An Exploration of the Relationship Between
Science Fiction Film and the UFO Mythology

By Mark Pilkington


1.0 Introduction.
2.1 UFOs
2.2 Science Fiction Films.
3.1 The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
3.2 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
3.3 The Abduction Syndrome (1966-).
4.0 Conclusions.
5.0 Bibliography.

"...few people have ever learned to look up."
Professor George Adamski
The Flying Saucers Have Landed

1. Introduction

Recently in Texas a drive-in cinema audience were distracted from the screen by a strange glowing object that passed overhead; the object apparently defied description,making it a UFO. The film was Independence Day. Many might say that such an occurrence was inevitable. It is late 1996 and we are currently undergoing a massive worldwide UFO flap, perhaps the biggest ever. UFOs and their occupants are being reported in America, Europe, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Israel, Australia, Chile, in fact just about everywhere. Can it be mere coincidence that this fresh influx of mysterious flying craft should arrive just as the biggest alien invasion film of them all casts its mammoth shadow across the world? Is it simply the 20th Century Fox publicity machine going into overdrive or is there something else going on ? A Newsweek Poll taken before the release of the massively hyped film revealed that :
  • 48% of Americans think UFOs are real.
  • 29% think we have made contact with aliens.
  • 48% think there is a government cover up of UFO knowledge.
Meanwhile the line between fantasy and reality was forcefully transgressed by the renaming of Nevada's Highway 375, which passes through the desert near the secret Air Force base known as "Area 51". The two lane road became "The Extraterrestrial Highway" in an event sponsored by 20th Century Fox to promote, once again, Independence Day. The film exploits much of the mythology surrounding Area 51, a base that allegedly contains recovered alien flying disks and even the aliens themselves, both dead and alive. Despite having been filmed and photographed, starred in an environmental lawsuit against the US government and featured in several films, TV programmes and advertisements, the US Government still denies that the base exists. The state of Nevada hoped the renaming of the road would bring tourism to a poor, barren area. Who knows what the US military thought. Something must have worked, however, as Independence Day looks set to become the biggest grosser in history and UFOs are being seen in the skies and on screens all over the planet called Earth.

It was a hundred years ago that America was first plagued by mystery flying objects; on 17 November 1896 an "electric arc lamp" was seen by hundreds of people as it passed over Sacramento, California. For the next few months lights were being reported all across America; there were searchlights, coloured lights, balls of light and light wheels, all attached to large, mysterious, dark objects that sound today like airships, though the first dirigible didn't fly until 1900 in Germany. Like today's "flying saucers", airships were a popular convention of fantastic literature, featured in the works of Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe1 amongst others, and were very soon to become a reality. Some of these reports have since been discovered to be hoaxes generated on quiet news days by bored telegraph operators, but they cannot all be dismissed so easily. Were they prototype airships, hallucinations or something more mysterious? It is hardlly surprising then that as the sun sets on the current millennium, UFOs should once again light up the twilight skies of Western culture.

A century has passed and the technology has advanced, but nobody is any nearer to knowing the truth about UFOs, whatever shape they take. A lot of people make a lot of money out of saying they have the answer, whilst many more just quietly believe as they absorb the next edition of Strange But True?, Sightings, Out of This World, Unsolved Mysteries or any of the other television programmes that regularly cover the topic from both sides of the Atlantic. There are so many systems of unshakeable and self-perpetuating belief surrounding the subject that a satisfactory resolution of the mystery will most likely be impossible to achieve. From the Spielbergian angels of light who watch over the planet and keep safe their chosen few, to the paranoid, Kafkaesque world of the abductionists and conspiracy theorists, the aliens are very real, and they are here, now.

For the vast majority, however, UFOs are best relegated to the worlds of science fiction, regularly seen on cinema and television screens by millions of people world wide. Independence Day has become something of a phenomenon in America, eclipsing Hollywood in much the same way as its gargantuan flying saucers do in the film. Its largely anonymous visitors conspicuously reverse the trend of two of the other biggest grossing films in cinema history, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. , both directed by Steven Spielberg and both featuring gentle, benign entities. A scene in Independence Day in which gleeful UFO watchers form a welcoming party for the aliens only to have the honour of being the first to get fried is a direct retort to Spielberg and alien lovers everywhere. Numerous television programmes have also fictionally dealt with the issue, from the Quatermass series in the `50's to today's hugely successful The X Files, which can, in part, be held responsible for the recent upsurge in UFO mania.

The question of non-human life beyond our planet has fascinated mankind for thousands of years, so it is no wonder that it should be such a popular theme for our visual fictions today. Many supposedly factual television programmes also deal with UFOs, their frequency largely determined by whether such things are currently in vogue. Over the last year or so it would seem that they most certainly are; the furore over the "Roswell autopsy" film (purporting to show real alien bodies from a 1947 UFO crash) spread to just about every newspaper and TV Station in the world; a November 1994 episode of Strange But True? dealing with Britain's most famous UFO incident2, attracted 12.5 million viewers in Britain, half of the total audience at 8.30pm; whilst a Network First UFO special, aired in January 1995 at 10.30pm, was seen by 6 million, a high figure for that time3. Another sure sign of UFOs' cultural significance is their use in advertising; in both the UK and the US they have helped to sell, amongst other things, fridges, cars, beer, soft drinks, banks and jeans. Spaceman, the song featured in a Levi's jeans commercial, was number one in the singles charts all over the world and featured a "Grey"4 alien face on the record cover. In fact UFO and alien themes have been used in popular music since the 1950's, famously by the Beatles in the `60's and David Bowie in the `70's; today they are most visible in the "rave" or "techno" cultures, used by bands like The Orb ("UFOrb") and Eat Static("Abduction", "Implant") and appearing on a seemingly endless stream of tee shirts, necklaces and other club paraphernalia.

What I intend to explore in this essay is the apparently symbiotic relationship between the representation of UFOs and aliens on screen in films and television, and the way they are perceived and described in reality5. That films can directly affect the way people think, particularly about things they do not understand, is beyond doubt; people today are still afraid to swim in the sea after seeing Jaws. I hope to show that the borrowing of themes and imagery is a two-way process; some times the fiction follows the perceived fact, and at others the reported fact is quite clearly rooted in fiction. A clear example of this, rare in its extremity, took place in England in the late 1980's. In the final episode of the Dynasty spin-off The Colbys, its main character, Fallon, was abducted by a UFO; she returned later in Dynasty and detailed what had happened to her. Soon afterwards a woman contacted BUFORA (British UFO Research Association) and related an abduction experience that was identical to the one on the programme; the date she gave for the incident was the night after the relevant episode had been shown6 and luckily the investigator recognised the connection. Though such literal transpositions of fiction onto apparent reality are uncommon, it is possible to trace many of the key elements of the UFO mythology, particularly those concerning abductions, back to images from science fiction film, television and artwork. The Dynasty case is interesting in that it shows the cyclical nature of this process; the programme's writers would most likely have been inspired by the success of two books dealing with abductions released in 1987, Intruders by Budd Hopkins, and Communion by Whitley Strieber. The woman who contacted BUFORA, whose story would echo those told in the books, was in fact describing a dream or fantasy inspired by a fiction, itself based on reported facts which may themselves be inspired by other fictions. Ultimately this is a classic "chicken and egg" scenario; it will be impossible to prove which came first; ardent believers can always argue that those who created the fictions in the first place were just unconsciously recalling their own real UFO experiences. However, I think it would be over simplifying the issue to assume that the whole UFO mythology has grown out of science fiction. Currently in our culture the concept of abduction by aliens is the prevalent paradigm, but perhaps in the past these people would have reported encountering faeries, gods or demons.7 In our secular, technology orientated world, the imagery and ideas of visual science fiction have replaced those of the ancient pantheons. UFOs are a living mythology for our times; by studying their role in the most dominant forms of popular culture, film and television, we can, perhaps, gain some insight into how such a mythology forms, grows and takes hold of the Western mind.

2. UFOs

It is symptomatic of our post-modern age that if you talk about UFOs most people will immediately visualise flying saucers from another planet. UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object, so technically anything is a UFO until it is identified and becomes an IFO (Identified Flying Object). The term was coined in 1952 by Edward J. Ruppelt, chief of the US Airforce's Project Bluebook, set up to investigate UFO phenomena in 1952. Since June 1947 these objects had just been known as "flying saucers" after civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold saw nine craft, brightly glowing blue-white, flying over the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. He calculated their speed at an amazing 1700 mph and described their motion as "...erratic, like a saucer if you skip it across water"8; it was a reporter for the United Press, Bill Bequette, who turned this statement into "flying saucers", and the story was soon on front pages all across America. By August 19, 1947, a Gallup poll revealed that nine out of ten Americans had heard about flying saucers, more than knew of the Marshall Plan for Europe. That the objects Arnold described weren't round at all (fig.3) didn't seem to matter; within days new reports were coming in from all across the nation, describing flying "saucers", "discs", and "hubcaps", climaxing on July 4 when 88 reports were made involving 400 people in 24 states9. A second crucial moment in UFO history came just a few days later, on July 8, as the headline of the Roswell New Mexico Daily Record, authorised by the air base commander, announced: "RAAF Captures Flying Saucer in Roswell Region. No Details of Flying Disks are Revealed." The story was picked up world-wide, even the London Times ran a feature, but the next day the airforce revealed that the wreckage was that of a weather balloon and the story was closed. The case was forgotten for thirty years until Jesse Marcel, the intelligence officer who first analysed the wreckage, spoke out to say that it was, in his opinion, extra terrestrial, and that a massive cover up had taken place and the Roswell incident is now viewed by many as the Holy Grail of the UFO world, the key to it all. But until the early 1980's, rumours of crashed discs remained on the fringes of ufology10.

At this point began what Ruppelt calls "The Era of Confusion"11. Were these mystery objects some new military craft undergoing flight tests, perhaps the Navy's "Flying Flapjack" (fig.4) which bore more than a passing resemblance to the objects described by Arnold12? When the military denied this, it was time to look elsewhere, the Russians being the prime suspects, but it was soon realised that the reported flight speeds and manoeuvres were far beyond any earthbound capabilities. A secret "Estimate of the Situation" was prepared by airforce investigators for the Pentagon, its conclusion, that the UFOs had to be of extraterrestrial origin, was deemed outrageous and the report was disowned by Pentagon officials.

The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH), was first presented to the American public in a 1949 True magazine article by former US Marine Corps Major Donald Keyhoe, entitled, "The Flying Saucers are Real"13. In the first paragraph Keyhoe concluded that the flying saucers were from another planet that was observing us because of fears over our development of nuclear weaponry. The military, by refusing to answer Keyhoe's questions, were assumed to be orchestrating a huge cover up. True had a reputation for being reliable and factual, and the story "hit the reading public like an 8 inch howitzer"14, being considered at the time "one of the most widely read and discussed magazine articles in history."15 So now, in less than two years, the two fundamental pillars of the popular UFO mythology were in place: that they were of extra terrestrial origin, and that the government and military were covering up what they knew. There was certainly some truth to this last element. The 1953 CIA Robertson Panel concluded that UFOs were only a threat in the amount of public hysteria they generated; the Air Force's role now was to convince the public that UFOs were nonsense, and to ignore those who said otherwise; as a result Project Blue Book effectively became a public relations exercise in dismissing the evidence for UFOs.

Almost fifty years later nothing has changed, the allegations have just become more extreme. Over the next decades the craft and their occupants got into closer contact with people whilst with each new astronomical discovery their origins got further away. In the early '50's, when the first Contactees, as they were known, met beautiful humanoids from flying saucers, they were from Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and offered rides to the moon in their spaceships. Today if you meet UFO entities you will have been abducted by short, emotionless "Greys" from the Zeta Reticuli star system who are primarily interested in your blood, semen or ova for their genetic experiments16. Interestingly both groups like to warn of mankind's (always) imminent demise through atomic or environmental self-destruction, and have a penchant for making predictions that don't come true.

Throughout this period there has been serious study of UFOs, by both the military, who tend to keep their findings very quiet, and civilians, who like to shout them out for all the world to hear. It is generally accepted by both groups that the vast majority of sightings can be explained away as misidentifications of various sorts- stars, planets, hoaxes, conventional and experimental aircraft, unusual atmospheric phenomena, even flocks of birds- but there remains a hard core of up to 20% that defy such casual dismissal and remain unidentified. Countless books, articles and papers have been written, and research groups have sprung up and died in every nation, but still there is no explanation for these stubborn few. Some liken the search to that of physics or cosmology; where the more you learn, the larger and more complex everything becomes. Others wonder if the whole point is that we will never find an answer, that the phenomenon is a psychic or cosmic riddle designed to encourage mankind's spiritual and technological development. The question, however, ultimately remains the same: who, or what, is behind the mystery? Some of the theories for the origins of UFOs and their occupants include:

  • They are all explainable in conventional terms, those that aren't must be hoaxes.
  • They are craft from other planets, solar systems, galaxies or dimensions.
  • They are human time travellers exploring the planet's past and protecting its future.
  • They are spiritual beings or souls, previously described as angels and beings of light.
  • They are psychic projections of the unconscious mind into objective space.
  • They are manifestations of the collective unconscious, Overmind, world-soul or anima mundi.
Roughly speaking the theorists can be divided into four groups; the "debunkers", who refuse to accept anything that falls outside of the boundaries of accepted science; the literalists, who are looking for "nuts and bolts" metallic craft and their flesh and blood (or, for the Greys, chlorophyll) occupants; the spiritualists, who look to the soul for answers; and the psychologists, who seek answers in the mind. The last two concepts were developed in the `70's and `80's by researchers17 who, while recognising that the phenomena were very real to those who experienced them, argued that the ETH was unable to support many of the "high strangeness" reports that form a large part of the literature, and seemed closer to meaningful visionary experience than alien visitation. Obviously there can be, and are, a lot of overlaps between the groups, and there is no reason why they couldn't all have discovered elements of the truth. In fact, such a range of experiences have been reported within the UFO context that it seems likely that we are dealing with several different phenomena. All these ideas, however, have been explored before, in the realms of science fiction.

2.1 Science Fiction Film

The history of science fiction (SF) film is intrinsically tied to the development of film itself. In 1895 Robert Paul conceived of using film to create an illusory voyage through time, inspired by H.G. Wells' The Time Machine of the same year. Soon after this George M[C1]elies began experimenting with his own cinematic illusions, culminating in 1902 with Le Voyage dans la Lune, a 21 minute epic featuring possibly the most sophisticated narrative structure yet seen in a film. Here the concept of space travel was presented for the first time along with the first aliens, based on the Selenites from Wells' The First Men in the Moon (1901)18. Since this point film and SF have enjoyed a long, successful, but troubled relationship; whilst film is the ideal medium for presenting visions of possible futures or "what if?" situations, it often lacks the ability to transfer some of the more complex ideas of SF literature into visual terms. Attempts to do so have ranged from Wells' Things to Come (1936) to Kubrick and Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but for the most part SF films have been dismissed as lowbrow and unimportant, many pointing the finger primarily at the rash of invasion films of the fifties featuring Communists from outer space or giant radiation-spawned beasts, all intent on destroying American civilisation as we know it. Identifying the genre itself is also difficult: what elements constitute an SF film and differentiate it from the horror or fantasy genres? Both versions of The Thing (Nyby 1951, Carpenter 1982) feature crashed spacecraft and an alien, for example, but could be considered as much horror films as SF, the alien killing most of the cast in a claustrophobic environment; Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (Cahn, 1958) pose similar problems.

Most people, however, will assume that if a film features UFOs/flying saucers and aliens it must be science fiction. Flying saucer shaped space craft had been a staple of pulp SF artwork since the early 1930's , though so had virtually any other shape (the rocket was still the most popular), and a wealth of non-saucer shaped UFOs have been reported over the years (fig.3).The first invading alien arrived in 1945's Republic serial The Purple Monster Strikes. The first film flying saucers were projectiles rather than piloted craft and appeared in a Columbia serial of 1948, Bruce Gentry- Daredevil of the Skies , who successfully fought them off to great box office success. Like the saucers in 1950's The Flying Saucer, they were of earthbound origin, the work of an evil mad scientist; this reflects the fact that most Americans still considered flying saucers to be of earth bound origin, either secret US craft based on German technology, or Russian . In the latter film the saucer has been secretly manufactured by a Russian scientist in Alaska19 who wants to sell it to the Americans. The Flying Saucer was actually viewed by the FBI before its release, and rumours of government involvement were spread about The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), some even taking it so far as to say the film was written by FBI or CIA agents in Hollywood. Whether the government was concerned about the representation of a Russian character in the first film and about the anti-war and anti-military message of the second, or whether flying saucers themselves were the concern we will probably never know. The extension of this idea is the theory that, starting with The Day the Earth Stood Still, certain films dealing with UFOs and aliens were put out by the government to test the public's response to the concept20, or as a form of public education, getting them used to the idea of friendly aliens. Not surprisingly Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is considered the next stage of the program, the rumour even being spread amongst cast and crew during production. And a tale concerning his E.T. (1982) takes the idea even further:

During a screening of...E.T. at the White House in the Summer of 1982, President Reagan is reported to have whispered to...Spielberg: "There are probably only six people in this room who know how true this is" 21.

The huge success of Independence Day, with its deeply anti-social aliens, has no doubt caused some confusion amongst adherents to this school of thought, though it probably won't be long before it is incorporated into the great plan.

Cinema science fiction has often been incredibly successful, with Spielberg's two films, the Star Wars trilogy and now Independence Day all ranking as amongst the highest grossing films of all time. Television, however, has had more difficulties in adapting the SF format to its smaller screen and budget, though there have been remarkable successes. High quality programmes such as the string of Star Trek series, which lasted only three years in its first run, and Dr. Who, which ran for 25 years and is now preparing for a return, tend to remain enormously popular posthumously. Nigel Kneale's three Quatermass series from the fifties, which were all later made into films, also stand out, as do anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone (1959-64) and The Outer Limits (1963-65). Quatermass and the Pit (1957) is interesting in that it features many of the elements that would later arise in discussions about aliens' involvement in man's evolution22, as well as several aspects of the crashed UFO tale, exemplified by the Roswell incident. Whilst the Star Trek spin-off series have tended to be spacebound soap operas, others such as V (1983) and The X Files (1993) have played once again on fears of invasion and conspiracy, both proving to be highly successful. Many of the individual episodes of all these series dealt with ideas relevant to UFO lore, and, as we shall see when looking at the abduction mythology, some may have proved extremely significant in its development.

As case studies I have chosen The Day the Earth Stood Still (DESS) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE3K) because both have been popular with the viewing public, in CE3K's case spectacularly so, and this popularity has endured. Both are closely connected to the UFO culture, clearly demonstrating some of the key ideas of their time and revealing how the mythology developed in the half -century since Arnold's historic sighting.

3. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

1951 was a troubled time for America; its boys were in Korea and the Cold War showed no sign of warming up, in fact it looked set to get even chillier and nuclear families everywhere huddled closer together around the warm glow of the television set or radio. But not too close; paranoia had firmly established itself as the dominant form of politics in Washington, and Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities had already drawn up a blacklist of suspected Communist sympathisers within the Hollywood entertainment industry, causing nervous people in the community to produce "Red Channels", a list of suspected subversives within their ranks. It is somewhat of a surprise then that The Day the Earth Stood Still (DESS), which is openly critical of the militarist regime and gently mocks the Commie hunters, ever got made in the first place. Written by Edward North from Harry Bates' 1940 short story, Farewell to the Master , and pacily directed by Robert Wise, the film strongly contrasts with most others of the period, including The Thing from Another World, also released in 1951, in that it sympathetically portrays Klaatu, the alien other, as a gentlemanly figure to be respected rather than a hideous monstrosity to be destroyed.

The opening credits are overlaid on views of infinite space that slowly dissolve to reveal our destination, the planet Earth. We are thus placed from the outset in an objective position, distanced from the "childish jealousies and suspicions" of earth politics. This perspective is continued as we see announcements from all around the world that a mystery craft has been tracked travelling at 4,000 mph; "this is not another flying saucer scare..." we are told by a news reader, "whatever it is, its something real". Then, as if to prove it, we see the craft itself, a glowing flying saucer, gliding over the Capitol building in Washington DC and the heads of carefree American picnickers before settling down on a baseball field, the very heart of America. The craft is soon surrounded by curious onlookers, kids pushing to the front, and a horde of tanks and soldiers, guns at the ready. Klaatu, played by British actor Michael Rennie, emerges only to be shot whilst reaching into his silvery one-piece outfit for a gift for the President. At this Gort, his eight-foot robot assistant, appears and fires a laser beam at the tanks and weaponry, melting them in seconds. Klaatu stops him with commands in an alien language, thus reinforcing his peaceful intentions, and is then taken to a military hospital.

Klaatu tells the presidential secretary that he is an emmsiary from an inter-galactic federation and that his kind have been monitoring Earth's radio signals for years, he wants a meeting of all the world's heads of state in order to deliver a vital message; but his request is refused as being impossible in a world full of "tensions and suspicions". So Klaatu escapes and hits the town, moving in with a family that has lost its father figure to military violence in World War II. Soon he becomes a surrogate dad to son Bobby who has a healthy appetite for knowledge, something Klaatu can provide in an unending supply. He is soon led to the Einstein-like Professor Barnhardt, according to Bobby "the smartest man on earth". After a demonstration of Klaatu's power which causes all the world's power to stop for half an hour, Barnhardt agrees to arrange an international meeting of scientists. Unlike those of The Thing and many other SF and horror films of the fifties, the scientists of DESS are viewed as peaceful and benevolent, living outside the petty squabblings of war and politics, thus being associated with Klaatu rather than the government.

Whilst returning to his craft Klaatu gives Bobby's mother Helen instructions for Gort should anything go wrong; he is then shot and killed by the military, who now consider him a threat to national security. Unusually Helen now wields the power in a film otherwise dominated by and aimed at men; she gives Gort the order "Klaatu Barada Nikto" and so, indirectly, resurrects Klaatu. Alive once more Klaatu delivers his warning to mankind. The Earth is threatened with destruction by man's atomic weapons; the Galactic Federation won't stand for it, fearing that these weapons will be sent into space, and Gort is to be left behind as a policeman; if he senses trouble the Earth will be destroyed. That Gort is a soulless machine, now left to govern mankind, could be a comment on man's dangerous obsession with technology, or a call for its peaceful use on Earth (Klaatu does tell Billy that nuclear power can be used in things other than bombs). It is interesting that Helen, the film's only significant female character, should be the only other person able to control the robot. Is the film suggesting that the world needs a stronger element of female leadership in order to survive, that mankind should incorporate rather than dominate the feminine? For the time these were all subversive notions, especially after a war run and fought by men whilst women gained power in the home and work place.

This ending is extremely ambiguous. Klaatu seeks to prevent the Earth from destroying itself with aggression, yet Gort is left behind as the ultimate deterrent; he will destroy the planet in response to man's aggression towards his fellow man. We are not worthy even to destroy ourselves with our own technologies, we must allow a superior race do it through their own mechanisations. In effect the planet has been conquered by the aliens; as Klaatu says, "Your choice- join us and live in peace or face obliteration". That's not much of a choice. Klaatu's immense superiority is implied both by his plummy British accent and also by a number of references to Jesus and the Christian faith. Klaatu, come down from on high, chooses the name "Carpenter" when he goes out amongst the people to spread his mission of peace. The authorities are afraid and shoot him dead, but he is resurrected by his technology of light which powers everything in the craft. Klaatu tells Helen that only the "Almighty Spirit" has the power of life and death, not Klaatu's science. If the "Almighty Spirit" is the father, Klaatu the son, then perhaps Gort is the holy ghost or guardian angel. Scriptwriter North said of these references, "It was my private little joke. I never discussed this angle with Blaustein (producer) or Wise because I didn't want it expressed. I hoped the Christ comparison would be subliminal".23

Perhaps taking its cue form Citizen Kane, which Wise himself had co-edited, DESS makes much use of the media to present the public and international perspectives of the events of the film, specifically the flying saucer's landing, Klaatu's escape and the world-wide power cut. Wise even used real reporters such as Gabriel Hatter to add authenticity. The language used in these reports echoes both the speculation about the origins of UFOs and also the popular metaphors used to describe the Communist threat. When Klaatu first appears at the Benson household a TV voice is saying, "The monster must be tracked down like a wild animal... and destroyed... neutralise this menace from another world." Newspapers dub him the "Man from Mars" or "A monster at large". Biskind notes that politicians on both the left and right often spoke in terms alluding to disasters, wild animals and emergencies, referring to, among others, "moral termites", "poisonous snakes and tigers" and "rampaging rogue elephants" 24. Mars has had a long history of association with possible alien life, from today's microbe laden meteorite and the mysterious "face" dating right back to 1877. Then an Italian astronomer, Giovanni Schiaparelli, announced that he had discovered "canali"25 crossing the planet; this was mis-translated as canals, rather than channels, thus implying intelligent life and paving the way for Wells' Martian invaders in War of the Worlds (1898) and a host of 1950's invaders. That Mars was also "the Red planet" (its soil causes it to appear red through a telescope) allowed for endless Communist associations in such films, and this is most likely the inference in DESS, though of course we know that Klaatu means no harm.

Coming only a year after the publication of Donald Keyhoe's The Flying Saucers are Real, an extension of his True magazine article's assertions about their extraterrestrial origins, DESS can, along with The Thing, be considered the first film to present UFO's as space vehicles. Keyhoe also speculated that the aliens' interests in the planet were due to our new found atomic and nuclear capabilities. A high proportion of reports were indeed coming from military sources at rocket test sites in New Mexico and Nevada; so perhaps his book served as an inspiration for certain elements of the script, though Harry Bates' story does predate Keyhoe by almost a decade26. The film itself contains much of interest to UFO history. A year later America would experience the greatest wave of UFO sightings ever, culminating in July with radar and visual sightings over two airports at Washington DC on two consecutive nights. News headlines read "Interceptors Chase Flying Saucers Over Washington, DC Air Force Won't Talk", overshadowing the Democratic National Convention being held in Washington at that time. Air Force switchboards were jammed with callers asking them not to shoot at the spacemen, perhaps fearing Gort-style retribution if they did.

In six months of 1952, 148 US papers carried over 16,000 items on UFOs27, even Life Magazine , a cherished American institution, ran a feature headlined "Have We Visitors from Space?". This featured comments from top scientists and examined ten of the best cases from Air Force files; its conclusion echoed the thoughts of people everywhere; "What power urges them on at such terrible speeds through he sky? Who, or what, is on board? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What are the intentions of the beings who control them?" This being before the 1953 Robertson Panel, even the Airforce made use of the UFO mania, using them to recruit people into its Ground Observer Corps.

So many people were seeing and reading about UFOs that it could only be a matter of time before someone claimed to meet their occupants, and this dubious honour was bestowed on the colourful "Professor" George Adamski. A Polish immigrant, Adamski had tried it all as a soldier, sign painter, factory worker, successful bootlegger during Prohibition , leader of The Royal Order of Tibet (a 1930's Californian religious group) and failed science fiction author (Pioneers of Space, 1949). But it was his November 20, 1952 meeting with a visitor from Venus that drew him world-wide attention, including a meeting with the Queen of the Netherlands, and, according to his supporters, a secret reception with Pope John XXIII, who died two days later.

The meeting with the alien took place in the California desert; Adamski ventured out alone with a camera and telescope after seeing a cigar shaped "mothership" whilst saucer spotting with friends. He then noticed a strange looking man in a ravine:

There were only two outstanding differences that I noticed as I neared him. 1. His trousers were not like mine. They were in style much like ski trousers and...I wondered why he wore such out here on the desert. 2. His hair was long, reaching to his shoulders...but this was not too strange for I have seen a number of men who wore their hair almost that long. ...I realised that I was in the presence of...A HUMAN BEING FROM ANOTHER WORLD!28
The man was about five foot six, had blonde hair, grey eyes, high cheekbones, a finely chiselled nose, an even coloured suntan and did not look like he had to shave; "The beauty of his form surpassed anything I had ever seen...and I became very humble within myself."29 That Adamski is reported to have had loose affiliations with Californian Nazi sympathisers in the 1930's must raise questions about his perfect being, although he wouldn't look out of place on a Californian beach either.

The men communicated through telepathy and sign language. Adamski learnt that he was from Venus; he had come to warn man that he must stop his warlike ways and that his nuclear weapons were a threat to universal harmony. He was also told that many other Nordic Venusians were already living amongst us on Earth and Adamski would later describe meetings with these "Space Brothers" in bars and burger restaurants in Los Angeles. After a brief tour of the Venusian's scoutship, during which he was allowed to take pictures, though his camera jammed, the two men parted, and Adamski detailed his experiences in a best selling book. Many others would follow his lead, meeting men and women from all over the solar system, the women being "tops in shapeliness and beauty" and having no need for bras. It is clear that parts of Adamski's story are ridiculous and others owe much to DESS; that he was a notorious con artist is also without doubt, once quoted as saying " If it wasn't for FDR30 I'd never have had to get into the flying saucer business". But he was never caught out and never retracted his story, which grew increasingly complex, involving trips to the moon and involvement with government agents amongst other things. Ridiculous as his claims sound today, nobody has been conclusively able to reject all his many films and photographs as fake, and others have seen and photographed similar objects all round the world.

The Contactees, particularly Adamski, have remained a divisive subject amongst ufologists ever since, some seeing them as a regrettable farce, others as exemplary of the bizarre and complex nature of the subject. It is unlikely the truth about the Contactees will ever be known, but whatever the case, their stories laid down further groundwork for the development of the UFO mythology. Many elements, such as the human looking aliens who live amongst us on Earth, and the aliens' fears for the Earth's destruction have become staple elements in the abduction scenario of the 1990's. It is possible that these may have their roots in the science fiction of the fifties, but such themes have been central to myth, religion and visionary thought since time immemorial, their recurrence in The Day the Earth Stood Still and other films being intrinsically connected to the collective fears of the time. Then it was the threat of nuclear destruction that hovered over the West; today it is mankind's destruction of the environment, not just a threat but a reality, that brings the other down to Earth.

3.2 Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

By the time Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CE3K) was released in late 1977, (March 1978 in Britain), the world was in the grip of perhaps the largest UFO frenzy since the summer of 1952. It is certainly interesting to note that CE3K was the subject of the then floundering Columbia Pictures' most ambitious advertising campaign in its fifty year history; special two page ads, introducing the concept and explaining the title, were placed in 27 US newspapers a full six months before the intended release date. The campaign was gradually built up to a fever pitch in the ensuing months, fortunately coinciding with (and no doubt influencing) a renewed public and media interest in UFOs. A long and unrevealing trailer explaining the title was also shown at cinemas during this period. Public enthusiasm for the UFO subject matter was likely to have been greatly encouraged by this constantly generated sense of anticipation as, indeed, it was after the film's massively successful release.

Steven Spielberg had always had a fascination with UFOs and their occupants and liked to remind interviewers that he was born in 1947, the same year that spawned the first wave of "flying saucer" reports. In 1963, at the age of 16 he made his first 8mm film, a two hour epic called Firelight which showed a special group of scientists investigating UFOs and ended with an invasion of malicious aliens. After reading the much publicised accounts of the 1961 UFO abduction of Betty and Barney Hill31, Spielberg wrote a story called "Encounters" about two teenage lovers who see a UFO. Partly written during the filming of Jaws, CE3K was originally titled "Watch the Skies" in the words of the final warning from The Thing from Another World (1951) - and was centred on a US Air Force officer frustrated at having to cover up UFO reports for the government. The script was submitted to writer Paul Schraeder for what Spielberg deemed a disastrous rewrite, though he kept the new title, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and, allegedly, the mystical and psychic elements of the story. This new title referred to a classification system for UFO encounters developed by Dr. J. Allen Hynek32, regarded by many as the father of "Ufology". From 1952 to 1969 Hynek was the astronomical and scientific advisor to the US Air Force's Project Blue Book; although initially highly sceptical, he came to believe that the phenomenon did have an objective reality and made its study his life's work. Spielberg used Hynek's book The UFO Experience (1972) as the basis for the film's events, and hired him to act as technical advisor during the production (he has a cameo in the final landing sequence).

The film's plot follows the paths of two ordinary Americans and an international group of scientists as they search for the meaning behind a series of encounters with a non-human force. Though the audience are given privileged viewpoints for most of the special effects sequences, we never know more than the protagonists about what is going on at any point; we do, however, witness both groups as they are gradually drawn to the destination of their impending contact at Devil's Tower, Wyoming. The suburbanites, Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Guiler (Melinda Dillon) both experience confusing visionary impressions of the site that are only clarified (or channelled) by its appearance on the television news, a medium they can better comprehend than telepathy. The scientists, led by Frenchman Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), follow a series of enigmatic clues around the world before being presented with sounds which they translate into sign language and which their computers then translate into global grid references. That both groups need their heavenly messages interpreted technologically before they can fully understand them unconsciously parallels the theories of many analysts, including eminent psychoanalyst Carl Jung33 and Jacques Vallee34, who see UFOs not as extraterrestrial spacecraft but as modern, technologically based interpretations of visionary experiences that would once be explained in terms of gods, angels or demons. The choice of Truffaut, who in reality had some difficulty speaking English, to play Lacombe adds another element to this theme of communication; he needs an interpreter to speak with his fellow humans, but it is he who communicates with the emergent entities at the end, transcending human language through light and sound and so echoing the role of the film maker.

The film itself plays heavily on both the perceived reality of the UFO phenomenon and the audience's perception of the reality on screen. Elements from cases reported to Hynek are lifted from their original contexts and redeployed in new ones for plot and visual effect. In the film a red/orange ball of light is seen trailing behind the larger craft like Tinkerbell from Peter Pan35 or the trailing dwarf/rabbit/bear etc. seen in so many Disney cartoons36. Similar lights make up a high proportion of UFO reports, but their behaviour in the film is purely for sympathetic effect. Also misused for dramatic purposes are the poltergeist effects that herald the arrival of the aliens in the Guiler household, such as banging doors, smashing bulbs and animated household objects. Such disturbances are frequently reported by experiencers of UFO phenomena, but are almost always separate incidents to the UFO encounter itself and are hardly ever reported as being manipulated by the entities. An aerial shot added for the Special Edition37 shows the mothership casting a shadow as it passes over fields; in the film it serves to preview the climactic revelation of the huge craft whilst also adding a solid material dimension to its existence, but in reality shadows are very rarely mentioned in sighting reports, only lights.

One of the central themes of the film is communication and language, so it seems in poor faith that it should rely so heavily on trickery and artifice for its effect. The best example of this is in a sequence midway through the film, where Neary, the everyman character with whom we are most expected to identify, joins a group who have gathered at the point where he first encountered the UFOs. In the distance lights are seen to appear, coming closer towards the on and off screen audiences; John Williams' stirring score adds tension to the moment and in doing so masks any diegetic sound. Silence is a key factor of any UFO report, and thus far the approaching lights make no noise, even as they are nearly upon us. Suddenly the music climaxes and the lights are shown to belong to a helicopter, the sound of its blades filling the soundtrack in the absence of incidental music (figs.10,11). Although this is an effective suspense sequence, by manipulating the audience's perceptions in this way it does serve to further muddy the unclear waters of UFO reality. In a film that presents itself as factually based (albeit loosely), this is arguably irresponsible, though hardly uncommon. 38

Much has been made of the religious aspects of the film; one reviewer commented that " feels like an unwilling guest at an evangelical meeting"39; another saw it as little more than "...a commercially adroit exploitation of `70's pop mysticism and religious euphoria."40 There is certainly some truth to these statements, but they are missing the point. Of course there is a strong element of religion in the film; its tag line "We are not alone" could equally be used to promote The Church ,and for many people the belief in extraterrestrial life is a religion in itself. It requires faith in the unknown, and, like any religion, concerns the role and place of the individual in the cosmic scheme of things. Spielberg himself spoke of it as "the cosmic entertainment", saying "If you believe, it's science fact; if you don't believe, it's science fiction."41 This statement sums up many of the problems that the UFO phenomenon presents and is especially revealing in that it refers to a fictional film that for many may well be construed as "science fact".

Certainly CE3K portrays the extraterrestials as awe inspiring, seemingly all powerful beings that transcend the forces of nature and can even control them, their arrival signalled by swirling portents in the clouds and blinding lights on the ground. Although they can inspire fear in those they touch with their presence, such as the mother of Barry Guiler, when they finally appear they are childlike, smiling and radiant. As Pauline Kael noted in Newsweek magazine; "God is up there in a crystal chandelier spaceship, and he likes us." The childlike appearance of the aliens gives them an innocent quality, implying that mankind has lost its innocence and must recover it The adult and authority figures in the film, the military, Barry's mother and Neary's wife, are initially afraid of the beings, or don't believe in them and so don't want others to, but those who never lost or have retained their sense of wonder, the scientists, the child Barry and Neary himself , embrace them and are so granted entrance into the their magical world.

Tension between the scientists and the military is a key staple of many SF films, The Day the Earth Stood Still being an exemplary case, but doesn't translate into the perceived reality of the UFO mythos. Proponents of the "nuts and bolts" school of thought maintain that the only scientists who have knowledge of the ETs' craft and biology, or are even interested in it, are already part of the conspiracy to cover up the evidence; all other scientists refuse to accept the truth of the matter. Science programs such as SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence), itself once partly funded by Steven Spielberg, are seen as merely further distractions to keep the truth out of the public eye. As with many elements of the UFO mythology, that this makes little sense is not important, belief requires faith over reason.

On its release CE3K hit a nerve with both the American and British publics, even being chosen for the Royal Film Performance; this was apparently due to its lack of sex and violence, but those in the know were well aware that Prince Philip was a long-time subscriber to Flying Saucer Review, then the world's premier UFO journal42 . Its success at the box office was shadowed only by the phenomenon of Star Wars, previously considered a dark horse; the huge impact of both these films suggests that the world needed an escape from itself at the time. America was still stuck in a post Watergate, post Vietnam gloom; Britain swamped by unemployment, strikes and societal dissatisfaction. UFOs proved a popular distraction. Jimmy Carter, inaugurated as President in July 1977, had made it a campaign pledge to open the Government's UFO files to the public, having seen one himself in 1969. But so secret were these hundreds of reports, many of them held by the CIA and National Security Agency, that not even the President could secure their release, even though it seemed that around the world skies were aflame with mysterious coloured lights.

The situation grew so extreme that in November 1977, the prime minister of Grenada, Sir Eric Gairy, called a United Nations meeting on the subject of UFOs. Delegates were shown CE3K to get them in the mood, but, as a mocking front page Times article noted, the fact that many countries sent female delegates indicated a low level of perceived importance43. The Times itself, however was as swept up in the subject as anyone else; its Index for 1977 lists UFOs under "Space", but from 1978 they had their own section. In the period 1977-79 it featured 45 UFO related pieces, covering reports from Britain, America, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Poland, South Africa, Israel and the USSR, sometimes up to three a day, as well as editorials, comment and even political cartoons.

The climax in Britain came on January 18 , 1979 when UFOs were the subject of a House of Lords debate, the motion being that the government should make public what it knew about them. The motion was defeated but resulted in the formation of The House of Lords All Party UFO Study Group, whose chairman, the Earl of Clancarty, was himself an established author in the subject. Other newspapers, notably the Sun and The Daily Express, were also hot on the trail, the latter paper having the exclusive serialisation rights to the script of CE3K and sponsoring ufologist Jenny Randles to cross the nation collecting people's stories ( she was simultaneously promoting the film at cinemas for Columbia). In her words; "This... demonstrated the amazing impact the film had on society, but it did not provoke waves of new UFO sightings as sceptics vociferously predicted. Instead it encouraged witnesses to report old sightings which they had previously kept secret for fear of ridicule."44 John Spencer, author and Chairman of BUFORA (British UFO Research Association), the country's largest UFO group, for which Randles was then Director of Investigations, recalls; "(the) group received one of its largest upsurges in memberships...during the publicity campaign prior (to), and the first few months after, the release of the film...we also received very large numbers of sighting reports..."45 Other sources46 state that, after the film, sighting reports broke records around the world, as much as quadrupling the normal figures. However, a Gallup poll taken in America in 1978 shows that the increase since 1973 in the proportion of people who thought UFOs were real, as opposed to imaginary, rose byonly 3% to 57% ; the "don't knows" remained at 16% for both years.

So whilst Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a monumental financial success world-wide and undoubtedly helped raise public awareness of UFOs to new heights, it is still difficult to prove that it actually caused the flood of global sightings that took place in the months surrounding its release. Certainly the pre-publicity would have inspired people to "keep watching the skies" and so to misidentify celestial and man-made objects, but there were numerous credible reports from all over the world between 1976 and 1978. Cases which attracted particular attention were; in Bass Strait, Australia a plane and its pilot disappeared, his last radio message being "unknown aircraft now on top of me"; and in Fujian China, two children were killed and 200 others injured when 3000 people panicked at an outdoor cinema as, reportedly, two huge humming orange balls flew low over the crowds (they were not watching CE3K). Where the film's impact is more visible, however, is in retrospectively examining the fast growing mythology of UFO abductions.47


In the 1950's some people feared an alien invasion; for many in the 1990's they are already here. The story goes something like this. In July 1947 an alien craft crashed near Roswell, New Mexico; four bodies were recovered, one of them still alive. Keeping this event secret was considered so important that President Truman authorised the setting up of a secret satellite government, code named Majesty or Majestic, to deal specifically in UFO and alien matters. The beings were humanoid, about four feet tall with no hair or ears, holes for a nose, a slit for a mouth and large, black "wraparound" eyes through which they communicated telepathically. These are the "Greys" from the Zeta Reticuli system, and many of them are living here on Earth in several underground bases all around the world; one is in Dulce, New Mexico, one deep in the militarised zone of the Nevada desert, another still in a mountain in Puerto Rico. The surviving Grey from Roswell lived for a number of years; soon contact was made with others of its kind48 and the Majestic group made a deal with them. In exchange for alien technology, including that used in Stealth aircraft and anti-gravitational propulsion systems, the Greys would be free to carry out genetic crossbreeding experiments on humans. Their purpose is either to repopulate their own dying planet with Grey/human hybrids, or to prepare them to take charge of the Earth after mankind's destruction in 2012. The people chosen by the Greys are the abductees, and according to one poll49 there could be up to fifteen million of them in America alone.

Those that believe the abduction scenario aren't necessarily unintelligent, its chief proponents include New York artist Budd Hopkins; Temple University Professor of History, David Jacobs; and Pulitzer Prize winning author and Harvard psychiatrist, John Mack. There are a number of variations on the experience; in fact, "uncontaminated" reports are rarely identical, closer to visionary experience than cold reality, but the version most subscribed to in America is known as the Classic Abduction Syndrome (CAS).

The scenario as it now stands has been developed since the early 1980's, though abductions had been a lesser known part of UFO lore since a Brazilian case in 195750. It wasn't until 1966, however, that they were brought to public attention by the story of Betty and Barney Hill, a multiracial couple from New Hampshire, considered by CAS proponents as the "blueprint" that all other abductions should follow. Their 1961 experience took place, like many such encounters, whilst driving at night; they remembered seeing a bright multicoloured light in the sky which followed them and eventually stopped not far from their car, where they saw that it was a big "pancake-like" aircraft. Barney got out and looked at it through binoculars and was shocked to see faces staring down at him from a row of windows; panicking, he jumped back into the car and they drove on. Next they heard a high pitched beeping sound coming from the boot of the car after which they arrived at their destination two hours later than expected and feeling groggy and disorientated.

Betty read all she could about UFOs and began to suffer a series of nightmares involving their encounter. In them, the car was surrounded by small men dressed in military uniforms who took Betty and Barney onto their glowing flying saucer; the men weren't frightening, and behaved in a very businesslike manner; Betty described them as having big noses like Jimmy Durante51. On board, Betty was subjected to medical tests and probed with needles, including a painful injection into her navel with a very long needle that she was told was a pregnancy test. Afterwards she was shown a star map and tried to remove a book, being an avid reader, but was forced to put it back; the aliens told her she would not remember anything after being returned to the car. Barney too was troubled, suffering from ulcers and genital complaints and even undergoing psychiatric therapy. Eventually they both linked their problems to the UFO sighting and were referred to an eminent psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Simon, who hoped to uncover the source of their problems through hypnotherapy. The use of regressive hypnosis has become a standard part of abduction research; often practised by alien-hungry amateurs, asking leading questions and searching for what they want to find; it may well be the root of the CAS. Many hold the belief that hypnosis acts like a truth drug, but this not the case; Dr. Simon himself stated, after treating the Hills, "it must be understood that hypnosis is a pathway to the truth as it is felt and understood by the patient. The truth is what he believes to be the truth..." 52

The couple were regressed independently over four sessions. Betty's story was entirely consistent with her dreams; Barney had kept his eyes shut through most of his ordeal, though he remembered a tube removing sperm from his penis53 and described the aliens as "Nazi like", having big "wraparound eyes" (though not black) and no noses or ears. Betty later retracted the Jimmy Durante noses once she had heard Barney's version of events, perhaps realising that they sounded ridiculous. That the Hills saw something strange in the sky is generally accepted- a nearby Air Force base radar reported an unknown over the area at the time of the encounter- but what happened afterwards is, however, entirely questionable. The close similarity between Betty's dreams and her hypnotic recovery of the event was something Dr. Simon found very unusual, leading him to believe that the event was an imaginary dramatisation of inner conflicts over their multiracial marriage, initially triggered by the fear of their UFO sighting54. Skeptics state that such experiences are formed from UFO and alien imagery drawn from various cultural sources, and released from the unconscious mind by anything from fear to exposure to strong electromagnetic fields.

Arguing the reality of abductions, proponents state that there is no cultural precedent for the various elements that make up the scenario; others55, however, have shown that there is a wealth of material from which the abductees might draw such imagery and ideas. It is especially interesting to look at the Hill case in this light. Betty's story bears remarkable similarities to the 1953 film Invaders From Mars, popular at the time of its release, and likely to have been shown on TV before late 1961. Bearing in mind that Betty first experienced her abduction in nightmares after reading UFO books, and that dreams collate themes and imagery from many disparate sources, it seems quite possible that the viewing of even such a conspicuously low budget film after having been through a frightening UFO encounter might impact on the unconscious in some way. In the film a flying saucer lands and unleashes big nosed aliens with large slit eyes56 who kidnap people, pacify them with lights and implant mind control devices in the backs of their necks; one scene has a young woman placed on an operating table as a needle is stuck into her neck. An ambiguous overhead shot of the operating theatre, dominated by a large metal conduit leading from the ceiling to the curved floor, might easily be interpreted as showing a long needle inserted into a human stomach, complete with navel. Barney's version of events only came out during the four hypnosis sessions, and we can assume that Betty had told him her dreams on a number of occasions in the two years that had passed since the incident; in this way the detail of the sperm removal process could be seen as a male analogue to the female pregnancy test that Betty underwent. It is the differences between their descriptions of the aliens that are most revealing; Barney's did not have big noses, they were Nazi-like, and, intriguingly, had large eyes which "are talking to me", something Betty made no mention of. A possible source for this image lies in an episode of the science fiction anthology series The Outer Limits entitled The Bellero Shield; it was aired on February 10, 1964, twelve days before the first session in which Barney mentioned the aliens' eyes. The programme featured an alien with large eyes that stretch almost to the sides of its head, an image that was apparently well publicised in advertising for the series; at one point this alien says "all who have eyes, have eyes that speak". Whilst it can never be proven that these were the sources of the imagery in the Hill accounts, the similarities cannot be ignored and so must be considered significant57.

These are not the only abduction precedents in popular science fiction, in fact there are almost too many to list58. Some films feature abductions explicitly, such as Fire in the Sky, which retells the dubious Travis Walton case of 1975, and the TV film Intruders , based on the Budd Hopkins book that, along with Whitley Strieber's Communion, initiated the first huge wave of abduction mania in the mid 1980's. Other less conspicuous influences may include The Manchurian Candidate (1962) which features many of the elements of the CAS, but here the abductors are the Korean military rather than alien beings. It includes an abduction, conference with the captors, brainwashing and screen memories, all key CAS components. The film played on the popular, much feared public image of brain washing and mind control that was used in anti Korean propaganda during the 1950's and is now making a big return amongst conspiracy theorists. Some even point to known mind control experiments such as MKULTRA as being a significant part of the reality behind the whole UFO abduction syndrome59.

In his book Secret Life, CAS proponent David Jacobs claims that; "even Star Trek, which has been seen probably by more Americans than any other science fiction television show, has no plots that resembled the abduction scenario60". Clearly he doesn't watch Star Trek. Both the first episode , The Cage (1966), and a double episode story, The Menagerie, aired later in the series and using footage from the pilot, featured plots that almost precisely mirrored the abduction scenario. In the story, Captain Pike61 is kidnapped by short, bald aliens with enlarged heads (fig.21) who put him in a glass cage with a human woman. They communicate telepathically and have the power to control people's minds, creating delusions and hallucinations in order to telepathically experience the extreme human emotions that they are incapable of feeling themselves. They want the captain to breed with the woman in order to use them as workers to rebuild and repopulate their dying planet. Themes of aliens kidnapping and impregnating humans, coming from dying planets and using implants, telepathy and mind control have been consistent themes in science fiction film and literature since the pulp magazines of the 1930's, so to deny a link between popular culture and the abduction myth is entirely ridiculous.

So why are today's aliens for the most part62 grey, emotionless and featureless except for their huge black eyes, and why are they experimenting on us in this way? Certainly the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind have played an important role in the visual development of the abductors. CAS proponents would say that this is because they were based on real aliens, which is not true; the aliens were built up from various designs over a long period, and at the last minute Spielberg demanded that their heads be changed as he considered them too menacing63. Perhaps the Greys are an unconscious portrait of Western Man itself; many see our times as colourless and emotionless, ruled by grey leaders and grey technology and driven by the cold desire for wealth and property. The beings resemble human foetuses, so perhaps they are representations of our future children, born out of the current state of humanity. Enlarged heads and eyes (insect-like and vacant of colour and emotion) are seen by David J. Skal to represent the vast amounts of information and imagery that we are required to intake every day through our eyes from television and advertising, so that the head swells and the rest of the body withers away.64 The abduction scenario arose simultaneously with our increasing awareness of the horrors of vivisection and animal experimentation carried out by supposedly cold and indifferent scientists, abductees often saying they felt like lab rats. Those who see the Greys in a more forgiving light compare them to scientists briefly abducting and tagging endangered species in order to monitor them and preserve their futures.

One of the most spectacular of all abduction reports is said to have taken place in Manhattan, New York on 30 November 1989. It involves all the classic elements of conspiracy and, ultimately, confusion. Linda Cortile reported to abduction researcher Budd Hopkins that she had been floated on a blue beam of light from her 12th floor apartment, located opposite the busy New York Times loading bay, and underwent the standard abduction procedure onboard a UFO. Over a year later Hopkins received a letter from two men, Richard and Dan who claimed to have been security officers escorting United Nations Secretary Perez de Cuellar across the city when their car stalled and they saw Mrs. Cortile and aliens float into a large UFO which then flew into the East River and disappeared. Months later another woman came forward and claimed to have witnessed the event from Brooklyn Bridge. The story was publicised by the media all over the world, and Hopkins is in the process of releasing a book about it. But an investigation by George Hansen, Joe Stefula (once state Mutual UFO Network director for New Jersey) and Rich Butler found the case even stranger than it at first appeared. Cortile claimed to have been kidnapped, threatened and sexually harassed by the two "security officers" (who later appeared to be CIA agents), yet refused to make a police report. There were many serious discrepancies between the statements of those involved, yet the case was aggressively defended by some of the most prominent figures in American ufology. Most relevant to this study are the striking similarities between Cortile's story and a book called Nighteyes, by Garfield Reeves-Stevens, first published in April 1989, a few months before Linda Cortile first told her story to Hopkins. Hansen, Stefula and Butler detail some of the striking similarities between the book and the Cortile case65; these include:

  • Cortile was abducted into a UFO hovering over her high-rise apartment building in New York City, so was Sarah,a character in the book.
  • Dan and Richard initially claimed to have been on a stakeout and were involved in a UFO abduction in during early morning hours; so were, Derek and Merril, the two government agents in the book.
  • Linda was kidnapped and thrown into a car by Richard and Dan; Wendy in the book was similarly kidnapped by Derek and Merril.
  • Linda claimed to have been under surveillance by someone in a van; vans were used for surveillance in the book.
  • Dan was hospitalized for emotional trauma as was one of the government agents in the book.
  • During the kidnapping Dan took Linda to a safe house on the beach; during the kidnapping Derek took Wendy to a safe house, also on the beach.
  • Budd Hopkins is a prominent UFO abduction researcher living in New York City and an author who has written books on the topic; he is mirrored in the book by a character called Charles Edward Starr.
  • Before her kidnapping, Linda contacted Budd Hopkins about her abduction; like Wendy in the book.
  • Linda and Dan had sometimes been abducted at the same time and communicated with each other during their abduction; Wendy and Derek shared the same experiences in the book.
  • Dan expressed a romantic interest in Linda; Derek became romantically involved with Wendy in the book.
  • Photographs of Linda were taken on the beach and sent to Hopkins; In the book, photographs taken on a beach played a central role.
The incredible, almost monotonous, number of similarities between these two stories cannot be dismissed as coincidence. Somebody is pulling somebody's leg here, though who is doing what to whom will probably remain a mystery. What is sure is that the determination of Hopkins and his associates to accept the case as true and heavily publicise it before doing any real investigation must cause us to tread very cautiously indeed when dealing with even the most seemingly respectable UFO groups and publications. Hopkins didn't check the weather conditions of the night in question, nor did he check up on elements of Cortile's story that later proved to be untrue. Yet the leaders of two prominent U.S. UFO groups accepted and publicised his findings uncritically and largely rejected the work of Hansen, Stefula and Butler. Those who know Hopkins say that he is a sincere and honest man who genuinely believes in what he is doing; but with this case it seems that he has allowed rumour and myth to completely engulf reality66. Cases such as this act as a double edged sword for researchers into UFO phenomena. Without them there would be little public awareness of the issues surrounding the mystery of the Abduction Syndrome; yet the continually promoted stories of Grey aliens and UFOs are themselves serving as screens, obscuring what may be the real issues behind these bizarre personal experiences.


In this piece I have demonstrated some of the ways in which UFO lore can be traced back to various visual and thematic elements from science fiction. In my view, however, rather than being reason to dismiss the entire UFO problem as a fantasy generated in human psychology, the relationship demonstrates the overwhelming complexity of such phenomena. At most it shows that what people see in the sky is to some extent governed by the popular cultural motifs of the day, in our case flying saucers and little grey aliens, but it doesn't solve the problem of what is happening in the first place. I have shown, for example, that the rigid confines of the classic abduction scenario, developed in a vain attempt to make sense out of these baffling reports, have their basis in a case which is itself very shaky. But it is the CAS which is most visible and media friendly, its proponents attempting to standardise the abduction experience by pushing aside as "screen memories" those elements of reports involving the high levels of strangeness that constitute the bulk of most encounters with non-human entities Reports from countries other than America, and to a lesser though increasing extent Britain, feature an amazing variety of colourful creatures, often rooted in the cultural history of the area. But America's cultural dominance of the world is fast spreading into the realms of UFO experience and the Greys have started to proliferate elsewhere.

There is no doubt in my mind, however, that something extremely strange is happening to these people; the narrowing down and categorising of their experiences is just a human way of dealing with what we do not understand, and it is here that the influences of popular culture are felt most strongly. Many people who undergo these experiences want to be told what has happened to them, calling on the visible "experts" who appear on TV or write books to do so. Often they are referred to abductee support groups where beliefs are reinforced and memories reshaped; this is how the mythology becomes reality. Gradually the inherent flaws in the CAS are becoming more widely recognised; but while the media can still make mileage out of alien kidnappers, change is likely to be a slow process, especially when the alternatives are complex and undefined. That some UFOs are truly unidentifiable is beyond doubt. There have been too many reports from reliable and multiple witnesses, too many radar and visual correlations by pilots, too many films and photographs, too many blacked out military and government documents. For them all to be hoaxes, misidentifications and hallucinations seems more unlikely than most of the other explanations put forwards over the years.

The conspiratorial alliance of government and Greys is easily tracked back to the "Majestic 12" papers received by ufologists in the early 80's that were soon shown to be misinformation, albeit from military sources hoping to prevent the accidental uncovering of real secrets. The result was successful; the stories were elaborated upon by subsequent writers and ufologists still spend more time arguing amongst themselves over the authenticity of such stories than they do actually investigating UFOs. In these suspicious times hardly anyone trusts their government anymore, so it is not surprising that such ideas flourish, particularly in America where many civilian militia groups have worked UFO conspiracies into their anti government belief systems. An Arizona militia group is run by Bill Cooper, a shadowy figure who claims to have worked for U.S. Navy Intelligence and regularly used to speak at UFO conventions. Timothy Mcveigh, the prime suspect in the recent Oklahoma bombing, blames an implant in his brain for his actions and described several UFO encounters to police investigators. The phenomenal success of The X Files, which uses many elements of the UFO conspiracy in its story lines, is testament to the popularity of such ideas. It's tripartite credo; "I want to Believe; The Truth is out there; Trust No One" is a concise expression of the hope, faith and paranoia that drive the popular UFO industry. Many viewers still believe that the X Files stories are based on real cases67, thus securing the conspiracy's hold on the popular imagination for a few more years and keeping UFOs in the public eye.

As more planets are discovered to be capable of sustaining life, so the potential reality of extraterrestrial contact will become more concrete; it is hardly likely then that aliens are ever going to disappear from the popular imagination. In fact just the opposite appears to be true as a fresh onslaught of big budget alien invasion films prepares itself for attack in the wake of Independence Day68. Men in Black, Mars Attacks, Area 51: The Movie, The X Files Movie, Starship Troopers- all of these and more are set for release within the next year or so, and all deal with various aspects of UFO conspiracy theories. For the ardent believers, this is either the final approach towards the unveiling of the truth or the secret, inner government's way of making sure that such ideas are laughed out of fact and into fiction. But for most it is just an inevitability of the collision between popular consumer culture and the modern mythological process. Independence Day and, most likely, its successors are unlikely to create any new directions in the UFO mythology for they simply its children, its hybrid spawn. Ufology, like most of Western popular culture, has already begun to feed back on itself, rehashing old ideas for a hipper, harder to please audience; going nowhwere fast.

That 1996 marks a century of both UFO reports and cinema seems uncannily appropriate for both exist on the borderlines of fantasy and reality, and both work on the human mind somewhere between the conscious and the unconscious. As a wise man once said, a UFO expert is "a person who knows everything there is to know about UFO's except what they are, who's in them and where they come from"69. Solving the mystery is going to require as much time spent looking inwards at the vast expanse of the human mind, as it is staring out into the great unknown of space.

Until then, keep watching the skies.


Films The Day the Earth Stood Still. 20th Century Fox 1951. (Dir. Robert Wise; s. Edmund North)

Invaders From Mars. National Pictures Corp. 1953 (Dir. William Cameron Menzies; s. Richard Blake)

The Thing From Another World. Winchester Pictures. 1951 (Dir. Christian Nyby; s. Charles Lederer)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Columbia 1977 (Dir./s. Steven Spielberg)


Quatermass and the Pit. BBC 1957

The Outer Limits United Artists / ABC. 1963 -65 "The Bellero Shield". 1964

Star Trek; Paramount / NBC. 1966-69 "The Cage" 1966; "The Menagerie" 1967

The X Files. 20th Century Fox 1993-

Science Fiction

Balaban, Bob, Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary. London 1977.
Biskind, Peter, Seeing is Believing. Random House, New York 1983.
Johnson, William, editor, Focus on the Science Fiction Film. London 1972.
Hardy, Phil, Editor, The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction Movies .London 1986.
Kawin, Bruce F., Children of the Light; Grant, Barry K., ed., Film Genre Reader. London 1986
Kyle, David, A Pictorial History of Science Fiction . London 1977.
Skal, David.J, The Monster Show. London 1994. Slade, Darren and Watson, Nigel, Supernatural Spielberg. London 1991.


Brookesmith, Peter, UFO: The Complete Sightings. New York 1995.
David, Jay ed., The Flying Saucer Reader. New York 1967. Fuller, John G., The Interrupted Journey .London 1966, rev. 1980.
Good, Timothy, Above top Secret .London 1987
Good, Timothy, Alien Liaison. London 1991.
Hansen, George, Stefula, Joe & Butler, Rich : A Report on Hopkin's Napolitano Case. Various Internet postings, 1993 .
Hough, Peter and Randles, Jenny, Looking for the Aliens. London 1991.
Hynek, J. Allen, The UFO Experience. London 1972.
Jacobs, David M., Secret Life. London 1992.
Jung, Carl, UFOs: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky. London 1959.
Kottmeyer, Martin, "Entirely Unpredisposed", Magonia #35, Jan. 1990.
Kottmeyer, Martin, Gauche Encounters. unpublished.
Kottmeyer, Martin, "Pencil-Neck Aliens", REALL News, Feb. 1993.
Kottmeyer, Martin, "The Saucer Error", The Skeptic, Vol. 8 #3. 1994.
Ruppelt, Edward, The Report on UFOs. New York 1956.
Spencer, John, Perspectives. London 1989.
Thompson, Keith, Angels and Aliens. New York 1991.
Vallee Jacques, Dimensions. New York 1989

1 Poe's The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaal (1840) and The Balloon Hoax (1844) were inspirational to Verne's A Voyage in a Balloon (1851) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). Balloons and airships played a large role in 19th century science fiction art and writing.

2 At Woodbridge, a joint British and American airforce base in Suffolk, in 1980. Suspected by many to have been a covert military operation.

3 Viewing figures from UFOs and the Media: The Cover-up that never was by Neil Nixon. In Fortean Studies Vol.2, 1995.

4 The currently predominant type of alien, associated primarily with the abduction phenomena. (See sections 2, 3.3 and the appendix).

5 Obviously the use of the word "reality" is ambiguous when dealing with UFOs and related phenomena. Many would deny that they were a part of our reality at all. My own research and experience has lead me to feel that such phenomena do manifest objectively in our reality, but as to what they actually are, I have no fixed ideas.

6 John Spencer, Perspectives ( London 1989)

7 In section 2.3 I will be looking at the abduction phenomenon in greater detail.

8 Martin Kottmeyer, The Saucer Error. In The Skeptic, Vol. 8 #3, 1994

9Peter Brookesmith, UFO: The Complete Sightings (New York 1995)

10Popular term coined to describe the serious investigation and researching of UFOs, now used also to mean UFO history. A ufologist is someone who studies UFOs.

11 Edward J. Ruppelt , The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects ( New York 1956)

12 Even as late as 1950 a Gallup poll reported that 92% thought the UFOs were secret American aircraft, whilst only 5% thought they were of extraterrestrial origin and 3% from Russia. From Intercept but don't Shoot by Renato Vesco.

13 ibid.

14 ibid.

15 ibid.

16 Both these groups will be looked at in greater detail in part 3.

17 Primarily Jacques Vallee and Jenny Randles, following the lead of Carl Jung. See bibliography.

18 Interestingly, Wells describes the Selenites as "...having much of the quality of a complicated insect...there was no nose...had dull bulging eyes at the side. There were no ears." This is highly reminiscent of today's "Greys", described by so many abductees.

19 The objects that Kenneth Arnold saw in 1947 were flying North to Alaska or Canada.

20 Orson Welles' famous 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast that caused such a panic has also been seen in this light.

21 Timothy Good, Alien Liaison, ( London 1991)

22 Popularised by Eric von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods? (1969), all of whose archaeological assumptions have since been shown to be incorrect.

23 Quoted in Seeing is Believing; Peter Biskind. References to Jesus and other spiritual leaders as having been alien emissaries would later become standard fare in UFO literature. See, for example, R.L. Dione, God Drives a Flying Saucer (1973)

24 ibid.

25 These lines are now known to be an optical illusion caused by the eye's linking up small dots on the planet's surface.

26 That most elements of UFO lore can be found in earlier SF writing is certainly true, but falls outside the scope of this piece.

27 Edward J. Ruppelt, The Report on UFOs

28 George Adamski and Desmond Leslie, The Flying Saucers Have Landed ( London 1953) in Jay David, ed., The Flying Saucer Reader, (New York 1967)

29 ibid.

30Franklin Roosevelt, who repealed Prohibition in 1933 31 To be examined in section 3.3

32 A Close Encounter of the First Kind involves the clear sighting of a UFO.

  • A Close Encounter of the Second Kind is when a UFO physically affects a person or their environment.
  • A Close Encounter of the Third Kind is one which involves the sighting of entities in association with a craft.
  • Abductions (see section 3.3) are sometimes referred to as Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind.
33 Carl Jung, Flying Saucers - A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky ( London 1959)

34 Vallee is a French scientist and author of many important books about UFOs. He was a close associate of Dr. Hynek. Francois Truffaut's character, Lacombe, is based on Vallee, though their ideas on the subject are very different.

35 That the US pilots released from the mothership have not aged in forty years also gives the aliens' home a Neverland quality. Speilberg always wanted to film Peter Pan and did so with Hook in 1991. There are many parallels between reports of UFO encounters and tales of faery lore.

36 e.g Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

37 In 1980 Spielberg released a "Special Edition" of the film, a compromise for Columbia who wanted a sequel; although it featured new footage this was actually about fifteen minutes shorter than the original. The main addition was a special effects sequence showing Neary's ascent into the huge mothership; a spectacular light show that serves no real purpose. Considering Spielberg's interest in the Hill case, it is disappointing that he did not make more of this opportunity.

38Jacques Vallee has stated that some modern UFO phenomena could result from the external manipulation of the percipient's senses by outside forces. It could also be argued that Spielberg is pointing out how easily the senses can be deceived and so mistake a helicopter for a UFO (though its rotor blades would probably be clearly heard from a distance).

39 John Pym, Sight and Sound, 1978.

40 Andrew Gordon, "The Gospel According To Steven Spielberg". Literature and Film Quarterly, Vol. 8, #3. 1980.

41 Interview in Sight and Sound. Vol. 46, #2. 1977

42Timothy Good, Above Top Secret (London 1987).

43 The Times; November 30 1977. Things were obviously very different then!

44 Jenny Randles and Peter Hough; Looking for the Aliens; ( London) 1991

45 John Spencer; personal correspondence.

46 Neil Nixon, "The Media and UFOs: The Cover Up that Never Was". In Fortean Studies #2, 1995.

47 In her book Abducted, written with her sister Kathy Mitchell, Debbie Jordan describes finding signs of a break in at her home during a period of high strangeness. A video tape had mysteriously appeared in the VCR and on the floor in front of it were spread several drawing pins, face up. The video tape was Close Encounters of the Third Kind.opkins Hopkins

48 The ending of CE3K is supposed to be based on this event which occurred at Holloman Air Force base, New Mexico in 1964.

49 The 1991 Roper Poll on Unusual Personal Experiences, since heavily criticised and largely discredited. For example, dreams of floating or of UFOs were seen as indicative of "real" experiences.

50 This case was always considered a little too strange to be taken seriously, involving a young farmhand, Antonio Villas Boas having sex on a spaceship with a buxom, green faerie-like woman who barked like a dog.

51 Then a popular Jewish American comedian.

52 Keith Thompson , Angels and Aliens ( New York 1991)

53 This detail was removed from early accounts, including the 1966 book The Interrupted Journey by John Fuller, as being too embarrassing and unsettling.

54 The Hills' experience was made into a successful TV film in 1976, The UFO Incident , which is surprisingly open minded about the possible explanations for what happened.

55 Most notably cultural historian and "badfilm" buff Martin Kottmeyer in Entirely Unpredisposed, Magonia #35, January 1990 and Gauche Encounters: Badfilms and the UFO Mythos (unpublished).

56 Perhaps a reference to the Asian enemies of America in Korea and Japan.

57 Under hypnosis Betty made reference to The Twilight Zone series; when asked about this she said, "I never see the Twilight Zone...but I had heard people talk about it". John Fuller, The Interrupted Journey (1980 Edition).

58 Other films featuring aspects of the abduction scenario include; Village of the Damned (1960); Mars Needs Women ( 1966 ) and Killers from Space (1954).

59Martin Cannon, The Controllers ( unpublished?) Availiable from various Internet sites.

60 David Jacobs, Secret Life ( London 1992)

61 Captain Kirk was not featured in the pilot episode.

62 Not all the aliens are grey. Reptilians, insectoids and the familiar Nordics all crop up regularly in contemporary accounts, all of course having a good heritage in popular science fiction and UFO culture.

63 Bob Balaban, CE3K Diary ( London 1977)

64 David J. Skal, The Monster Show (London 1994)

65 A Report on Hopkin's Napolitano Case by George Hansen, Joe Stefula and Rich Butler (Linda Napolitano was the pseudonym used by Linda Cortile until recently).

66 Hopkins has just released a book about the case, "Witnessed", Pocket Books 1996. It will be intersting to see whether he mentions the above report. I suspect that he might not.

67 The first episode featured a statement saying that the story was based on real events; elements of reported cases are used in an extremely loose fashion, though usually in unheard of combinations.

68The Internet site for Independence Day includes a forum for people to describe their UFO and alien abduction experiences. It also features a summary of current UFO belief, involving underground bases, abductions and genetic experimentation.

69 Larry Fawcett and Barry Greenwood, Clear Intent: The UFO Cover Up ( Prentice Hall 1984)

Micky Mouse Conquers the Martians
Mark Pilkington