Tuesday, July 19, 2016

1980 Week: Hangar 18

          Only the brave or the brazen dared to make UFO movies in the immediate aftermath of Steven Spielberg’s monumental Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), which realized nearly all the potential of the genre in spectacular fashion. Undaunted, the happy hacks at Sunn Classic Pictures forged ahead with their own entry into the flying-saucer genre, Hangar 18, perhaps emboldened by their success in the paranormal realm with such “documentaries” as Beyond and Back (1978) and The Bermuda Triangle (1979). Anyway, Hangar 18, which shamelessly borrows plot elements from Peter Hyams’ larky sci-fi adventure Capricorn One (1978), begins in space, where the crew of a space-shuttle mission witnesses a UFO striking a satellite. Returning to earth, the astronauts (played by Gary Collins and James Hampton) seek an explanation for what happened but get a run-around from officials, even as their boss (Darren McGavin) receives the true story. Turns out the UFO crash-landed on earth and was recovered by the U.S. military, then hidden in a secret hangar in the Southwest. (Shades of Roswell, New Mexico.) McGavin’s character is tasked with examining the spaceship.
          Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a presidential aide (Robert Vaughn) conspires to keep the whole mess secret until the impending election because—how convenient!—the president recently scolded his opponent for suggesting that UFOs might be real. Making the story even sillier is an action/adventure subplot about the astronauts trying to find the secret hangar, and a very Star Trek-ish thread about McGavin and his team entering the spaceship, discovering quasi-humanoid bodies inside, and trying to decode the alien language they discover on the ship’s computers. Had any of this been put across persuasively, Hangar 18 could have built up a tremendous head of steam, but the filmmaking and storytelling exist on the level of a bad TV movie, with each scene feeling more outlandish than the preceding all the way to the anticlimactic ending. Yet even with its goofy storyline and C-lister cast (apologies to Messers. McGavin and Vaughn), Hangar 18 represents a sort of pinnacle moment for Sunn Classics, combining myriad layers of speculative-fiction bullshit—ancient astronauts, government conspiracies, and so on—into one cartoonish pseudoscience extravaganza. Call it a close encounter of the tepid kind.

Hangar 18: FUNKY

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