With all the buzz the last few weeks about UFO sightings at O'Hare (more online hits for that particular tidbit than any other news story in recent memory, per Eric Zorn's column in last Sunday's Trib), it's hard not to consider briefly where it all began, SF film-wise, in the 50s aftermath of Roswell. At the upscale end there's inevitably The Day the Earth Stood Still, with uberalien Michael Rennie striding purposefully down his celestial ramp (or whatever those gangplank things are called) from the alien craft, with both an invitation and a warning: live peacefully among yourselves, earth mortals, or we'll turn your planet into a cosmic cinder (sounding for all the world like a certain someone we know in Iraq . . . some shock-and-awe peacemonger he turned out to be!). But downscale is where the real scruffy action was taking place: with Invasion of the Saucer Men (whose main idea of invasion involved slashing a few tires in a high school parking lot) or Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (and why does Ray Harryhausen still get slagged for this one?) or It Conquered the World (a Roger Corman special, transpiring mostly in a cave) or It! The Terror From Beyond Space, another neutrally pronouned visitation involving a guy in a lizard suit rampaging through a disabled space probe (one of ours, as it turned out), though maybe, for that reason, not a legitimate flying saucer movie at all . . .
Whatever the case, my own first close encounter with UFOs (actually near close encounter) came at age seven with Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby's The Thing. Trailers on TV showed panic-stricken minions retreating from some hideous unknown force (footage that never turned up in the film, by the way: little did I know then . . .), so of course I had to see it. The movie played exclusively at the Woods (at Randolph and Dearborn, current site of the Goodman), where, years later if not quite then, combat boots and rat poison were virtually de rigueur. I pleaded with my aunt to go, but she said no, and we opted instead for The Big Wheel, with Mickey Rooney, at the Oriental down the street—arguably enough to scar any kid for life . . .
But now back to O'Hare: what's really going down with all the new sightings above gate C17—snowy owls strayed off course? marsh gas emissions from the aspiring Superfund site on Irving? glitzy special effects from some hitherto unnoticed SF film production? . . . or actually visitors from another world? I suspect Dr. Morbius in Forbidden Planet had it at least halfway right, speculating on the dire fate of the Krels . . . though perhaps even more to the point is the tale of a woman in Wisconsin who one morning found a little green alien standing at her front door, asking for some pancake batter to take back to his spacecraft parked in a nearby lake (well, it's what I heard anyway). When the woman inquired "Should we believe in you?," the alien supposedly answered, "Yes . . . but not too much." Which pretty well sums it up for us in our credulously incredulous modern age—just be sure you remember to "Keep watching the sky!"