Sunday, September 9, 2012


I don’t have a television and I don’t go to the movies. So, this may seem a strange topic. What I do have is a very nice monitor with enhanced Video Graphics and some kind of fancy innards that I had to have added and a souped-up power supply just to run the thing along with my SETI@home stuff. I’m into all that hocus-pocus mumbo-jumbo. If I stop and think about it for very long, the hair stands up on my neck, which trust me, is not a pretty sight. But, intuitively I know there are things out there, more than what we see. I’ve alluded to all this before, when I wrote about “Man With the X-Ray Eyes,” for one, among others.

Last night, we were doing what we do in the evenings. Well, we pretty much do it all day, if we have no one to go bother, no doctors to torture with endless questions, no sales to raid at the local supermarket and no fabulous bus rides that must be endured and the house is clean. We settled in for what looked to be another several episodes in the endless series of calamities that is “24.” We are now in Season 7, somewhere around 3 am. Jack has conveniently contracted the TV show equivalent of “Mad Cow” disease, and every time he and (fill in the blank) have a standoff, or some kind of altercation, he has a fit. Poor Jack. We left off with that bastard Tony Almeida having stolen Jack’s life-saving kit of juju-syringes and calling for a medic, for Jack, who was writhing on the floor and foaming at the mouth. Just like me on a bad hair day. Once again, “billions of lives are at stake, but Madame President, I promise you by the end of the day, the world will be safe for puppies, once again.” Cue the Jack theme music. Don’t get me wrong. This is hokum at it’s entertaining-est and we’re having a swell time booing the villains (that bastard Tony! Poor Larry!) and cheering on Jack. We’re watching all this crap on AmazonPrime, which I picked up for a song, when I bought my Kindle, so I can read all of my writerly friends’ books.

But, every once in a while, I go look and see what Crackle has to offer. It’s free and they have some very good movies. “Lawrence of Arabia” is running out there now and I’ll probably look at that soon. However, they are running “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I haven’t seen this movie in years and I wanted to see how it had held up over time, so I asked JC if he was game. Turned out he was.

It’s still an excellent movie. Seeing it through what I know now and what I knew then isn’t really that much different. My uncle, who gets all pissy and secretive, has written and published mathematical formulae based on observations of UFOs he saw when he worked at the test site near Las Vegas, Nevada. So, when the space craft jig one way and then another, that’s something that’s been seen by people on the ground. People like my uncle.

What I found interesting about the movie and what I had forgotten, is that element of doubt that Spielberg injects, not only between the people and the military, but the people themselves. They begin to doubt. When Roy Neary is out the following evening with Jillian and the gathered folks at the place where they had their first “alien encounter” and the helicopters come, he sees the shaking road sign, the swirling dust, and for a minute, he doubts.

For me, the focus of this movie has always been the idea that Roy was “invited.” Lacome knows this and questions him closely and defends Roy and the other “invitees” fiercely to the Army Major. Roy and Jillian have just driven and run and climbed Devil’s Tower to get to this damned welcome mat in the sky. This was more compelling to me than any other point in the movie. It’s not just about alien abductions. The alien ships come. The abductees are returned. Of all the “invitees,” Roy Neary is the only one who makes it all the way to the Mother Ship. Jillian isn’t really invited. She’s just there to get her son and the aliens, being the advanced souls they so obviously are, return the child to his mother.

For the aliens, there is only one guest and that’s Roy; he's the only one who goes onto the ship. All the others are left behind with their doubts and what-ifs. He’s suffered tremendously to get there. I’m not going to say he destroyed his marriage; that whole family was dysfunctional and frankly, they’re all better off without being a family unit. But, Roy has tortured himself trying to figure out what the hell all of this is. What is going on; is he crazy? Is he even really there? This is the kind of thing “X-Files” did so very well, and it’s at the end point, Spielberg just blew it. If you're going to be asked to the Alien picnic, hadn't it better be rather out there? Shouldn't it be strange? Wouldn't the weird just get to you? Invited or not, how do you even approach the concept of beings from another planet or dimension? I think for us to seriously contemplate the idea of otherness, other beings, we have to make it as "other" as we can without it being absurd. 

On “X-Files,” this would be handled with great dexterity, pushing the envelope of what seems real and what’s not, to the point that the viewer is drawn into the action and isn’t sure what is and what isn’t. It would be told from differing points of view, alá “Rashomon.” I always think of that marvelous episode “Jose Chung From Outer Space,” written by Darin Morgan and filmed so brilliantly. At the end, you don’t know if the mother ship is a crane for electrical work and if Roky is an alien and if Alex Trebek is a Man in Black, and just who in the hell is this "Lord Kinbote?". The whole set up is hilarious and handled adroitly. But, it’s very thought-provoking too, about what our perceptions are and what shapes our views of reality. Undoubtedly, Morgan was influenced, at least tangentially by “ Close Encounters of a Third Kind ” but he took the concept much farther and developed it far more satisfactorily. Still, “Close Encounters of a Third Kind” is a breath-taking, exhilarating movie. I still love this movie, but seriously? This is what it came down to at the end:

Claude Lacombe: “Mr. Neary, what do you want?”

Roy Neary: "I just want to know it's really happening."

Me: " ... "

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