place where the recon-o-saucer was shot down, General Lennox (Donald Young) arrives and examines the burning wreckage. While he and a few infantry are searching the area, a flying saucer drops in for its own look-see. Some of the infantry put their rifles to the ready but don't shoot. Onboard the saucer, the base commander and another bubble-headed alien called Phi (Tiiu Leek) determine that there were no survivors. (And on the ground, we wonder how these morons from outer space have kept their existence a secret. They're not exactly trying to blend in here.)
Gazeth has changed into a black bikini number and armed herself with a small death ray device (which looks like a tube from a gas range). She sneaks up on some of Rameses crew and zaps them. (Didn't know gas ranges were so versatile, didja?) She gets to a communications console and warns the recon-o-saucer about Rameses's hostile takeover. As soon as she gets the message off, Rameses arrives and zaps her with his fingergun.
Rameses tells Sagnac to take their saucer and shoot down the recon-o-saucer. Onboard the object of their desire, the League of Races crew sees the incoming saucer, tries to evade it, and decides they're going to have to fight. They shoot this personal space invader with an awesome, highly advanced mega-death ray which totally incinerates Sagnac's saucer. (Or rather, a crudely inserted red splotch animation is added to the film, and a freeze frame shot of Sagnac fades to red. We get no saucer explosion.)
However, the awesome, highly advanced mega-death ray must've taken its toll on the recon-o-saucer, because one of the control panels arcs and sparks. They've lost their computer. (We're not aware of how important this is. Thus far in this movie, shooting at things seems to be non-computer task....) The crew decides they're going to have to contact some of the locals.
Back at the alien base (under new management), Rameses contacts the rest of his fleet. He tells them to continue searching for the recon-o-saucer and start using the extermination device. After watching a shot of saucers in a "two-by-two" pattern fly toward Earth, we are shown a single saucer using the extermination device. It zaps surface of the Earth with an ominous ray. On the surface of the planet, everyone starts killing each other. (Or rather, a crudely filmed electrical arc is superimposed between the saucer and Earth. And on in a parking lot, a we are shown a single, isolated incident of a man going on a shooting spree with a .45 automatic, and then he turns it on himself. There. About four down, only a few billion to go. They should have the whole human race exterminated real soon - roughly by the time our sun goes red giant.)
At chez Duncan at night, Betty brings her husband a drink. He's in his study, reading a tabloid about cattle mutilations. On his desk is a copy of People magazine. Dr. Duncan's on the cover, and the caption calls him a respected scientist turned UFO researcher. (Apparently, the qualification for "UFO researcher" means reading a bunch of tabloids. You probably know a lot of people in supermarket checkout lines who'd qualify.) She expresses her displeasure about his "obsession" regarding UFO's; they never seem to have time for themselves anymore. Dr. Duncan smiles his "I'm Godlike" smile again and admits it's a bit of a change from when he used to be an astronomer. (Unlike our world, astronomers seem to have a lot of free time on their hands. The change from "respected astronomer" to "UFO researcher" would, in our reality, be giving him more leisure time.)
Elsewhere, the recon-o-saucer flies toward a city. They're approaching their goal: the home of the UFO researcher. (Wow! They could do this without a computer? Then what the heck do they need that old thing for?)
Dr. Duncan and Betty are in midsnuggle when they hear a noise. Dr. Duncan gets up because he thinks someone is breaking in. (And if someone is breaking in, they left a boom mike behind; it's visible in the top of the frame as the camera tilts up to follow Dr. Duncan out of his chair.) He runs outside and sees a flying saucer. The bubble headed alien base commander steps in front of him. The two of them walk toward the saucer. Betty runs outside screaming. (Heh, Dr. Duncan forgot his toothbrush.) The base commander turns sharply on Betty, and she falls over. (Yeah, well, aliens should brush their teeth, too, ya know.)
Onboard the saucer, Dr. Duncan is checking out his surroundings. The aliens tell him (telepathically, remember?) that he was right all along and recap our plot so far. Oh, and they need a computer expert.
And a few scenes later (which pretty much repeat the
above two paragraphs), Malcolm is
checking out his surroundings onboard the saucer.
In an official "military" room, a US Air Force general (Bob Warner) explains to a group of "military" officers about the UFO they've been tracking, and how suicides have been linked to its passing. Their meeting concludes with...uh, no wait...uh.... Hey, what was the point of that scene? Oh, yeah. It was daylight outside.
The following night (thank you, previously meaningless scene), the recon-o-saucer lands at a high-rise. Malcolm leads the aliens to the computer center inside. They scavenge a few modules from the control banks. On their way out, Malcolm stops at a newspaper vending machine and grabs a paper. (Hey, I hate to miss Dilbert as much as the next computer geek, but this seems a bit obsessive.) Back onboard the saucer, Malcolm congratulates Dr. Duncan on his front page fame. There, among stories about a suicide epidemic, is a story about the UFOlogist's abduction.
After they take off, one of Rameses's saucers spots the recon-o-saucer. It dives in for an attack. The recon-o-saucer flies up and away quickly, trying to evade the incoming troublemaker. After a while, the other saucer matches its vector and fires, missing. The recon-o-saucer shoots back, causing the other saucer to fly out of control and crash into the building where the computer center was. (OK, skip the irony and consider the odds. Both saucers were beating feet (or what have you) out of there for some time before the other saucer flew out of control. Therefore, it should have been quite a ways from the building before it shot into a random direction. You do the math.)
Interlude. (If you were watching this movie, this would be a good time to step out for a daring raid on your refrigerator. You can simulate this by skipping this paragraph plus the next two.) While Malcolm is kit bashing a new computer out of the aliens' computer and the recently acquired computer parts, Dr. Duncan is catching up on the news of his disappearance on TV. There are interviews with Betty and Dorothy, plus several "common man" interviews. (Hunt's a competent director, but Frank Capra he ain't.)
Later, Phi and Dr. Duncan go for a walk outside the saucer, which is parked somewhere in a desert. The alien tells the UFOlogist that their group has been visiting Earth since the beginning of local civilization. And they built the pyramids, the design of which contains the secrets of their advanced technology and civilization. (Bricklaying is the secret of the universe? Dang, those Freemasons have been holding out on us!)
And the recon-o-saucer is off again. They stop for some fuel by pausing at a power plant and, presumably, hijacking some electrical power. (Homeowners, do you think this might also account for the recent increases in your electric bill?) While they do this, the base commander gives them a pep talk about how they'll soon be going into battle against Rameses's group, and that for them to maintain peace in the galaxy, they must win. (Yeah yeah yeah. "Let's go out there and win one for the Big Dipper" already.)
The recon-o-saucer leaves Earth to get help from the League of Races. (Gee, ET, why doncha just phone home?) As it passes the Moon, Rameses spots it on a tracking screen and sends two of his saucers to go get 'em.
Unfortunately, this would be about the time that the computer on the recon-o-saucer decides to elect a Pope; white smoke pours out from one of the panels. So here's what they do. They decide to use Dr. Duncan's knowledge of the planets in the solar system as a navigational chart, and they use Malcolm to run the calculations. They hook the humans up with funky headsets that have little pyramids instead of earpieces. These act as a direct interface with the saucer's electronics. Phi tells Malcolm that he's only used one percent of his brain, but now he'll be using the other ninety-nine. (Sometimes this movie makes it too easy for derisive commentary.)
they begin passing the planets (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). (Either this
is one of those rare times when the planets are aligned, or they're taking
one heck of a long route.) Dr. Duncan concentrates on each of them while
Malcolm punches keys on a calculator. (You'll never forget the
thrilling "look at the planets and play with a calculator" scene!)
While Rameses's saucers are in pursuit, the recon-o-saucer evades them,
thanks to their now superior (?) navigational ability. (Two things:
First, why would advanced, experienced spacefarers need a human to get around in
relatively wimpy solar system. Second, wouldn't using a calculator be slowing down the
process? Raymond Babbitt,
where are you when we need you?)
Back on Earth, Betty is haunting Dr. Duncan's office because she misses him. Later, she tells Diane, who is playing with a chemistry set, that they're going to the store. The little brat snaps at her mom. (Guess the kid was refining her own caffeine.) Betty calms her down and talks her into going.
While they drive to the store, they pass a dead body on the sidewalk and see a couple of cars that have been in an accident. The radio in their car reminds listeners about the suicide epidemic and the declaration of martial law. (One dead body and one car crash. Oh, what a terrible epidemic. Frankly, it sounds normal for where I live.) They arrive at the store, which is guarded by a couple of troopers in field jackets bearing assault rifles. (If Rosie O'Donnell had been correct in her concerns via generalization about K-Mart selling firearms, this is what the greeters would look like.)
Inside the store, little Diane watches a tomato fall from a bin and roll to her feet. She smiles and stomps on it. (We suppose "the aliens made her do it." Or maybe her home refined caffeine is kicking in again.) While a manager is yelling at the Duncans about the mess, they are distracted by a scream. In another aisle, someone is lying on the floor with a red stained knife. (Alien induced suicide or a revenge attack by a killer tomato? We'll never know.)
Elsewhere, the recon-o-saucer meets a group of the League of Races saucers. They time this right, too, because Malcolm picks this moment to have a heart attack. Phi comes over, sticks a little toy pyramid on his forhead, and zaps him in the head with a miracle gizmo that should make him feel better. (None of this seems to be affecting the operation of the recon-o-saucer; their computer just had a heart attack and they're getting along just fine.)
The two pursuing saucers see the collection of saucers ahead and report this to Rameses, who orders them back to the alien base because he wants to fly into battle against the good guys. (Why he couldn't just have one of his other saucers come down to the alien base and get him, we don't know.) A few scenes later, Rameses's saucers are zooming along in their two-by-two pattern. (Since this is a repeat of an earlier shot, it should be noted that someone's hand on the special effects group must've been shaky when they filmed this scene. It looks like the saucers are hitting invisible speed bumps in space.)
And so the battle begins. It's a dogfight in space, with highly advanced alien spacecraft flying at each other, dealing death with their esoteric weapons. (Or, rather, we are treated to some unconvincing process shots of model flying saucers moving at silly angles with the occasional red splotch animation added.) One thing is pretty clear: the League of Races is losing. The base commander realizes that Rameses's group is using the computers at the alien base to calculate their attacks.
But back on Earth, Diane is watching a news program about mass graves. In the kitchen, Betty is slicing a tomato and accidentally nicks her finger. While she's wrapping up the cut, she glances at a copy of Time with cover artwork of a hand with a bloodied bandage at the wrist. Betty takes her knife, and after a long (allegedly) dramatic pause, cuts her wrist. (Cause and effect? Violence in the media causes violence in the home? You decide. If this was the filmmakers point, it's supported by keeping the camera off the actual act.) After a prolonged, dramatic (?) close-up on Betty, she falls down. (There's surprisingly little blood, too. We suppose that since Betty is a trophy wife/homemaker, she neatened up her final act by doing it over the sink.)
Elsewhere, the battle in space continues. Phi and the base commander are looking at an image of dead or dying Betty on TV. (Either they've got a powerful set of scopes, or they've tuned into The Home Suicide Channel.) They decide this wouldn't be a good time to tell Dr. Duncan.
At the alien base, Robert Duval, er, Robot Derbal wakes up and plugs in his batteries. (Yeah, not kidding.) He establishes contact with the recon-o-saucer, and the base commander tells him to go to the communications room and eliminate the enemy. After a few shots of the resurrected robot limping along , Derbal arrives at the communications room and drops his hands onto the shoulders of the lone bad guy, who is sitting at a console. After a zap noise, the guy falls over. Then Derbal adjusts a control. In Earth orbit, the flying saucer with the suicide device disintegrates. (Heh, guess the product lived up to its name.)
Derbal twiddles with a few more switches on the console. Back at the battle, Rameses's saucers start crashing into each other and exploding in flashy explosions. (Bet you thought they'd get 'em by closing the Red Sea on them.) A few shots of this later, and there's (apparently) only one bad guy saucer left: Rameses's. (Think of it as a variation on the Hero's Death Battle Exemption.)
The base commander tells Rameses to give up. Rameses shouts, "You'll never take me alive, copper!" Nah, just kidding. However he does fly his saucer (which is in the vicinity of Saturn) away from the League of Races saucers. Then he glances at his Doomsday Watch. Lucky him. Since his entire home world has just been wiped out, he won't have to explain his shortcomings to the folks at home. He intentionally kamikazes into Earth's moon while shouting, "Top of the galaxy, Ma!" Nah, just kidding about the dialogue again, but wasn't he over by Saturn a second ago?
Dénouement. Back at the Duncan house, Dorothy and Diane are leaning over Betty, who is covered up to her neck with a blanket. (We don't know if she's dead or still dying. The credits list a "medic at house" but he didn't seem to make the final cut.) They're distracted by something outside Diane runs to see. A League of Races saucer is parked outside, and here comes Dr. Duncan, who's all smiles. Diane runs to him. Malcolm's out there, too, and Dorothy runs to him.
During this, uh, heartwarming scene, Phi enters the
kitchen and zaps Betty in the head with the miracle gizmo. And a
little bit later, Betty walks outside and joins a group hug with Dr.
Duncan and Diane. (Cripes, if you dwell on it as long as the movie
does, it'll give you an insulin reaction.) Finally, the happy,
triumphant humans watch as the League of Races ship gracefully ascends
into the heavens. (Or rather, we are shown some actors tilting back
while they look at something off screen.) Roll credits.
This movie uses several popular images and standards from UFO lore and the Ancient Astronaut premise to its advantage. The UFO's are quite accurate compared to their source materials (the, uh, photographic evidence of flying saucers). UFO abductions recall other stories popular at that time, and the main character is obviously modeled on Dr. J. Allen Hynek.
Some of the special effects following the simple UFO scenes are quite good. For example, in shots where a flying saucer drifts in a blue sky, the effect doesn't betray how it was done (no strings nor matte lines), and it's also a satisfying visual composition. Also noted is how they followed the basic Disney "rule of angles" for the two types of flying saucers: Curving lines for the good guys, sharp angles for the bad guys.
A few of the things built for this movie are also impressive.
This includes full scale mockups of flying saucers and the flying saucer
hanger model in the alien base. Regarding that second one, the
composite special effect of people walking around the models is quite
good, but the editor should've paid attention to where people were
Credibility is a tough factor in science fiction. Usually, a story will lose it on bad special effects. Here, it's lost on the "aw, c'mon" factor affected by the premise. Nowadays, most people are too sophisticated to buy a simple "ancient astronaut" story. They're still being made, and some of them are quite popular, but fewer people today will take the premise seriously. (At least that's what I'd like to think; like you, gentle reader, I often give the fellow man too much credit.)
In this movie, the production designers go nuts with the pyramid motif among the aliens. Jewelry, terminating points on connectors, control switches, decorations at the alien base, they've all got that truncated polygon thing. It's more common (and annoying) than the similar motif in Battlestar Galactica. And each time you see this, it's an "aw, c'mon" moment.
Then they call the mainline bad guy Rameses. Sorry, but weren't
we beating this thing to death as it was?
I have a friend who jokingly calls herself the "Canadian Alien." She does this as a reference to what she goes through with the INS whenever she tries to accomplish anything south of the Great White North.
The ethnic composition of star spanning races in this movie are as alien to our world as she is. If you look at older alien movies, say circa 1950, you know you're looking at a bunch of white guys pretending to be aliens, but that's OK, because you know they're working with what they had on the lot at the time. You also get that same sense from the '60's during a Toho production. In the late '70's in North America, you'd expect more ethnic erudition. You don't get it here.
So go ahead, rent this thing, and toss in the occasional "eh"
or "hosehead" whenever the aliens have dialogue. Make references
to Moosehead and back bacon. Out of respect to the Canadian Alien,
we won't suggest you do this. On the other hand, we can't stop you,
Although there are a few impressive things in the production, many of things we are shown are downright goofy.
And despite a couple of nice special effects shots, most of the
memorable ones are not the good ones. Rather than changing the
camera's physical location relative to the models, they pan and tilt the
camera. As a result, flying saucers usually make unconvincing side
to side movements relative to the viewer, and this is painfully obvious
during the big battle at the end. At one point, about five saucers,
two from one group and three from the other, suddenly lurch to the side in
unison. On the whole, it's about as convincing as the saucers over
Hollywood scenes in Plan 9 from Outer Space.
When Rameses introduces himself to the alien base commander, he says he comes from the constellation Orion. Excuse me? A constellation is not a grouping of stars as they are, but as we see them from Earth. Why make a big deal about this? Well, if you're going to make the hero an astronomer, it wouldn't hurt to get the astronomy right.
When Malcolm kit-bashes a computer for the aliens, we should also
question the compatibility of
"primitive" electronics with "advanced" alien
technology. Consider a damaged helicopter with a broken radio landing in the midst of a
remote, primitive island culture. What are they going to do, ask the
natives for a couple of replacement transistors for the radio? (Cf.
the aliens in Independence Day vs. a computer viruses delivered by
an Apple computer.)
Finally, consider this movie in the context of the cinematic time it was made and marketed. Star Wars was released in early 1977. Close Encounters of the Third Kind wouldn't see a release until November of that year, but the media blitz began in early summer, so people were already anticipating a major flying saucer movie. Starship Invasions was released that October in the United States.
It's easy to suspect quick influences from Star Wars, given the
Darth Vader style of Rameses in the script, the robot Derbal, and the
space-battle-with-the-killer-base at the end. To be charitable,
though, let's suspect that that Starship Invasions had plenty of
original cinematic ideas when they started production.
(Compare with Starcrash (1979), which had an early script completed
in advance of Star Wars. Although it was denied by the
filmmakers, it's rather obvious who influenced who by the time production
of the latter project was completed.) Is it fair to call the whole
thing "Close Encounters of the Star Wars Kind?" You
Most of the cast appeared in several Canadian productions before and after Starship Invasions. A full listing would be very long and uninteresting. But here are some highlights on the film's notables.
Ed Hunt (producer, writer, director) has made other B movies. Starship Invasions is perhaps his highest profile production, but he also made Plague (1978, a.k.a. Mutation and M-3: The Gemini Strain) and a rampaging nervous system flick called The Brain (1988). That last one has enjoyed a certain amount of cult notoriety; check it out at Badmovies.org, Oh! The Humanity!, and B-Mania. Hunt also made the semi-popular eclipse-births-lead-to-homicides opus Bloody Birthday (1980), which is has been documented in B-Mania (twice), And You Call Yourself a Scientist, and Stomp Tokyo.
Robert Vaughn (Prof. Allan Duncan) needs no real introduction here. He picked up an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor in The Young Philadelphians (1959), played the dapper, spooked gunfighter in The Magnificent Seven (1960), and hit cult icon status as Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series (1964-1968). He later played parts that parodied his image, reprising his role from The Magnificent Seven in Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and as an austerely kinky movie executive in S.O.B. (1981), which he also reprised to a degree in Joe's Apartment (1996). Let's just say the man has been in some very good and very bad movies; Starship Invasions didn't hurt his career.
Christopher Lee (Captain Rameses) needs even less introduction here. He'll probably be best remembered for his portrayal of Dracula in a series of Hammer horror movies, but he's played a wide variety of tall, gaunt, succinct bad guys.
Tiiu Leek (Phi) has almost always played reporters in a wide variety of productions. On the plus side, it's good to see her do something different. On the minus side, why'd it have to be here?
Helen Shaver (Betty Duncan) has also been in a wide variety of productions, but she often does science fiction. Strictly in terms of recent work, she can also be seen in the series Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996) as Dr. Corrigan. She recently began directing and picked up a Daytime Emmy nomination for directing Summer's End (1998).
Mark Irwin (cinematographer) worked with Hunt in his early career, and later started working for Cronenberg. He's since moved onto the blockbuster kind of movies by working for the Farrelly brothers and Wes Craven.
None of the special effects crew are credited with staging space
battles again. Ever.
When God Drove a Flying Saucer. UFOlogy with the ancient astronaut premise has been around for longer than you might think. Here's a quick (and intentionally incomplete) sampling:
Book of the Damned by Charles Fort (1919) - Anecdotal collection of weird events, but themed by the idea that weirdness happens because we are the ignorant property of higher beings. Fort was probably using that theme for the sake of entertainment, but some people today swear by him. Cf. the essays on the psychology of religion by William James twenty years earlier and the stories of H. P. Lovecraft a few years hence.
World of Ptavvs by Larry Niven (1966) - Statue found in the ocean turns out to be a billion-plus year old alien trapped in a skin-tight anti-time field. Researchers in our not-too-distant future release him from his accidental prison, and man is he hacked off! Ancient astronauts from two distinct eras would latter figure into Niven's "Known Space" series; cf. Protector (1973), et. al.
Star Trek (1966-1969) - In the episode "The Paradise Syndrome," the locals on a planet resemble Native Americans. They live in the shadow of an artifact built by aliens who had the odd habit of putting humans on several planets. (This counts as a partial explanation for why so many aliens in the Star Trek universe didn't look very alien.) The Cargo Cult theme of worshiping high tech aliens as gods appears in various other episodes; in particular, note "Who Mourns for Adonis?" wherein an alien who claims to have been worshiped as the Greek god Apollo demands similar respect from the main characters.
Quatermass and the Pit (1967, a.k.a. Five Million Years to Earth) - Ancient alien spacecraft is found in an area of London with a reputation for violent, paranormal weirdness. The bad news is that it may have influenced human evolution for its own purposes. The worse news is that it's still active and quite not finished with us....
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - You know the drill: Aliens drop a device among some proto-humans who in turn begin using tools shortly thereafter. (That's strange. Never noticed the Quatermass one coming ahead of this one before....)
Erinnerungen an die Zukunft [Memories of the Future] by Erich von Däniken (1968) - You probably know this better as Chariots of the Gods? In the definitive ancient astronaut book presented as non-fiction, the author presents a good example of how the scientific method doesn't work. Opened the door wide for several other popular examples of speculative fiction presented as fact.
Made into an Academy Award nominated documentary in 1970 (which leads to speculation about that august body's grip on reality), which in turn was recut into 1973 TV version narrated by Rod Serling (In Search of the Ancient Astronauts) and then reassembled into a popular US theatrical release the following year. Meanwhile, von Däniken keeps writing them and people keep buying them (to the horror of archeologists everywhere).
Tomorrow People (1973 - 1979, 1992-1995) - British series about a group of young mutants who have various adventures with their psionic type abilities. Includes hints that their condition may have had an extraterrestrial origin. Cf. Dr. Who (1963-1989), Marvel Comics X-Men (1963ff), and Roswell (1999). In the later series, Christopher Lee is "Rameses."
Search for the Gods (1975) - TV movie/series pilot about archeologists searching for a mystic Native American artifact that may have been dropped by careless aliens.
Battlestar Galactica (1978-1980) - Alien race, which is the parent race of humanity on Earth, seeks out said world as a refuge from a lost war. Egyptian and Semitic references abound. (Sidenote: After Starship Invasions was released theatrically in the US, the first two episodes of this series were given a Surroundsound effect and released theatrically as a feature presentation in Canada. Hmmmm....)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - The bad guy's belief that the Ark of the Covenant is a power source/radio for talking to God is very von Däniken.
The Phoenix (1981) - Pilot for a very brief TV series about a photogenic Caucasian ancient astronaut found by archeologists in Peru.
Time Walker (1982, a.k.a. [The] Being [From Another Planet]) - Mummy with an unusual history wakes up and goes on a killing spree. Seems the old guy is an alien and he's killing to recover gems required for his trip home. Awful. Send it back, please.
Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1992) - As evidence that the ancient astronaut premise had become completely satire worthy, we have this odd half-feature about aliens from the planet Quetzalcoatl, who are disturbed during their thousand year hiding on Earth and begin to meddle in politics during the late 1950's.
Stargate (1994) - By this time, the ancient astronaut shtick was unsophisticated enough for Devlin and Emmerich, so they made this one about an alien artifact that transports a team of soldiers to another world ruled by an ancient astronaut. (Heh, when this came out, I was the one shouting, "My God! They've landed in a Michael Jackson video!")
Fortunately, we now live in a time where we no longer have to worry about another tired old ancient astronaut story trying to pass itself off as a serious plotline in quality entertainment. Well, there's that Stargate TV series, but it'd be debatable to call it "quality entertainment," and that should be that.
The Fifth Element (1997) - For the love of Pete! Enough
Bad guy aliens decide they want Earth for their own, but good guy aliens stop them with the help of a prominent UFOlogist. An interesting idea with knowledgeable references to contemporary popular UFO lore is killed by its own execution. Some nice visuals, good actors, competent direction and cinematography are buried by a mass of silly sets and costumes, poor special effects, incomplete plotting, etc, leading to a gravitational collapse - a black hole of mediocrity from which nothing escapes. Recommended for people who believe what they read in supermarket tabloids and conservatives looking for a clear example of why government support of arts and entertainment may not be A Good Idea.
Originally published 19 September 2000