It had to come. The government via the Pentagon UFO report finally admitted recently that a definitive identification of UFOs (now called “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or UAPs) is still in the air. The report confirmed much phenomena cannot be explained —while it continued downplaying foreign nation technologies as well as extraterrestrial visits.
None of this is enough for the Roswell groupies, still adhering to the assumed government conspiracies and cover-ups about that “space ship” and what happened that day in 1947 in Roswell, New Mexico. Ditto loyal viewers of the James Fox documentary “The Phenomenon” (2020) narrated by Peter Coyote with often compelling eyewitness interviews that defy cynicism, capped by those of awed school children.
Can we look to Hollywood for answers? Not easily. Most of their sci-fi films of the last and current century did a good job in the main just scaring the hell out of us. I recall as a boy walking under street lights after a night screening of Howard Hawks’ “The Thing” (1951) while every bush and tree connoted terror. Not all directors followed suit (I hear you, Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Lucas) but the preponderant message was fear.
But one film from long ago remains an exception not only for its theme but connection to this latest Pentagon UAP report. “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” also a 1951 film, (not the 2008 version) has emotional legs that address questions of today. And it speaks to the American zeitgeist still within us.
The premise of the 1951 film, directed by Robert Wise, was simple: cut out the killing, earth beings. But it achieved it in telling scenes underscoring a time of tainted innocence amongs the psychological wreckage of World War II.
A space ship lands in Washington D.C. with a single humanoid alien pilot, Klaatu, and enormous robot bodyguard, Gort, capable of cataclysmic destruction and giving protection against violence in Klaatu’s solar system. Offering peace, the pilot, Michael Rennie, is immediately attacked and the plot put in motion as more intelligent earthlings struggle for solutions.
The most important of these is Patricia Neal. She embodies much of the unsettled ambiance in the free world just as the winds of terror still wafting after the end of horrible war are joined with possible nuclear annihilation. Other sci-fi films often coated these realities in the California sun and orange groves but Neal’s character, a war widow and single mother, somehow conveys the tension of the time with compassion and a sharp mind to assess and act, saving the day — and maybe much more.
The climactic scene when she rescues Rennie addressing Gort saying “Klaatu, barada nikto” has been satirized over time but the gravitas of the film remains. Should the earth ways of violence prevail and threaten other parts of the universe, Klattu warns of earth’s “obliteration” and the metaphor of a burned-out cinder as more advanced aliens end us. Or maybe our warring ways will do it before this — as Humphrey Bogart offers in “Casablanca,” putting the earth “out of its misery.” No option is off the table as we too are aliens perhaps being watched by others from Carl Sagan’s billions of possibilities.
Will only a terrifying robot like Gort stop us? Or something still inconceivable?
The Pentagon report might have an answer somewhere — or does it remain with those perhaps watching us in the stars.
That we admit to some ignorance is a start.