Saturday, January 12, 2019

Project Blue Book, or Putting the Sex in Subtext

OK, first things first: on a textual level, the History Channel's (sic) Project Blue Book is a dumpster fire of epic proportions, historically-speaking. 

On a subtextual level, Project Blue Book is a fascinating if not ham-fisted exercise in subliminal storytelling, at least the pilot episode is. 

Needless to say, I'm hooked!

A careful reading of Project Blue Book shows that it takes the dullest possible premise anyone on Earth could possibly imagine-- J. Allen Hynek's tenure with the Air Force's Project Blue Book -- and turns it into a Cinemax midnight movie about a bored academic couple getting their bi-curious freak on.

It's actually kind of hilarious. Seriously.

Unfortunately, it's also the television equivalent of some crappy 80s hair metal song, meaning it's an insanely overproduced and overwrought beast, huffing and puffing to disguise the absolute lack of creativity at its core. It's like my dear old grandmama used to say: the ones who scream loudest are usually the ones with the least to say.*

First, let's dispense with the obvious. As many critics have noted, this series is Hollywood's ten-zillionth attempt to clone The X-Files. 

I don't think people unfamiliar with the frothing megalomania and narcissism in show business can truly grasp how wounded so many big producers' egos were by the smash success of that series, which everyone had written off before the pilot even aired.

A show about UFO investigators on that stupid fake-network Fox? Written and produced by some beefy, blond surfer-dude who wrote a bunch of failed pilots for Disney when they were still the sick man of Hollywood? How the fuck did that bullshit make it past its first season?

Of course, the answer to that question was the chemistry and sexual tension between its leads. Without it, the show would have probably died in its first month.

And it should be noted that Project Blue Book had already inspired a TV series, namely Jack Webb's 70-kitsch classic, Project UFO, which ran for two short seasons in '78 and '79 and was forgotten by nearly everyone on Earth immediately after.

But the way I see it, Project Blue Book is less an attempt to clone The X-Files-- which explored a lot of other paranormal topics besides UFOs-- and more a clone of its clones.

I'm thinking the short-lived Dark Skies, which tried to build a series around the backstory bits in TXF before turning into a queasy Mission Impossible fever-dream with a pre-Seven of Nine Jeri Ryan. Its title was later lifted for an alien-abduction movie that was actually good, starring Keri Russell of Felicity and The Americans fame.

Jeez Louise, talk about subtext...

Even more than Dark Skies, Project Blue Book looks and feels uncannily like an episode of Steven Spielberg's SciFi Channel miniseries Taken, which for all intents and purposes was the real tenth season of The X-Files (or the real sixth season, depending on your degree of orthodoxy).

Spielberg basically hired everyone who had worked on The X-Files in Vancouver, aside from the principal actors and writers, and then answered the question "what if X-Files were an all-Mythology show?"

Ironically, Taken's title was also lifted for the Liam Neeson revenge-movie franchise.

Bonus factoid: There was apparently a controversy with Taken's publicity campaign which somehow involved PodestaMattoon, later known as The Podesta Group. 

So, seeing that Spielberg and JJ Abrams succeeded with their X-Files clones (give or take), Robert Zemeckis is apparently trying his hand at it now. Unfortunately, this attempts coincides with his mega-ultra-super-flop-to-end-all-flops, Welcome to Marwen, so his marquee value here is considerably dimmed.
Well, hopefully he has better luck with his remake of The Witches.

Because literally no one cares, I'll dispense with boring you by explaining how every single, solitary thing you see onscreen in Project Blue Book never happened. The "based on real events" card at the beginning should be taken as seriously as the "inspired by actual documented accounts" card at the beginning of The X-Files pilot. Actually less, come to think of it.

But if you're in line at the grocery store and have absolutely nothing else to look at, you can mosey over to Robert Sheaffer's Bad UFOs site and survey the Blue Book wreckage in detail. If you're a masochist and your dominiatrix is out of town, you can check out Kevin Randle's autopsy of the mess.

In short, this is all worn-out old Hollywood saucer-trope from tip to toe. Which is kind of odd to me because I'd assumed this genre had been drained dry ages ago. I get the feeling this thing was pitched before The X-Files' Season Ten trainwreck and while DeLonge and his handlers were prepping the whole To The Stars boondoggle and people were anticipating a new UFO Gold Rush.

Which never actually arrived, as DeLonge knows all too well.



So what do you do when given a deadly-dull premise in a sub-genre that's been essentially moribund for more than a decade and big dollars to spend? I suppose in order not only to keep yourself awake -- but also to keep from downing that leftover bottle of Percocet from your gall bladder operation -- you go for sex.

I mean, I'm just spitballing here but I think you'll catch my drift if you watch the pilot on YouTube.

First of all, the character of Captain Quinn is played by British actor Michael Malarkey (Vampire Diaries), who looks and sounds so frickin' much like Johnny Depp, I actually had to check his bio to see if he was related.

There's nothing about that online but seeing how Malarkey was born just before Depp got his big break with Nightmare on Elm Street I wonder if Depp supported himself as a sperm-donor instead of waiting tables. Hey, you never know.

Or maybe Malarkey was cloned from the same batch, maybe down in sub-lever 79 at Dulce or something (no, sublevel 78 is the one with vats of human body-parts, but I understand your confusion). Good a theory as any.

Maybe he's a backup Depp model and is being pushed forward to replace the old one, who looks like he's getting ready for the glue factory these days. 

Needless to say, the recruitment scene plays absolutely nothing like a military officer persuading a reluctant Hynek to join a public-relations program, and absolutely everything like a studly grad student seducing his professor in order to score some sweet A's and a glowing letter of recommendation to show to those eggheads who're talking about sending rockets to the Moon or some such ridiculous nonsense. 

Especially seeing how Quinn looks less like an actual Air Force officer and more an aspiring Depp-clone dressed to the nines for that career-making Halloween party at Joel Schumacher's Malibu beach-house.

I mean, come on: The dim lights, the soft voices, the booze and the toasts, the smokes, the suggestive language, the long, meaningful glances? The slash/fic writes itself. These producers are practically handing this show on a silver platter to the Tumblristas.

And right on schedule, there's this little scenario that actually is straight out of a Cinemax softcore quickie. 
The setup here is that Mrs. Hynek treats herself to a shopping spree while her hubby's off hotting it up with Captain Jack there. While perusing the lipstick display, a 1947-vintage Bohemian blonde starts chatting the ostensibly sexually-frustrated wife up and the sparks just fly from there.

I mean, come on; lipstick? Did they think vibrators were a bit too over the top?


Instead of being creeped out by this little weirdo stalking her around the joint, Mrs. Hynek ends up dropping some laundry with her in a changing room that looks uncannily like a turn-of-the-century New Orleans boudoir. 

Or a Penthouse magazine spread circa 1981.

In case you were raised by wolves-- or never perused a single pixel of porn-- the vocal cue from the soundtrack music clues you exactly into what is really going down here. Again, don't take my word for it, watch it for yourself.

Scully-Reyes Shippers got my back on this one. 

Is that what they called it back then?

And just to top it off, we have Mrs. Hynek returning home from the "store," apparently several hours late (it's night time), and apologizes to poor little Johnny (or whatever, no one cares), who is sitting watching some Cold War bomb-scare chicanery on the idiot box.

Mrs. Hynek then dashes to the kitchen to cut a nice piece of her prize-winning Spam-and-mayonnaise Jell-o mold for hungry young Johnny. But first she pulls out the little napkin-note her new friend slipped her, the one with her phone number. 
Mrs. Hynek, clearly basking in some serious afterglow, then actually swoons like a Homecoming queen. No, seriously-- watch it.

Bonus symbolism: the number on the note is clearly meant to be 555 but looks more like 666

But wait, there's more!


In one of the most brain-bogglingly unconvincing CGI sequences I've seen since the glory days of Babylon 5, Captain Depp takes the professor for a spin in a two-seater. I'd explain the premise here, but does it really matter? It certainly didn't to the producers of the show.

This is in fact an old Hollywood tradition going back to the Hays Commission days: flying or some similar type of adventurous activity as a stand-in for sex. Think of Superman taking Lois Lane for a spin over Metropolis and you'll get the inference here. 

Then try not to think of the more problematic examples of this motif in children's movies.

And then the plane crashes for no other reason I can think of than to have Hynek wake up with the amorous aviator in bed, albeit a hospital bed.

And I mean, the subtext in the dialogue...

... really is laugh-out-loud funny. 
I swear, Captain, I had too many gimlets. I'm not like that, I swear. For God's sake, I told you to stop!

And this is just priceless-- the guilt-ridden Hynek runs off to phone the ol' ball-and-chain while his new FB knowingly smirks. 

Probably on account of having read the report that this nelly's beard just had herself a little afternoon romp with that nutty blonde he knew back in the Wild Bill days. Y'know, the one who's honey-trapping for Hoover now.

I can just imagine the pitch meeting: "It's not The X-Files. OK, it actually is The X-Files, but it's The X-Files meets Queer as Folk meets The L Word."


Good pie indeed.

"OK, The X-Files meets Queer as Folk meets The L Word meets Twin Peaks."

I have to admit it's kind of refreshing these days when everything's just put out there on Front Street-- on account of the new generation of feebs snowflakes pampered brats writers needing constant and unwielding validation-- to see some good, old-fashioned subtext, however unsubtle it actually is. 

I'm sure it's just nostalgia for happier times but, hey, I'll take what I can get at my age.
Needless to say, absolutely none of this ever happened-- at least as far as history records it-- and this is all just fake melodrama over-compensating for the fact that there's no story here. UFO reports are usually as boring as listening to someone's dreams, which is why Chris Carter took care to hardwire in the conspiracy elements from the jump. 

And Blue Book? Come on; no one cares about it anymore. It's just a footnote to most UFOlogists these days. This is bad history as much as it is bad drama.  
I realize big-time Hollywood producers have an annoying habit of forgetting to ask for my opinion before they go and waste tens of millions of dollars on some white elephant hunt, but had they asked I'd have advised them to do a series based on Project Blue Beam instead of Project Blue Book. 
Now, there's an concept with a proven track record for ratings-gold.


Hmm, looks vaguely familiar somehow.

* She never said that.