UFOs in Entertainment

Scene from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet.

No one would have believed, in the last years of the 19th century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space. No one could have dreamed that we were being scrutinized as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets. And yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly, and surely, they drew their plans against us. - "War of the Worlds" - H.G. Wells - 1898.

Men have been watching the skies, and imagining what, and whom might be out there for a long time. In the last hundred years, or so, science has revealed that there may well be worlds like our own in space. And that maybe those worlds might be populated with intelligent beings. With those basic facts the human collective mind, in the form of writers, musicians and other artists, have imagined what those beings might be like, and how we might come to meet them.

One of the earliest works in this form was H.G. Well's War of the Worlds. Well's envisioned a population of aliens on the nearby planet Mars attacking Earth with superior weapons. Well's creatures, bear-sized with many limbs, didn't arrive on flying saucers, but were launched from great cannons in large cylinders that crash landed like meteorites on the English country-side. Using laser-like weapons (which Well's predicted more than a half century before lasers were invented) the creatures ravished the planet until struck down by something the Martians eliminated from their own planet centuries before: bacteria. With no natural defenses to Earth germs the aliens died in droves ending the invasion.

The Well's story panicked Americans in 1938 when it was dramatized in documentary style on radio by Orson Wells and his Mercury Theater as a special Halloween presentation. Listeners tuning in late to the show were fooled into thinking the attack was real. Later on an updated version of the story was turned into a motion picture, and later a variation was run as a television series. In the 1970's a rock sound track, narrated by Richard Burton, was also made.

Movies and books depicting malevolent visitors from space continued to be a staple of science fiction through the 50's, 60's and 70's with arm-chair psychologists suggesting that the alien threats represented the American public's concern with communism and the cold-war. Still, there were exceptions to these 'all aliens are evil' mania. The Day the Earth Stood Still brought an ambassador, with his stoic robot, in a flying saucer to warn Earth to give up it's violent ways.

Human's flew their own flying saucer in Forbidden Planet traveling to visit the aliens rather than the other way round. A flying saucer was also used for transportation in the 60's television series Lost in Space. In the movie and television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, also a 60's invention, a saucer was employed as a hybrid submarine/aircraft.

In 1964 Raymond Bernard, a pseudonym for Walter Siegmeister, wrote The Hollow Earth, suggesting that flying saucers orginated not from outer space, but from inside the Earth and exited the planet via holes at the North and South Poles.


Hanger 18, part of a high-tech indoor roller coaster at Kings Dominian, located just North of Richmond, Virginia.

Probably the premiere UFO spectacular was Steven Speilberg's 1977 motion picture Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Speilberg wove a plot using all the elements of the UFO phenomenon (such as the return of 5 five aircraft that disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle in 1947) into a satisfying story of man's encounter with friendly aliens and topped it with dazzling and beautiful special effects saucers and spaceships landing near Devils Tower in Wyoming. He even got Dr. J. Allen Hymek, the UFO researcher and former Project Blue Book consultant, to take a cameo role.

Later on Speilberg followed CE3K with one of the most popular movies of all time E.T., the story of an ugly, but lovable, alien accidentally left behind during a visit. He is befriended and hidden by a boy and his friends from the adult world that would imprison and study him.

Aliens attempted to invade Earth on television several times with the series The Invaders and UFO. A planet full of lizard people took a shot at stealing Earth's vast oceans in V, though how they would have gotten the stuff back to their own planet in their saucers was never clear. In the SciFi anthology series The Outer Limits one classic episode "Demon with a Glass Hand" let the invaders successfully take over Earth, but then made the planet inhospitable with radiation as humankind disappeared into the past in the care of a robot.

In the summer of 1996 aliens again made a terrifying, if improbable, attack on Earth in the movie Independence Day. Not even theme parks were immune to alien encroachment that year as Kings Dominian, located just North of Richmond, Virginia, unveiled a new high-tech indoor roller coaster with a motif based on the stories about Area 51 and Roswell crash. The attraction was complete with a mock up of hanger 18 and signs warning visitors that the guards have orders to "shoot to kill."

If nothing else the sheer volume of movies, books and television stories that deal with alien life forms and UFOs suggests the human collective psyche is fascinated with the possibility of meeting someone "out there."

A 1960's vintage flying saucer toy.



Copyright Lee Krystek 1996. All Rights Reserved.