Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Must-See TV: Hangar 18

I'm catching up with work after my sick day so I thought I'd pass this old UFO classic that Bruce Rux chats with Tim Binnall about onto you all.

  From Wikipedia:
Hangar 18 involves a U.F.O. coverup following an incident aboard the space shuttle, whereas an unidentified object is hit by the satellite which the orbiter was tasked with launching into a higher orbit. The space collision kills a fellow astronaut who was in the bay at that time, however, the entire incident is witnessed by astronauts Price and Bancroff. 
Upon returning to Earth, both men slowly investigate what they know happened in space — and which the government authorities try their best to hide. The damaged spacecraft however, has been recovered after it is observed making a controlled landing in the Arizona desert... 
On board the craft, the technician team makes three discoveries. The first is an unknown woman who awakens in the back of an ambulance screaming (leading moviegoers to believe she may have been an abductee)...
Here's an interesting factoid for you X-Files and Transformers fans...
...symbols found on certain control panels are the same as symbols which reside here on Earth, albeit in ancient places.
Now, here's a fascinating bit of trivia for those of you sensing the sto Zazary behind the story in some of my recent posts:
Hangar 18 was one of the very few American films to be shown in the Soviet Union, premiering on the 1st TV channel on the New Year night of 1982. Because of general unavailability of films with elements of science fiction and action genre, it achieved enormous popularity among Soviet youth.
Metalheads like Megadeth and Yngwie dug Hangar 18, too
UPDATE: I can't get that last factoid out of my head. Remember, 1982 was when the Cold War began to heat up again and the Soviet government was very much in the control of KGB hardliners like Yuri Andropov, who became Premier that year. I can understand their banning jingoistic American action films, but why exactly Hangar 18 passed muster is a mystery to me.

We've all heard the theories that the UFO business was just a Cold War psyop, meant to create hysteria back and forth across the Iron Curtain or that they were just experimental aircraft invented by the Nazis (the debunkers neglected to tell the cavemen that, though). I've even heard theories that Roswell was cooked up to fool the Soviets into thinking the US got its hands on alien technology.

If any of this was true, then why would the one US action movie the Soviets aired on state TV disseminate that exact same US/ET meme into the minds of impressionable young people? Surely, it would have also inspired UFO hysteria there too, causing security problems in the Soviet police state at a very dangerous time in world history.

But guess what? It wasn't just the Politburo that approved of Hangar 18, it also seems to have received the blessing of NAZCA NASA. The space agency allowed their name, logo and a model of the Space Shuttle to be used in the film. 

Remember they didn't extend the same courtesy to Stanley Kubrick for 2001: A Space Odyssey or for several other films, such as Red Planet. It turns out NASA is quite picky as to which films they choose to become involved with. From a December 2008 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, written by John Mangels:
Sometimes the question of whether a scientific enterprise should cooperate with Hollywood comes up. NASA gets lots of requests - most often from documentary filmmakers - and tries to be as helpful as possible, said Bert Ulrich of the space agency's public affairs division. NASA was happy to cooperate with Clint Eastwood's "Space Cowboys," which depicted three elderly astronauts returning to duty, and went along with the fanciful "Armageddon," where Bruce Willis and two teams of space shuttle astronauts save Earth from an asteroid. 
NASA is protective of its famous round red-white-and-blue "meatball" logo, and only allows it to be used in movies whose plots are "feasible fiction," Ulrich said. "If somebody's doing a movie about aliens coming to Earth and attacking the agency, if it's 'out there,' we don't participate," Ulrich said.

That policy must have been devised after the filming of Hangar 18. But there was one particular would-be blockbuster which saw NASA and Hollywood reach an unprecedented level of coziness...
An action adventure due out in March 2000, "Mission to Mars" enjoys a closer partnership with the agency than any film in history, thanks to a new pact the agency has made with Hollywood. The "Space Act Agreement" allows filmmakers to consult astronauts, design experts and scientists – and even use NASA launch facilities – depending on the individual contract. 
Jacobson went to NASA four years ago, even before Disney approved the film. Soon after that first meeting, he and the scriptwriters went to NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston to meet with Mars experts.
The producer consulted famed astronauts Story Musgrave and Joe Allen, who worked with the actors to show them how an astronaut works in space. Kathleen Clark, NASA’s senior scientist for the International Space Station, helped the production team decide how the ISS might develop over time.
"We took the design of the International Space Station and then we added to it our own design," Jacobson said.-
Now, bear in mind that Mission to Mars makes Erich Von Daniken look like a biblical inerrantist in comparison. Very strange film for NASA to have worked so intimately on. But then again, similar in some ways to Hangar 18, isn't it?

New logo of Sunn Classic, unrelated 
to original company, but still...

Oh, by the way- being made by an independent studio (Sunn Classics, owned by Wilkinson Sword, based in Utah, of all places), this film may not have the best production values, but its script - particularly its methodical depiction of a ruthless political cover-up - is pretty sound. 

However, UFOs and AAT were a tough sell in the increasingly conservative America of 1980, which saw the religious right on the march, conducting not only book-burnings in the Bible Belt, but record, tape, VHS and Betamax burnings as well. 

But the film certainly found an appreciative cult audience- and hit it big in Mother Russia. It just did poorly with those groups singled out by the Brookings UFO report in 1958....

But wait- it gets even stranger. There's a "Hangar 18" on the site of the Flight of Fear roller-coaster, which is located in two different amusement parks, King's Island in Ohio and King's Dominion in Doswell, Virginia, home of the recent UFO-slash-smoke ring brouhaha

Now that's what I call Synchronicity!