Friday, October 26, 2018

Hubrisween 2018 :: U is for UFO: Target Earth (1974)

With hard-hitting investigative reporter, Tom Lewis (Harper), our prologue does begin, who, along with his impressive porn ‘stache, is currently interviewing a series of eyewitnesses who claim to have had a recent close encounter with a UFO in the rural areas around Athens, Georgia. Here, as part of his news feature, Lewis receives vox populi testimonials from a college professor, a senior citizen, a young couple -- who actually claim to have been abducted by some telepathic aliens and examined before being safely returned and relatively unharmed, and a couple of ranchers, who claim the flying saucer they saw caused a light plane to crash on their property that only received a cursory investigation for reasons unknown -- as if the government already knew what had happened to the doomed pilot and plane.

And while Lewis’ footage of “I don’t know what I seen but I saw it” reinforces a lot of familiar flying saucer scenarios -- bright lights, swamp gas, weather balloons, lost time, equipment failure, EMP flashes, animal mutilations, abductions by benevolent and technologically superior beings, and a military conspiracy to cover it all up, which is reinforced further with a series of classic black and white snapshots of alleged UFO sightings over the years during the myopic opening credits. (And not to spoil too much but these are the only UFOs we will be seeing for the duration of the movie.) But once the slideshow credits wrap-up, the anal-probe is suddenly yanked out from under us all as the film proper will implore to essentially forget all that nonsense about flying hubcaps and little green men because it all couldn’t be any further from the truth as far as extraterrestrials are concerned. And, boy, do we have the guy who can get us to the real truth! Well, sort of. But not really,

Now, this man in question is Allen Grimes (Plakias), a post-grad teaching fellow in electronic engineering at the University of Fauxsville, Florida. And on the afternoon of March 26, 1974, when Grimes attempted to telephone a colleague for some “academic business,” this call would forever change the grad-student’s life! See, he winds up on some ersatz party-line thanks to some static interference of unknown origin. And what he hears is an unsecured conversation between a Colonel Crabby-Ass and a Major MacJerkface, who discuss a rash of UFO radar intercepts around the Buford Power Plant near the town reservoir. And as slack-jawed Grimes silently listens and takes notes, they continue on about a sudden interruption of the local power grid and a course of action to investigate whatever the hell is up there.

Alas, we do not get to see a sorte of jet-fighters buzz the area and engage with any UFOS because that would be both engaging and exciting. Nope. Instead, we stick with Grimes, who, while processing what he just heard, flashes back to his childhood, where a much younger version of himself awakens from a nightmare about a bright light, like a star, that was burning him. But his consoling mama says not to worry because that was just his ‘morning star’ come to wake him, and how everybody has a morning star that guides them. And as we puzzle over just what in the ever-lovin’ hell THAT was all about, we cut back to Grimes in his office, who finally manages to pick his jaw up off the floor long enough to make another phone call to a girl named Vivian, whom he must see in person immediately.

Now, this Vivian (Cline) is a little on the freaky-deaky side as she’s developed an acute sensitivity to strange alien phenomenon, or so she claims, and carries the social stigma that comes with this belief. She’s dubious of Grimes’ motives for speaking with her as he records their conversation, meaning her responses are rather clipped and guarded when he puts the question to her: can she really feel extraterrestrial beings around us? Vivian confirms she does have ESP, but not in the way he thinks, which is too “dimensional.” What she feels is an energy, and if she could just tap into the proper wavelength Vivian is almost certain she can communicate with the source. This news really excites Grimes, who would like to explore the possibilities further with Vivian after he consults a few more experts.

And after talking with a rather affable astronomy professor about the probability of alien life visiting our planet (-- which we will expound upon later), Grimes meets up with Vivian at a local watering hole. Here, she expands on a strange feeling she had when they first met; a strange oppressive malediction that is definitely emanating from him. And when she takes his hand to tune in better, she is overcome by some kind of psychic feedback, gasping about energy and bright stars. And this feedback loop is so great it ripples into their surroundings as the lights flicker and the jukebox drops several RPMs until Vivian breaks contact.

Later, Grimes consults with his old physics professor, Dr. Mansfield (Light), about this strange encounter he just had with Vivian. Seems in less than one hour after her physical contact, there were enough UFO sightings in the area to make the national news. (And do we get to see any of these? Again, that would be both exciting and engaging; so, no, we do not.) And while Grimes had hoped Manfield would be just as excited about this as he was and help him spitball on his rapidly developing theory of what’s really going on at the reservoir, the elder Mansfield, instead, preaches caution. But Grimes will not hear it, and in his zealousness the man does not realize he is now the target of something not of this Earth. And his life kinda depends on whether this ‘something’ is benevolent or hostile...

American physicist Enrico Fermi was instrumental in the successful development of the Manhattan Project during World War II. It was Fermi who was credited with creating the world’s first working atomic pile, making him the father of the Nuclear Age and one of the key architects of the first atomic bomb. Fermi was rare in that he excelled in both applied and theoretical physics, earning himself a Nobel Prize for his work in induced radioactivity as well as significant contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics.

Fermi was still working at Los Alamos at the National Laboratory in 1950, where one day, while walking to the commissary for lunch with several colleagues, he joined in on a spirited conversation with the others about the recent deluge of UFO reports that had been accelerating since Kenneth Arnold’s first sightings of a flying saucer back in 1947. And then the conversation turned to other subjects as the meal commenced until Fermi stopped suddenly and exclaimed, “Where is everybody?!” Edward Teller, a friend, colleague, and witness to this eureka moment, recalled, "The result of his question was general laughter because of the strange fact that in spite of Fermi's question coming from the clear blue, everybody around the table seemed to understand at once he was talking about extraterrestrial life." Another colleague, Herbert York, added Fermi would not let this go and followed up on this observation with a series of calculations on the probability of Earth-like planets elsewhere in the galaxy; the probability of life spawning on these planets; the likely rise and duration of high technology; and concluded we ought to have been visited long ago and many times over.

This contradiction between a lack of solid evidence of alien contact to prove they’ve actually been here and the high-probability estimates for the existence of other civilizations out there, somewhere, formed the basis of what was to become the Fermi Paradox. To illustrate, put on your thinking caps and try to wrap your heads around this: there are billions of stars in our galaxy alone that are similar to the sun, and many of these stars are millions of years older than the one in our solar system. And with those numbers, there’s a high probability some of these stars systems have spawned Earth-like planets; and if our Earth is typical, others, too, may have developed intelligent life. And with that big of a head start, surely one of them developed some form of interstellar travel by now.

So, the question remains. Where is everybody? To answer that, first, let's presume every sighting ever recorded of a UFO on Earth really was just a weather balloon, swamp gas, or a hoax. Next, to address the reason why no super-advanced alien civilization has ever made contact with Earth is, in theory, something called The Great Filter, which basically states at some point all life hits some kind of wall or dead end, where things stall or get derailed, be it evolutionary, environmental, social breakdown, or advancements in technology get out of hand (think nuclear or robot holocaust) before they reach an intelligence level where, say, the difference between magic and science is almost nonexistent as author Arthur C. Clarke once theorized.

And if you want to stay up all night pondering imponderables, read up on whether we of Earth have already survived this Great Filter or have yet to plow into it. Have we stalled out? Is technology getting out of hand? Will a gamma burst from space fry us all? My money is on we destroy ourselves through hubris by letting the Earth become uninhabitable due to greenhouse gases and climate change. And if not that, we’ll blow it all up over something stupid and petty -- most likely differences in dogma. Are we doomed then? Is Soylent Green our future, or, by some miracle, will we achieve something akin to Star Trek? Pardon me if I don’t hold my breath. Then again, this is just one of many theories or possibilities.

And another one of those possibilities is our current technology is too primitive or we’re simply listening for the wrong things. As Carl Sagan once pointed out; it could be that our minds work exponentially faster or slower than another form of intelligence out there. Maybe it takes our galactic neighbors 12 years to say “Hello,” and when we hear this message it sounds like nothing more than garbled white noise. Do you speak bacteria? I sure don’t. And so, maybe, as we reach out with more powerful instruments we might just finally pick up on something. (I know there’s been efforts to go over old Seti data and widen the parameters when crunching it on the computers to translate what we’ve picked up over the years.) Also, it’s a mighty big universe in a “You Are Here” sense, and there’s a chance, however slim, they just haven’t found us yet, which might not necessarily be a bad thing if you buy in to the Alpha Predator theory, where the most advanced civilizations out there are systematically wiping out all other forms of intelligent life.

And lastly, maybe, just maybe, they have been here all along, which fits with the Cosmic Zoo option, which believes the aliens are here essentially on safari as observers, trophy hunters, or catch and release. Personally, if they have visited I think they’re just rubbernecking. It’s always been my pet theory with Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), contending it was the little juvenile potbelly aliens who have been buzzing the Earth all these years, stealing stuff and taking unwitting folks on a cosmic joyride, until they get caught by the elder ganguly aliens, who make them give it all back, apologize, and promise to never do it again in a musical extravaganza, light show, and obscene hand gesture exchange on the Dark Side of the Moon at Devil’s Tower.

And while UFO: Target Earth (1974) is no Close Encounters -- not even remotely close enough to even encounter, and I shudder to even mention them in the same sentence, producer, director, and writer Michael A. DeGaetano’s magdumb opus does address the Fermi Paradox, albeit indirectly, when Grimes sits in on a lecture conducted by Fauxville’s chief astronomer, Dr. Whitman (Erickson), who goes on and on about the arrival of comets being harbingers of great cataclysms over the centuries. What he’s selling probably isn’t true but it's kind of interesting in a some forgotten tome of Time Life’s Mysteries of the Unknown sense. After the lecture, Grimes consults with Whitman on the odds of extraterrestrial life existing elsewhere and the possibility of them ever visiting the Earth. The older man puts the odds of alien life at three to five-percent (-- meaning at least three out of every hundred stars could produce sustainable life somewhere, so that isn’t quite as minuscule as it sounds), and then expounds further on how it is possible for them to visit but highly improbable they would have the means to ever find us let alone get here. It’s a fun little scene that doesn’t completely reek of bullshit like everything else and really sticks out amongst the existential dreck to come as DeGaetano, through Grimes, commits to his own pet theories on non corporeal alien life.

And this ongoing thesis begins with Grimes and Vivian hitting the road to interview eyewitnesses and collect data to be crunched and collated back in Mansfield’s computer lab, which includes a talk with Colonel Crab-Ass, who is obviously rattled when Grimes reveals he listened in on his earlier conversation, but will neither confirm or deny anything except to stay away from the Power Plant, which is on military lockdown for reasons he’d rather not discuss. Still, rumors persist of structural damage around the plant, as if touched by some concentrated heat source that leaves blisters in the metal, which our protagonists only recount because telling is always a helluva lot cheaper than actually showing your audience something. Well, to be fair, we do get to see something. That something being the boom mic for a laughably extended period in the next interview with an elderly woman, who describes something flying over the reservoir, something so big it eclipsed the sun before plunging out of sight. Something shaped like a disc that turned into a bright light as it fell.

Once the interview wraps up, Grimes can barely contain his excitement about this documented sighting of an “energy source with a flight pattern.” Next, he checks in with Mansfield, who says all the data she’s received and put into the computer with her assistant, Dan Rivers (Arcuragi), confirms there has to be some massive energy source located at the bottom of the reservoir. What that data was exactly I do not know because they never bothered to tell us. And, hell, even talking about data entry at this point would be considered an action scene in this damnable movie.

Anyhoo, to follow up on these findings, Mansfield direly instructs Grimes to place some fancy sensors that will detect … something, on the opposite side of the lake and as far away from their camp as possible. Meantime, Vivian is starting to act even more strange as she gets closer to the water, and accuses Grimes of trying to buy her soul with his technology. After assuring this was never his intention, Grimes loads up the sensor on a boat and the director fills out a reel by following our hero as he putters all, the, way, across, the, water, and, reaches, the, opposite, shore, where he sets to work. (ACTION!) Back at the camp, Vivian anxiously awaits his return, clutching the walkie-talkie Grimes left with her, which suddenly crackles to life and a strange ethereal voice starts calling out her name. And as this persistently repeats, Vivian freaks out and flees into the surrounding woods.

She’s still missing when Mansfield and Rivers show up with more equipment, which they leave behind to go and look for the girl. And when they do finally find her -- stress on the ‘finally,’ Vivian appears possessed by another presence, who warns them all to get away from this place with all the urgency of unwrapping a stick of gum before snapping out of her fugue state. Vivian has no recollection of what she just said as they sit around the campfire later that night, where Mansfield also takes a massive plot dump, explaining there’s most likely some kind of alien ship at the bottom of the lake. And what the old lady witnessed all those decades ago was this ship losing power for some reason, causing it to crash and submerge into the lake, where it has sat for all these years, occasionally sending out scout ships to secure power for life support, and what Vivian is most likely sensing is some kind of psychic S.O.S. from the occupants as they await a rescue.

Grimes, of course, doesn’t buy this at all because it doesn’t fit his pet theory, which leads to a lengthy philosophical debate with Mansfield over what is possible, emotions vs. reason, which is making my eyes retroactively glaze over again as I type this sentence. It’s pure nonsense passing for something deeply profound. And it only gets worse from there, folks, as we take a time-out to finally address Vivian’s backstory just as Dr. Mansfield becomes dizzy and swoons. And as Vivian sees to her, Grimes is called over to the van where Rivers is monitoring the readouts of all the sensors, which are currently going bonkers, and the magic Etch ‘o’ Sketch is detecting a high energy spike coming from, ah, you guessed it, under the lake. Vivian senses “they’re here” and begs Grimes to take her with him. Meanwhile, a confused Grimes becomes mesmerized by a certain monitor displaying something akin to a Windows screensaver circa 1992.

What follows next is a big old heapin’ helpin’ of metaphysical bullshit as a voice through the monitor calls out to Grimes, which says he was the one they’ve been waiting over 1,000 years for. And, I quote, “We are beyond the jaws of darkness, where the light springs from the consciousness of your mind and bends upon itself to become the truth.” Apparently, these aliens are some kind of sentient energy, who did crash-land on Earth, and who’ve tried to contact earthlings for centuries only we weren’t ready yet and couldn’t understand; and so, our fearful brains manifested this contact with delusions of flying saucers and bug-eyed Martians, leaving them stuck here. Well, at least until Grimes came along. Vivian sort of sensed this, and I think that childhood trauma flashback was to show the alien’s first attempt to contact him but Grimes was too young to understand at the time. But now, he is the chosen one, who must “choose between two time spans: yours or ours. Give us the power to return, and your time will be destroyed. Nothing will be left. You will die. Only a memory in the mind of your friends will remain. If you refuse, all will end within your lifetime anyway. Your planet will crumble. Already your mind purifies itself of the memory, transforming the imagination into our needed energy."

What follows next is a K-Mart knock-off version of the climax of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), where Grimes, his body rapidly ageing as his -- what, essence?, becomes one with the aliens, pulls himself away from the psychedelic monitor and stumbles toward the lake. We don’t follow him, though. Nope. We get to keep staring at the screensaver for about an hour as the soundtrack digs into a deeper groove. And when we finally cut to the lake, Rivers tries and fails to stop the now elderly Grimes from going for a swim. And when the other man plunges in after him, what he pulls to shore are the mere skeletal remains of Grimes, whose essence has been converted, giving the aliens the power boost they needed to finally get the hell off Earth and head back into the cosmos. And then the movie leaves us with a quote from the Book of Revelations, chapter five, verse nine, which tries to tie all of this nonsense in with the Rapture, causing the audience to reflectively punch this movie right in its smug metaphysical face.

As the old axiom goes, a drowning man will surface three times before taking a permanent dip. I kinda apply the same logic to watching films in that if they put me to sleep more than once, it won’t be getting a third chance at being a non-narcotic sleep inducer because, you never know, it might prove fatal. Or worse: addictive. I had honestly forgotten what a load of pretentious twaddle UFO: Target Earth was as my first attempt at a re-watch ended in a nice nap about 20 minutes in. The second time I made it over an hour before the Sandman came calling. And here, I broke my rule and took the plunge for a third time because, well, with a deadline looming, it was too late to back out now.

Needless to say, I finally made it to the end. And once this turgid turd mountain had been conquered, I can honestly say it’s not all that terrible on a technical level. It’s competently shot, as even the extended boom mic cameo can be blamed on improper matting in the full frame home video release. It has a decent electronic score, and the actors do a commendable job of getting their portentous dialogue out in a timely manner. And yet all of these efforts cannot save the film from itself -- well, make that full of itself. For while I can respect the lofty ideas of the script and the ingenuity on display with such a limited budget to achieve said script’s astronomical ambitions, the end result is nowhere near as good or profound as DeGaetano probably imagines it to be; and so, the call of “pretentious twaddle” on UFO: Target Earth still stands.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow the collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 20 reviews down with 6 to go! Up Next: Fangs for the Memories, Hammer Films.

UFO: Target Earth (1974) Jed Productions :: Maron Films / P: Michael A. DeGaetano / AP: Thomas H. Tolbert / D: Michael A. DeGaetano / W: Michael A. DeGaetano / C: Jerry Crowder / E: Michael A. DeGaetano / S: Nick Plakias, Cynthia Cline, LaVerne Light, Tom Arcuragi, Phil Erickson, Brooks Clift, Tom Harper

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