Tag Archive: Close Encounters of the Third Kind


Jimmy Stewart Lindbergh Spirit of St Louis

It’s the second time TCM and auction house Bonhams have teamed up to offer screen-used and production-made costumes, props, and other relics from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  A November auction, TCM Presents: There’s No Place Like Hollywood, will feature a large private collection of rare items from Casablanca, including the piano featured prominently in the film where Sam plays “As Time Goes By.”  A lesser seen piano from another scene in the film sold in 2012 for more than $600,000.

One lot features a mannequin display with costume components worn by Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, said to have been used in several scenes in the film.  Many of the costumes and props appear to be the same lots that have been featured in other auctions in the last few years, including various dresses from the Debbie Reynolds collection of items offered by auction house Profiles in History.

Casablanca piano

Costumes from several classic films are on the auction block, including a Clark Gable jacket from Gone With the Wind, Marilyn Monroe’s saloon gown from River of No Return, Jimmy Stewart’s Charles Lindbergh flight suit from The Spirit of St. Louis, Faye Dunaway’s dress from The Towering Inferno, a Jane Russell costume from The Outlaw, and a John Wayne Union Army coat from Rio Lobo and The Undefeated.  Sci-fi and fantasy fans aren’t forgotten in the TCM auction, as there will be costumes worn by Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowall in Planet of the Apes, a background crewmember astronaut jumpsuit from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a test dress for Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, and a Saruman staff and Aragorn sword from The Lord of the Rings films, both from Sir Christopher Lee’s personal collection.

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Bill Murray not in Stripes

It’s not a title that, by itself, will draw crowds to the theater.  But how often does a movie have much more than one reason to get you into the theater to see it?  Maybe its an actor you love, a genre, the fact it is based on a book or property you’re interested in.  The Monuments Men, with its first trailer released this past week, has almost too many reasons to see it to count.  “In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renowned works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them.”  Yep, it’s not about Mount Rushmore.  So let’s take a quick look at what this movie has to offer, to bring in viewers for different reasons.

Everyone is always trying to make a war movie that’s not a war movie, add some twist to the genre to make it slightly different to entice new crowds to give war movies a try.  Saving Private Ryan tried it, making a war movie into more of a kidnapping film with the modern trend toward challenging the components of war vs the old Frank Capra-type pro-nationalism films.  And how unique was Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds?  In fact, if Brad Pitt hadn’t starred in that movie, you’d think he’d have been a shoo-in for The Monuments Men.  Why?  Because with George Clooney and Matt Damon in pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal, this looks like Ocean’s Eleven all over again.

John Goodman Monuments Men

And speaking of impossible goals, this also looks like The Dirty Dozen, although the trailer tells us there’s eight soldiers engaged in this mission.  Who isn’t ready for another movie of the Dirty Dozen variety?  Remember how good the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger was with Tommy Lee Jones as a general in the World War II recruitment scenes?  Or go back to Bridge on the River Kwai and recruiting William Holden to go back to the battle.  Of course these are all plays on the original Western recruiting warriors film, Seven Samurai.  And just look who gets recruited for this new mission.

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I have watched bits and pieces of E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial over the years and haven’t viewed it in its entirety since its VHS release.  I was lucky enough to see it in its original release back in 1982.  I seem to recall my sister got us some special tickets she won from a radio station for opening night, and when you entered the theater everyone received a sticker for E.T. and Reese’s Pieces, which, at that moment, no one had heard of before:

I’d been a life-long fan of the oily candy coated Wonka Oompas, and these smaller bits of peanut butter goodness became a candy staple that I have yet to be able to walk away from.

Over the year stories surfaced about the little licensing battle that occurred over the M&Ms featured in a key scene in the original story and Mars’ missed marketing opportunity that resulted in Elliott leaving the trail of Reese’s instead, which ultimately seemed to be all about money as these things always are.  Suffice it to say, I am happy we live in a world where Reese’s Pieces and M&Ms can live in harmony.  (Enough about food, back to the movie).

If all was right in the world we would all be flocking back to the theaters to see E.T. on the big screen in the “see it again for the first time” way.  Of all of Spielberg’s brilliant films, E.T. is the one that stands up with Star Wars as far as story with a heart.  Raiders of the Lost Ark is probably the most exciting film ever made, and I remember the movie ending on the screen of the big River Hills theater and realizing I hadn’t eaten or drank anything or taken a restroom break because I was glued to the screen for every minute of the movie.  Jaws is the best blockbuster ever and defined the very term.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind illustrates the very best that science fiction can be on film.  But E.T.’s story didn’t require much by way of special effects then and doesn’t now, once you get beyond the non-CGI animatronic special effect of E.T. himself.  The space ship at film’s end could have been made with a soup can and strobe light and it wouldn’t have mattered.

What did matter was this very realistic neighborhood, this very real family of kids, and a simple story about concern for someone in need of help.

And John Williams delivered a standout score, a score that, like Star Wars and Raiders and Jaws and Superman, can never be confused with modern, canned soundtrack pieces.  Williams was at the top of his game when he write the rousing E.T. themes.

Years ago I bought a copy of E.T. on VHS for $1.  With viewings on TV every now and then it’s hard to justify getting the Blu-Ray for me, simply because it isn’t effects heavy and I’m not sure I need another version.  But Spielberg did something very right with the new release that shows he has learned from the errored ways of Mr. Lucas.  If you managed to see bits of the 2002 re-release edition of E.T. you may recall Spielberg jumped on the bandwagon with Lucas and decided to CGI-ify his movie a bit (CGI-ify, a newly coined term meaning “terrorizing a film through editing”).

A few odd changes Spielberg made to the 2002 release:

  • Elliott’s mom says Elliott’s brother looks like a “hippie,” where the original used the word “terrorist”.
  • The feds with guns at the end of the film had their guns replaced with circa-1982 mobile phones.

Where Lucas has hidden away his initial, brilliant versions of the Star Wars films, Spielberg’s new edition of E.T. makes none of these changes, returning instead to a cleaner modification of the 1982 film we all loved.  So soon you’ll be singing “Turn on your heart light” with Neil Diamond, and saying “Phone home” and “I’ll be right here” and “Home” and “Be good” in your best E.T. voice.

Here is a trailer for the Blu-Ray release:

The Blu-Ray has a lot of extra features, like

· The E.T. Journals: Including behind-the-scenes footage.

· Steven Spielberg & E.T.: New interview with Steven Spielberg on E.T.

· Deleted Scenes: Two scenes from 2002 version of the film.

· A Look Back: Making of E.T. featurette.

· The E.T. Reunion: The cast and filmmaker reunion featurette.

· The Evolution and Creation of E.T.

· The Music of E.T.: A Discussion with John Williams

· The 20th Anniversary Premiere: Behind the scenes look John Williams concert presentation.

· Original Theatrical Trailer

· Special Olympics TV spot

· Designs, Photographs and Marketing

You can pre-order E.T. now for a discounted price at Amazon.com, and if you’re a super-fan of E.T. check out this mega-sized boxed edition featuring its own mother ship model, complete with sound.

E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial hits Blu-ray on October 9, 2012.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you ever had an inkling to go to film school, if you are going to film school or if you teach film courses, Richard Rickitt’s Special Effects: The History and Technique should be required reading.  Not only is it a comprehensive work about the history and craft of special effects, it is a detailed account of the history and progress of film, and could serve as a college textbook to a master class in film technique.  And it is also a history of science and technology in its own right.

Rickitt’s Special Effects is a well-reviewed work, which is why it was purchased for me as a gift.  It is used as a college text in film schools and for good reason.  It has seen several printings since its first printing in Great Britain in 2006, including a reprint as recently as 2011, and it is as current as a nearly 400-page volume can be, including new effects technologies employed as recently as the Lord of the Rings films and X-Men 3.

Because of its price, Special Effects may not be for the casual movie enthusiast–but only because of price–as it can cost $40 for older editions and up to $230 for the most current edition.  Yet if you are really interested in behind-the-scenes cinema, it is probably worth saving for, and if you’re a college student, just slip it into your current semester’s $800 book purchase (at least that’s what I spent on each of my last few semesters for books and I can’t imagine prices have dropped–plus this book is actually a fun read you’ll hold on to).  It’s breadth is enormous, with both general and detailed coverage of landmark people and technologies from George Melies to Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen to Industrial Light & Magic to Pixar and Weta.  Although it purports to cover merely Special Effects, in truth it covers the beginning of film and every technology that was created since, building upon each discovery and new invention to bring us to the complex CGI technologies of today.

This is far from a quick read, and will likely serve as a reference work or one you pull off the shelf from time to time when you need something exciting to read of the non-fiction variety.  I mentioned college text–Rickitt is a good teacher, clearly explaining in terms anyone can understand not just the “what” but the “why” and “how” of benchmarks in film with visuals and diagrams, including explanations of the role and use of technologies like the zoetrope, the parts and functions of the modern movie camera, the history and types of film recording materials, matte film, blue-screens, film printing, optical and digital compositing, the A to Z of film projection, post-production techniques like image interpolation, the use of mirrors, forced perspective and miniaturization, pyrotechnics, cloud tanks, models, motion-control photography, digital and procedural modelling, texture mapping, special effects animation, rotoscoping, 3D technologies, motion blur, digital skin, performance capture, particle systems, high dynamic range images, match moving, rendering, the A to Z of matte painting, props, make-up, prosthetics, animatronics, sculpting, inner mechanisms, performance systems, digital make-up, atmospheric effects, breakaway effects, sound recording, sound effects mixing, foleying, dialogue replacement, and the future of film technologies.

A diagram from Rickitt’s Special Effects: The History and Technique

The author uses hundreds of photographs and provides real-use examples from movies to explain techniques.  Detailed analysis is used for movie benchmarks Rickitt has identified, including The Abyss (1989), The Birds (1963), Aliens (1986), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Blade Runner (1982), Citizen Kane (1941), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), Destination Moon (1950), Earthquake (1974), The Exorcist (1973), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Forbidden Planet (1956), Forrest Gump (1994), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), Jurassic Park (1993), King Kong (1933), King Kong (2005), The Last Starfighter (1984), The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), The Lost World (1925), The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003), Metropolis (1926), Mighty Joe Young (1949), 1941 (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), all six Star Wars films (1977-2005), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), The Thief of Baghdad (1940), Things to Come (1936), Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Tron (1982), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The War of the Worlds (1953), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Willow (1988), and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985).

You’ll learn about ambient occlusion, beam splitters, cannon cars, color separation, depth of field, diffuse reflection, dissolves, dubbing, edge detection, emulsion, extrusion, fluid dynamics, go-motion, introvision, the Lydecker technique, morphing, NURBs, plates, ray tracing, squibs, time-lapse and time slice photography, wipes, zooms and zoptics.

An early edition of Rickitt’s book–note that earlier versions will not have the most up-to-date coverage of current technologies. The version shown at the top of this review is the most recent edition.

And along with the “what”  and “why” Rickitt profiles a “who’s who” of landmark film creators, including Georges Melies, Mack Sennett, D.W. Griffith, James Whale, Alfred Hitchcock, George Pal, Roger Corman, Irwin Allen, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson, Dennis Muren, John P. Fulton, Linwood Dunn, Richard Edlund, Dennis and Robert Skotak, Arnold Gillespie, Theodore and Howard Lydecker, Gordon Jennings, John Dykstra, Steve Gawley, Lorne Peterson, Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, Phil Tippett, John Lasseter, Norman O. Dawn, Albert Whitlock, Peter Ellenshaw, Lon Chaney, Jack Pierce, Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Ken Ralston, Cliff Richardson, Michael Lantieri, Jack Foley, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom, and the Carboulds.

But you don’t need to look at Special Effects: The History and Technique as a dense book of facts.  Pick it up now and then and enjoy reading the book in 4-5 page stints and you’ll become an expert in film in no time, or just be amazed at how the magic of film works.

Special Effects: The History and Technique has a forward by Ray Harryhausen and an appendix, including a glossary of film terms and awards.

Led by guest conductor Jack Everly, the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra performed to a sold out theater Friday night in the new 1,600 Helzberg Hall of the inaugural season of Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.  The concert featured actor George Takei, known for portraying Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek, greeting the crowd and reciting the opening lines to the original Star Trek theme, as well as Klaatu’s speech from The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The concert featured the musical scores of numerous science fiction movies and TV shows, with on ongoing light show across the top of the giant theater.

Nationally known soprano from numerous opera companies Kristin Plumley sang beautiful renditions of the original Star Trek theme as well as When You Wish Upon a Star and she appeared dressed as both a science officer from the original Star Trek and Princess Leia.

Both Everly and Takei praised the futuristic design and state of the art acoustics at the Kauffman Center, now one of the leading performing arts facilities in the nation, and Takei said he wouldn’t be surprised to see such a cutting-edge facility in the 23rd century predicted from Star Trek’s future.

Highlights of Friday’s concert, which will be performed again Saturday night at a second performance at the Kauffman Center, included selections from John Williams’ scores to Superman, main themes from Star Wars: A New Hope, and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, and the theme from Lost in Space as part of a TV theme song medley.  Other highlights included a stunning trio of excerpts from Bernard Herrmann’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the theme to Somewhere in Time, the themes from Star Trek series VoyagerThe Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine and the selections from the score to Star Trek (2009).   The medley of TV tunes included the theme to the X-Files, the Jetsons, and Twilight Zone, among others.

Maestro Jack Everly has served as Principal Pops Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Principal Pops Conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada, and Pops Conductor of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. Originally appointed by Mikhail Baryshnikov, he was the Music Director of the American Ballet Theatre for 14 years. On Broadway, he teamed with Marvin Hamlisch to conduct The Goodbye Girl and A Chorus Line and he has conducted concerts for the 2010 National Memorial Day Concert and A Capitol Fourth, two of PBS’ highest-rated programs.

In addition to the original Star Trek series and six Star Trek movies, George Takei’s past work includes guest star roles in episodes of series such as Psych, Perry Mason, I Spy, Twilight Zone, Mission: Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Miami Vice, and Hawaii Five-O as well as film credits including Ice Palace with Richard Burton and The Green Berets with John Wayne.

Soprano Kristin Plumley’s credits include work with New York City Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Virginia Opera and L’Opéra Francais de New York, and she has starred in productions of West Side Story, Carousel, Brigadoon, and Oklahoma! as well as performing at Carnegie Hall.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

Back in June, Super 8 was in theaters and Jason McClain discussed it here and noted the split in the film between the focus on the kids’ story vs. the focus on the adults.  I didn’t see this one in the theater and after viewing on video I wish I had, but only for the spectacular train crash.  Other than that, the film makes a great rental.  For me, this film was a cross between Goonies, Cloverfield, E.T., the Extraterrestrial, and Close Encounter of the Third Kind.  I found myself viewing this and questioning whether this was more of a J.J. Abrams movie or more of a Steven Spielberg movie.  And I found it to be a lot of fun.

I agree with Jason’s review, that this could have been a film focusing totally on the kids’ story—kids trying to make a zombie film.  Joel Courtney in the lead role, in his first film appearance, was cast perfectly as Joe Lamb—as every little kid who doesn’t get into trouble, tries to do the right thing, tries to be friends to everyone.  The film inside the film didn’t need to be a zombie film, but zombies was as good a subject as any, and something the director could use because of the humor zombie make-up adds to the picture.  And maybe because the film also wants to be a monster movie of the alien variety.

I also agree with Jason that you could cut all the adult themes and probably end up with a better picture.  I find it puzzling that every film about differing genres that includes kids must have a one-parent family at the core.  It used to be that all movies had two parents and two kids, and I understand over time why the change to more diverse families makes sense.  But I can’t remember the last time a two adult, couple of kids family was pictured on film.  They exist in real life so I’m not sure what the draw is for the barrage of broken families.  You’d think Hollywood would mix it up a little.  I expect filmmakers think it gives the film some weight.  I usually find dwelling on family in this kind of film unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot–the father-son and father-daughter reunion pieces of the film here included.

But back to the good parts.  The themes of young teens mimic the superb, classic kid film Goonies so much you could draw parallels through the whole movie.  Young boys’ crushes on the older girl.   Rescuing a friend.  The desire for adventure and the decision to go off and “just do it.”  The same themes were also addressed more seriously in Stephen King’s Stand By Me and less so in E.T., the Extraterrestrial.  If Goonies was better at being a kids’ film it was probably because the adults only played the enemies and barely served another purpose in the plot.  After all, in the context of a fictional adventure film, why not play into that natural tension between parents and kids?  In E.T., the adults were primarily the enemies, too.  In Stand By Me, again, no parents, just kids being kids.  The change-up is Close Encounters—where the little boy in the film is kidnapped by the aliens.  But even there the little kid parallels the real little kid story in the film–the little boy trying to get out, trapped inside the lead character played by Richard Dreyfuss.  Close Encounters is the ultimate kids film about grown-ups.  Dreyfuss wants to believe in aliens every bit as much as Elliott and Gerty in E.T.   The kids in Super 8 aren’t longing for this kind of connection, they just want to be the kids they are.

As a “horror-light” film, viewers will see similarities to the alien/monster pursuit in Cloverfield, and the alien/monster images from Cowboys & Aliens.  I thought this was a fun genre-bending exercise and it worked better here than Cowboys & Aliens but not as well as in Cloverfield.  I include Cloverfield in the discussion here because of the similar vibe throughout the last half of the movie, undoubtedly based on Abrams participation in both productions.

Super 8 should be looked back on later as a big film for Abrams.  Where Star Trek 2009 was J.J. Abrams’ big-budget sci-fi feature, Cloverfield was his Blair Witch-type horror film, and Mission Impossible III was his post-Alias spy movie, Super 8 is Abrams’ take on Spielberg–it’s his Spielberg homage of sorts.  I expect to see a boxed DVD set coming—Close Encounters (directed by Spielberg), then E.T. (directed by Spielberg), Goonies (written by Spielberg), War of the Worlds (directed by Spielberg) and then Super 8 (produced by Spielberg).  Not so much a set of coming-of-age films as a set of solid kids-being-kids films.  Although written and directed by Abrams, anyone would believe it was a Spielberg creation, were it written and directed by Spielberg.  Looking back on Abrams’ short list of films, it’s as if Abrams is a director mimicking the style of others.  As style goes, he certainly doesn’t have an established niche yet.  The only exception is those lousy lens flares he can’t seem to avoid.  You have to wonder if he sees something in those glares we don’t see, as we are blinded multiple times mid-film.  But it seems to be his signature.  A lens flare is even in his poster for the film shown above.  Bizarre.

If you pulled Goonies out of our fictitious boxed set, you have a nice series of alien films—Close Encounters, about meeting aliens, E.T. about befriending aliens, Super 8, about fearing aliens, although you have to empathize with the alien in Super 8, as with past Spielberg aliens, and then War of the Worlds at the other end of the spectrum opposite E.T., where the aliens are entirely and unquestionably our enemy.

Team Fanning also follows through again with a gaggle of teen actresses who only seem to get better with each new sibling to take the stage.  Here, Elle Fanning plays the tough teen with a chip on her shoulder, a role done before several times in films, but usually by male characters played by the likes of like Heath Ledger or Matt Dillon.  In one scene she switches from playing a kid character to playing an actress practicing for a scene to be filmed on the Super 8 camera, and the switch is as well done as you could hope for with any performer.  Ryan Lee in a small role as Joe’s friend Cary was a notable stand-out, playing the future pyromaniac who looks like a mini-Tom Petty.  The rest of the characters are a motley mix of typical honest, good, nerdy kids.

Reflecting back on the films about kids mentioned above, I have a note for the current onslaught of child actors, especially those playing lanky, skinny, fat, odd, etc. kids:  Just check out what happened to the child actors in the above films.  Drew Barrymore who was Gerty in E.T. is now a Cover Girl model and was a Charlie’s Angel.  The chubby kid, Jerry O’ Connell, in Stand By Me ended up as the leading man-looking guy who starred in Sliders and several later series.  Jeff Cohen who played Chunk in Goonies became an L.A. lawyer.  Sean Astin who played the lead in Goonies ended up as the beloved Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings.  And the oldest teen in Goonies played by Josh Brolin, was nominated for an Academy Award.  My point?  Awkward teens take note:  Life gets better.  The old child actor’s curse doesn’t exist anymore.

As science fiction goes, Super 8 stands up as a good film, as a horror film it’s a little light, as an adventure film it’s better than good, but as a film about kids, Super 8 is a solid, entertaining picture that will keep the attention of viewers of any age.

While we wait for the opening night of Cowboys and Aliens on July 29, two days ago we walked through the top western movies to get psyched for Jon Favreau’s big budget clash of Old West and classic sci-fi story.  Today we run down the best alien movies Hollywood has created.  We’re not thinking so much about aliens in their native environment, or Star Wars and Star Trek films would top the list, but unexpected human encounters with otherworldly, friendly and not-so-friendly brethren. 

1.  THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951).  It should be no surprise that a movie from the director of West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Sand Pebbles, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and the editor of Citizen Kane and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) makes the top spot of this list.  Robert Wise’s classic story would fit solidly alongside the best Twilight Zone episodes.  And story is the point–no modern glitz and special effects necessary.  Michael Rennie appears to be just a man.  But he is not.  He is Klaatu, a visitor who has come to observe us in his flying saucer with the giant robot Gort.  How would we react to an alien visitor?  The first look at ourselves revealed paranoia and fear–it is the original self-reflection story that would later inspire V and Alien Nation.

2.  PREDATOR (1987).  He’s a hunter.  A collector.  And he’s on vacation.  That doesn’t sound like a high calibre story description.  Substitute the alien visitor and Predator is a western not unlike High Noon.  Our creature is a visitor with a secret past like any of a number of Clint Eastwood gunslingers.  And he is just as cool, a hunter that would stand firm alongside Boba Fett, Bossk, Dengar and Zuckus.  His make-up is unreal–truly alien to us–and he looks like a Nausicaan–that race that shoved a pool cue though Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Let’s see, who has an unusual skull that would look good on his trophy mantle?  How about that melon on Arnold Schwarzenegger?  There’s a cool vibe throughout the film and a great cast–and what other genre film features two future state governors?  And one of those gauntlets looks like Daniel Craig’s from the Cowboys and Aliens trailers.

3.  CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977).  But for Star Wars this picture would have gone off the charts the year it was released.  Because of multiple Star Wars viewings by me in 1977 and 1978 (I saw it ten times with my brother and sister instead of going to see anything else), I didn’t get to see this movie until years later when it was released on video.  But once I saw it, I realized how grand in scope it was.  Mix all the episodes of Leonard Nimoy’s old TV series In Search Of… and you’ll end up here.  A ship in the middle of the desert, a 1940s squadron appears out of nowhere, and we keep seeing this shape, painting it, making models of it.  Near the place where the Sundance Kid grew up is a destination for sci-fi fans now, at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.  And those five musical tones.  And an alien kidnapping scene, revealing nothing about the aliens, toys that seem to come alive, shocking and scary.  Invaders or friends?  Richard Dreyfuss’s second best movie.  One of Spielberg’s best.

4.  E.T.,THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982).  Not only did Close Encounters and The Day the Earth Stood Still teach us that aliens can be our friends, with E.T. a lot of us would never think to put up a fight when the invasion arrives.  Ugly but lovable, E.T. was funny, thrilling, and made us all cheer.  Ignore the recent edited, updated version–the original was just fine, thank you very much.  A classic pop culture film that gave us several catch phrases: “Home,”  “I’ll be right here,” “Be good,” “Phone home.”  And I am still addicted to Reese’s Pieces.  Another great Spielberg picture in his long list of blockbusters.

5.  ALIENS (1986).  Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson had it right when he said, “Game over, man, game over!”  The polar opposite of the aliens-as-friends films, these exoskeletal aliens have nothing in common with humans.  As villains, there is nothing for us to sympathize with.  They will just exterminate us.  This was a wake-up call for everyone who wants to meet our galactic neighbors.  Stay home and draw your curtains instead.  It was destiny that someone would pit them against Predator years later and it was no contest that we’d cheer the Predator.   And I don’t care what anyone says about the first movie with these monsters, Alien–Aliens, the sequel, was tons better with less unnecessary gross-outs.  You’ve seen one stomach burst, you’ve seen them all.  Skip the sequels but check out Aliens vs Predator for even more fun.

6.  THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984).  When Robert Preston, the original salesman from River City in The Music Man, comes to your planet looking to sell you something, like being a Starfighter, you know you have a different kind of film.  Here we expand the alien movie archetype from either good  or bad–aliens are shades of gray, like people, some are good, some are evil.  Directed by Nick Castle, John Carpenter’s colleague, a simple, quiet movie that has a lot of heart and makes everyone wish they’d get Alex Rogan’s calling.  And Grig’s make-up was the greatest thing until Enemy Mine.   With a great ending for the bad guys, with an all-time classic exchange:  “We’re locked into the moon’s gravitational pull!  What do we do?”  Answer?  “We die.”  Back in the days of arcades, this movie rivaled Tron as to coolness factor.  “Greetings, Starfighter.  You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.”  Where can I sign up? 

7.  THEY LIVE (1988).  This is a John Carpenter classic reviewed in an earlier post and puts Carpenter’s storytelling up there with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  Here, the story goes that Earth has already been invaded and They have been living amongst us.  We could just ignore them.  After all they aren’t hurting anyone.  But once we see them they are sooo ugly.  And we were here first.  Some of us will play along to get the “good life”.  But for one guy trying to keep to himself, this is something he can’t ignore.  The truth must get out.  Roddy Piper is here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and he’s all out of bubblegum.  But no happily ever after will be had here.  They are here to stay.  On the one hand, some movie watchers and critics dismiss They Live as just another action flick.  But if  you pay attention, like with all Carpenter movies, you can see Carpenter’s masterwork is much more complex and dips into our own world’s politics and those who do, and those who don’t, sell-out.

8.  ALIEN NATION (1988).  Much more than just a morality play and allegory to our own prejudices, Alien Nation digs into the struggles all lifeforms surely must face in a multi-species environment.  What motivates us, how do we get along with others?  James Caan (The Godfather, Elf) and Mandy Patinkin (Princess Bride) were perfectly cast as human and Tenctonese cops.  The film’s themes prompted an immediate successful TV series starring Gary Graham and Eric Pierpont.  Beyond the deeper themes, it’s a great police story and an odd, but fun, buddy movie of the Odd Couple variety. 

9.  WAR OF THE WORLDS (2005).  I almost didn’t see this remake in the theater.  But Tom Cruise movies are exciting and enjoyable 95% of the time.  So I saw it and just re-watched it a few weeks ago.  Here we see the futility of combating an invasion of even slightly more technology and might than us.  The situation really is hopeless.  All one can do is run.  As in They Live, with War of the Worlds the aliens have been here for a long time, only here they parked their vehicles here and are just now coming back to rev ’em up.  This movie has great special effects, truly creepy unsympathetic villains, and a lot of dread.  You really feel the pain of the result of alien visitors who don’t want to be our friends.  Yet another Spielberg blockbuster.

10.  DISTRICT 9 (2009).  A great film of political complexity.   A variant on Alien Nation, yet the same basic story.  An extraterrestrial race is forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth.  Their vessel runs out of resources and parks itself over South Africa.  It’s a blunt morality tale about the brutality of prejudice.  This one will strangely make you cheer against the humans.  Luckily for the visitors, they find a kindred spirit in a government agent who is accidentally exposed to their biotechnology.  You’ll find yourself asking:  What are your values?  How do you treat others who are different?  Where would you draw the line between life worthy of mutual respect and not?  Its documentary-style filming and non-American cast is refreshing and new.  And half the time you have to cringe at the protagonist’s actions.  Are we with him or not?

Honorable Mention: Starship Troopers (giant bugs destroy Rio de Janeiro, Johnny Rico is a classic western hero type), Enemy Mine (like Stagecoach, a human is stuck with an alien and even without a common language they come to realize how alike even different species can be and how valuable relationships can be formed by just trying to get along).

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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