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World UFO Day: Favorite Alien Movies

The following correspondence between various writers at RogerEbert.com was inspired by World UFO Day on July 2nd. As is often the case, this conversation was started by Far Flung Correspondent Jana Monji, and her colleagues were jovial enough to contribute. Roger would have been supremely entertained by it and we hope you are too.Chaz Ebert

JANA MONJI

You probably didn't know that July 2nd is World UFO Day. According to WorldUFODay.com, the first World UFO Day was celebrated in 2001 by, of course, UFO researchers.

There's a bit of confusion, as one might expect, between whether to celebrate World UFO Day on the 24th of June or the 2nd of July. June 24th is the day that in 1947, Kenneth A. Arnold reported seeing nine objects flying in formation near Mount Rainier, Washington. The July 2nd date commemorates the Roswell UFO incident, also in 1947. The website has chosen July 2nd and recommends, "The most important thing is that people collectively open their minds to the subject for one day and send out the message mentally that UFO’s are welcome on this earth. " Another recommendation is to "have conversations about the possibility of extraterrestrial life and start open discussions."

I prefer to open up a movie discussion. Why are UFOs on my mind? Alienation from the current political scene could be one reason, but the other one is the Juno mission reaches a critical juncture on the 4th of July: The insertion of the Juno probe into the orbit of Jupiter. I'm scheduled to be at JPL-NASA to cover this event.

I've already re-watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" and have some reading for the evening of July 4th. What are your favorite extraterrestrial contact movies or TV series or stand-alone episodes?

On Jupiter:

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)

"Europa Report" (2013)

On Alien-life forms:

"Cocoon" (1985)

"The Forbidden Planet" (1956)

"The Man Who Fell to Earth" (1976)

"Men in Black" (1997)

"My Favorite Martian" (1963-1966)

"Starman" (1984)

"3rd Rock from the Sun" (1996-2001)

"To Serve Man" (1962 episode of "The Twilight Zone")

"War of the Worlds" (1953)

Here's a video to get you in the mood for "World UFO Day"...

You can also click here to hear Jamie Horton's 1960 tune, "Robot Man."

DONALD LIEBENSON

My favorite "flying saucer" is from "The Day the Earth Stood Still." It doesn't have the bells and whistles, but at least you can believe an alien civilization built it. I look at that ridiculous spacecraft in "Independence Day: Resurgence," which spans the entire Atlantic Ocean, and all I can think of is, "Who built this thing? How did the project supervisor coordinate what workers hundreds of miles apart were doing? How did they test it?  On the plus side, those thoughts distracted me from the movie.

PETER SOBCZYNSKI

The greatest movie of all time is "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai," in which the evil aliens are brought to Earth and open up a defense plant in Jersey as a cover for building a spaceship that will bring them home

Also, "Plan 9 from Outer Space," for obvious reasons.

JANA MONJI

When I was at UCLA, one of my friends hosted a so-bad-it's-good science fiction double feature night and included "Buckaroo Banzai." The other was "Night of the Comet." One of the people that evening went on to play Michael Myers.

I also have a fondness for "Plan 9" having seen a very campy low-budget version of it as a stage musical at a small theater somewhere in Los Angeles. 

All of this has reminded me that my hometown was the site where the "Killer Tomatoes" movies were filmed. 

NELL MINOW

My favorite: “Galaxy Quest.” The best ship, the best aliens, the best and most affectionate tribute to the whole genre. The DVD extras include an audio track that is all in the alien language with a few Americanisms here and there. I also love another tribute: “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra,” and, while we’re on the subject, I think “Alien Trespass” is pretty good, too.

SUSAN WLOSZCZYNA

“The Day the Earth Stood Still” for the good. Michael Rennie is so haughtily superior (and, I think, sexy) as Klaatu, Gort is one of the scariest robots ever, Patricia O’Neal was allowed to be much more than a love interest and the wonderful theremin-enhanced score by Bernard Herrmann. Oh, and for the catchphrase, “Klaatu barada nikto.”

And “Plan 9 From Outer Space” for the not so good. Between the terrible stand-in for the late Bela Legosi who died before the film was finished, the tombstones that wobble, Vampira’s zombie shuffle and Criswell’s insane monologues (“Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future”), what else do you need? 


MATT FAGERHOLM

Sigourney Weaver immediately came to mind, and not just because her cameo in "Finding Dory" stole the show (or because Nell is absolutely right about "Galaxy Quest"). Her breakout role in Ridley Scott's 1979 horror landmark "Alien" emerges as the lead only after her crewmates start falling victim to the hideous creatures. She richly deserved her Oscar nomination for James Cameron's 1986 follow-up, "Aliens," in which she delivers the single most badass line in movie history: "Get Away From Her You BITCH!" Cameon's typically pedestrian dialogue irked me a lot in "Avatar," but here, it really works ("Game over, man!"). Even J.K. Rowling couldn't help borrowing it during the climax of her final "Harry Potter" book, where Mrs. Weasley exclaims, "Not My Daughter You BITCH!" before obliterating Bellatrix Lestrange. 

JANA MONJI

My friend highly recommended seeing "Alien" and "Aliens" back to back before finals during grad school because he said the movies make you feel like you can defeat anything! 

PETER SOBCZYNSKI

But not "Alien 3" or "Resurrection"? Some friend. . . 

OMER MOZAFFAR

The first time someone invoked the term "Journalistic Integrity" to criticize me was in a piece I wrote criticizing UFO movies, in reference to "The Fire in the Sky." Come to think of it, Pete Sobczynski may have been my editor at the time. 

In any case, the starting point for me is that "Twilight Zone" episode that everyone talks about in today's Xenophobia, "The Monsters on Maple Street." Or John Sayles' "The Brother from Another Planet" featuring cinematography by a pre-Spike Ernest Dickerson.

JANA MONJI

I had not heard of "Fire in the Sky" and looked it up to see what Roger wrote: "The scenes inside the craft are really very good. They convincingly depict a reality I haven't seen in the movies before, and for once I did believe that I was seeing something truly alien, and not just a set decorator's daydreams. Science-fiction and special effects fans may find these scenes worth the ticket price. But the movie's flaw is that there's not enough detail about the aliens, and the movie ends on an inconclusive and frustrating note."

And yet, I'm so curious about the "journalistic integrity" remark. Can you expound?

Also loved "The Monsters on Maple Street."

The "Alien" and "Aliens" was one of those on-campus double-bills and not a video party night. I was dubious because I had never considered going to a film to help prepare myself mentally for finals. 

Then I later joined a gym in Japan which screened movies like "Alien" (and "Predator" and almost anything with Stallone or our former Governator) for people on stationary cycles. Since I only cycled for 15-30 minutes there are so many action movies I've seen parts of but never the whole thing...

NELL MINOW

On a related note, at the very end of San Diego Comic-Con each year, there is a stunningly erudite and wildly hilarious debate between sci-fi writers and scientists about the greatest movie or television spaceship of all time.  Spoiler alert — the Millennium Falcon usually makes it to the final four. Click here to read an NPR story about it.

JANA MONJI

I actually know one of the people quoted in the NPR article. Ha!

OMER MOZAFFAR

I hope you'll all indulge me on this. I stumbled onto this video and thought to myself that Roger would have loved it. I imagine him sending me an email with the subject line, "Gobsmacking!" or "Tweeted! /eom" 

DONALD LIEBENSON

Gee, thanks, Omer. As if I didn't feel insignificant enough....

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