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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

UFO: Target Earth

This is another of those films written, produced and directed by the same man. Michael A. DeGaetano's UFO: Target Earth (UTE) is a very low budget affair that suffers from the traditional pitfalls of the one-man-band films. The cast is mostly unknowns who never acted in another film. UTE is also slow paced, as was the film before it, The Terminal Man. The premise of a man searching for a lost UFO was not new. Others, with more money and talent, would make similar stories, but with more memorable results.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A television reporter interviews several people about some recent UFO sightings. This preamble sets the stage for opening with college staffer Alan Grimes trying to make a phone call. Instead, he gets patched into a call between to military officers discussing scrambling some jets to check out a UFO sighting. Alan senses there's something to it. He asks professor Whitman about the possibility of UFOs and extraterrestrials. He gets a rambling answer that amounts to "science doesn't believe in such stuff." Alan next asks colleague Dr. Mansfield if he could talk to Vivian -- a young woman with strong ESP. Vivian has felt a disturbance in the force. The army deny any reports or communications about UFOs. Positive that military denial amounts to reverse proof, Alan asks permission to go hunt for the "felt" UFO. He and Vivian go interview some rural folk and to a lake to set up some sensors. While he's on the far side of the lake, Vivian gets some creepy voices calling her name. She runs off into the woods. When Alan returns, he finds Dr. Mansfield and associate Dan there with more equipment to unofficially probe for hidden saucers. They find Vivian channeling the aliens temporarily. All go back to the camp. Once the equipment is set up, the TVs display colorful glimpses of faces. Alan hears the alien talking New Age blather. They are pure energy beings who have been in the lake for a thousand years. They need Alan's imagination to refuel their ship. Alan, in a trance and apparently aging quickly, walks into the lake to join with the aliens. Dan tries to stop him, but rescues a skeleton. After a very long colorful geometric display, the saucer forms and wooshes out into the stars. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
On the so-bad-its-good level, UTC is such a low-production-value film that it really makes you appreciate all that mediocre film makers actually accomplish. For fun during the slow parts, watch for the mic boom.

Cultural Connection
The early 70s saw a resurgence of UFO sightings. The most sensational was the October 10, 1973 sighting by a dozen or more witnesses, culminating with the "abduction" of two men fishing on the Pascagoula River in Mississippi. The UFO craze of the 70s was not the Cold War expression of the 50s craze. It was a melding of Eastern Mysticism and New Age assumptions with extraterrestrials. Erich von Däneken's book "Chariots of the Gods?" (1970) was in popular circulation. UFOs and, in fact, all things mysterious, became the work of aliens with ESP and other paranormal powers. Aliens and saucers were becoming "contacts" with advanced beings that were vaguely benevolent and friendly, rather than hostile invaders. Spielberg's vasty superior Close Encounters of the Third Kind ('77) will be a benchmark in this 70s version of the UFO / aliens crazes.

Ambitious Auteur -- While Michael DeGaetano might not have had a lot of skill as a director, he did not lack for ambition as a writer. Even though he fails to communicate via his screenplay the deep "truths" he had in his heart, one can tell he was trying very hard to say something. Some samples of the dialogue illustrate this: Dr. Mansfield points out to Alan that he's planning to use science and technology to seek and find a metaphysical phenomenon. Alan replies, "When the circle is drawn, they're joined." This is a handy retort for any contradiction, but DeGaetano was surely aiming at some notion of the paranormal actually being more physical than metaphysical. Then, towards the end, the alien voice says: " We are beyond the jaws of darkness, where the light springs from the consciousness of your mind, and bends upon itself to become the truth." Again with the circular thinking. DeGaetano was trying hard to say something deep, but for most people, it just came off as New Age gibberish. DeGaetano would try his hand at Film Art twice more, writing, producing and directing Haunted in 1977 and Scoring in 1979. Both were equally obscure.

Fuel The Imagination -- DeGaetano's ambitious overreach left his screenplay with peculiar holes and leaps of logic that tend to befuddle viewers. A crucial bit of dialogue (easily missed) comes between Dr. Mansfield and Alan as they talk about the mysterious sightings. Her: "For instance, how much do we really know about electricity?" Him: "We know it's a power source." Her: "Exactly, just like the imagination." (Huh?) Even though this leap of logic is never fleshed out, it explains why the aliens "want" Alan. His imagination will be the fuel for their space craft. Now, why beings that are pure energy need a space craft in the first place is also not explained. Another unexplained bit is that Alan is somehow the fourth "chosen one" by the aliens. Since they're still stuck in the lake, did the first three not have enough imagination? Was each person only a quarter tank of saucer fuel? This imagination-draining somehow ages Alan to baldness, then to bones. Loss of imagination ages people?

Alien Sales Technique -- The alien gives Alan a peculiar sales pitch for help fixing their saucer. Help them, but die doing so, or don't help them and die anyhow (of old age after a long life, etc.) Seems an odd appeal. It works, though. Alan opts to give up his life to top up the saucer's tank rather than face ordinary mortality.

Conrad Retread -- There is a noteworthy similarity between UTE and MIkel Conrad's 1950 film The Flying Saucer. Both were one-man-band productions, written, produced and directed by the same man. Both featured some plucky lone wolf guy who looks for a hidden flying saucer. Both have a guy and a girl involved in the search. In both, the saucer is gone at the end. Like Conrad, DeGaetano seems to have tried to capitalize on their respective UFO crazes to sell some tickets. Both films suffer from the writer/director being too enamored with his own writing and directing such that long boring scenes escaped editing and poorly explained non-sequetors arise. UTC is proof that Conrad's style of "art" was not unique.

Long and Short -- There are longer and shorter versions of UTE. The theatrical release, the VHS release and DVD release all seem to have differing run times. There may even be shorter versions that were run on television. UTE has many scenes which would benefit from some editing. The final "light show" scene alone goes on and on and on for many long minutes. Clearly, DeGaetano was fascinated with computer-generated spirograph images and could watch them for hours. As such, the shorter versions may not be missing anything, plot-wise.

Bottom line? UTE is a poorly made amateurish film with cheap sets, flat acting, stale camera work and a talky screenplay that tries waaay too hard. For those who enjoy "bad movies", there are many of the things that are usually "liked." Anyone prone to being annoyed by weak movies would be advised to give UTE a miss.

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