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  Hangar 18 Saucerful Of Secrets
Year: 1980
Director: James L. Conway
Stars: Darren McGavin, Gary Collins, Robert Vaughan, James Hampton, Philip Abbott, Joseph Campanella, Pamela Bellwood, Tom Hallick, Stephen Keats, William Schallert, Cliff Osmond, Andrew Bloch, Stuart Pankin, Betty Ann Carr, H.M. Wynant, Bill Zuckert
Genre: Thriller, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Space Shuttle Enterprise is on a mission to deliver a satellite to orbit around the Earth, and all is going well for the three astronauts and the control down at NASA. However, as the doors have opened and the equipment is ready to launch, with one of the team performing a spacewalk to ensure it succeeds, his two fellow crewmembers, Steve (Gary Collins) and Lew (James Hampton), notice an irregularity on their radar screen: an object they initially take to be a meteor is bizarrely changing direction and hovering above the Shuttle. NASA can see it too, but press ahead regardless, a big mistake for when the satellite goes up, it crashes into what looks like an alien craft, and the spacewalker's head falls off.

Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind had been a massive hit in 1977, and a Special Edition was due in 1980 with new footage, so just as with that other, even bigger sci-fi blockbuster Star Wars (which was getting a sequel that year), the cash-ins were well and truly arriving with a vengeance. One such example was Hangar 18, though this could have legitimately claimed to be ahead of the curve in that it was produced by the independent outfit Sunn Classics, which had made a nice living churning out supposedly respectable pseudo-documentaries on paranormal subjects, cheaply made to maximise the profits and just the thing for the nineteen-seventies so hungry for material on Bigfoot, UFOs and other outré matters.

They were regarded as getting too big for their boots, however, with this release, thanks to its debut in a crowded field and with obviously not the budget to realise their ambitions: this came across as a TV pilot version of Close Encounters, and was stuffed with faces most known for their small screen excursions rather than a proper, tried and tested movie star to lead the drama. We are told in a title card that what we were seeing was true, no matter that the Space Shuttle programme had not commenced its maiden flight yet which should have set off alarm bells in the contemporary audience's heads, and in fact more or less everything that followed the mildly hilarious space accident at the beginning was invented.

And familiar, if you had seen another science fiction thriller torn from the conspiracy theory paperbacks, Capricorn One of a couple of years before. That had taken the moon landings paranoia (i.e. the theorists said they never happened) and turned them into a fair thriller about faked Mars landings, whereas this had great faith in the ability for NASA to conduct space missions, it was simply that they were suspicious they knew more about aliens than they were letting on. That suspicion has fuelled a million websites and bled over into parapolitics where governments were behind various high profile assassinations and were aware of the World Trade Center destruction before it happened - or even instigated it themselves in some takes. Back in 1980, there was enough novelty in the idea for director James L. Conway, a main player in Sunn Classics, to spin his yarn.

The trouble was, it was broken backed as a narrative, taking the Capricorn One route of flitting between two threads but neither were anything but hackneyed. First, we had Steve and Lew trying to find out what happened to the flying saucer and clear their names when they are accused of botching the mission and killing their crewmate, and then we had the actual craft crashing and being spirited away to the titular hangar to be experimented on, giving rise to all those Roswell clichés that would serve The X-Files so well in the nineties, but had their basis in increasingly hard to pin down research. Ex-Kolchak Darren McGavin headed the examination, while Robert Vaughn orchestrated the men in black who want to cover up the truth lest the (unseen) President not be re-elected, which in other hands could have been a decent enough basis for a fantastical thriller, yet here sat with unexceptional boredom shot with bright, flat lighting and built to one of the most arbitrary ending imaginable, looking for all the world like they ran out of money and had to hastily wrap it all up. Music by John Cacavas.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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