How to take ‘Taken’: Spielberg and U.S. UFO secrecy

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By Hal McKenzie    February 21, 2003

Now that Steven Spielberg’s massive 20-hour miniseries Taken is finally over (except for the re-runs), have we learned anything new about UFO abductions? I would say about as much as one could learn about espionage from watching James Bond films. The production was long on Hollywood glitz, gratuitous sex and the mandatory cute kid in peril, but very short on facts that haven’t been aired already. Its real significance lies in the Aesopian messages Spielberg weaves into his lengthy fable.

Spielberg, as he admits in an interview in the official miniseries website (www.scifi.com/taken), has been a long-time believer in extraterrestrial contact. His first foray into the field was his 1977 blockbuster Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which included a number of abduction scenarios as well as the typical melon-headed aliens. Skeptics say that film actually put the idea of such aliens into people’s heads, which then showed up in abduction fantasies. The fact is, however, that Spielberg based his movie on already well-established UFO lore, using “Father of UFOlogy” J. Allen Hynek as a consultant and modeling one of his characters on French UFO maven Jacques Valee.

Other writers and movies helped make alien abductions a household word. Bud Hopkins wrote Missing Time and Intruders, the latter of which was made into a TV movie starring Richard Crenna. Popular novelist Whitley Strieber wrote Communion based on his personal abduction experience, which was also made into a movie starring Christopher Walken. Then there was the movie Fire in the Sky about the Travis Walton abduction with James Garner playing a skeptical sheriff. Finally, the issue has been thoroughly examined on TV shows like Unsolved Mysteries, episodes on the History Channel, and, of course, the Sci-Fi Channel, which did a two-hour investigative piece and interviews with abductees leading up to the miniseries.

It is no wonder that bug-eyed alien faces now appear on everything from lollipops to jewelry, T-shirts and Halloween costumes. They have become an integral part of our culture, as much as Mickey Mouse or the Easter Bunny. Taken really added very little to what has already happened.

Spielberg makes it clear from the plot line, however, what he wants to happen. He wants the people to rise up and confront the government policy of UFO secrecy. The plot leads up to a climactic confrontation between abductees, who have rallied to protect the part-alien girl Allie Keyes, and menacing soldiers in riot gear trying to take her away to learn the secret of her powers.

Like any good storyteller, Spielberg makes it very clear who the villains are – the cold-hearted military men and intelligence wonks who are obsessed with the aliens’ technology for the power they hope to gain from it. He also milks empathy toward the heroes and victims of the government policy, whose only defense against the inhumanity confronting them is their humanity.

The moral that Spielberg makes in Taken is that our humanity is our most precious possession, so precious that even aliens desire it for what it can teach them about themselves. The alien John, Allies’ grandfather, in the final episode tells Allie that, from his loving relationship with his grandmother and subsequent family ties, he and his people learned something precious that their own evolution had left behind. Before being beamed aboard his spaceship, he gives Allie the freedom to decide her own destiny.

At the climax the bad guys are totally bereft of everything they sought to gain. After three generations of murders, back-stabbing, betrayals and harassment of innocent people, arch-villainess Mary Crawford loses Allie, the alien artifacts retrieved at Roswell in 1947, and what’s worse, the last vestige of love in her personal life and her freedom after she murders her colleague and lover. Allies’ parents lose their little girl, who opts to go with the aliens to avoid bloodshed, but only temporarily, and they still have each other along with a loving and supporting community.

The moral reminds me of an earlier American “abduction” story – The Wizard of Oz. In the climax of the movie starring Judy Garland, the heroine Dorothy learns a great truth that allows her to make her way home from the bizarre world into which she was taken. “If anyone goes searching for their heart’s desire, they don’t have to look any farther than their own back yard. Is that it?” she asks the good witch. “That’s all it is,” the Good Witch replies. “But that’s so simple!” exclaims the Scarecrow.

Beyond propagating this moral, will Spielberg’s Taken raise public interest in government UFO secrecy to the point that it actually changes government policy and releases some information to the public? After all, according to a September Roper Poll commissioned by the Sci Fi Channel, 72 percent of the American people believe their government is withholding information about UFOs, and 60 percent of adults want the information declassified if it is not a national security risk.

On October 22, Sci Fi Channel network President Bonnie Hammer joined President Clinton’s former chief of staff, John Podesta, to announce the formation of the Coalition for Freedom of Information, which includes a petition drive, letters to congressmen, and a new Information Act initiative that seeks documentation on the crash of an object of unknown origin in Kecksburg, Pa., in 1965. Just this month the British Ministry of Defense released files on the famous multiple-witness Bentwaters Air Base case in 1980. It would seem that the tide is turning toward greater disclosure.

The Bush administration, however, has made it clear that, in the climate of the so-called War on Terrorism, it intends to protect and strengthen the U.S. intelligence and security apparatus that maintains UFO secrecy. Bush has called for increased funding for intelligence, and Attorney General John Ashcroft tightened the lid on the Freedom of Information Act, giving federal officers permission to bend or even break the act if they want to withhold records, and saying he’ll defend them in court. I fear it will take major political fight, perhaps as great as the Civil Rights movement, to force the government to relinquish its control over the UFO secret.

Hal McKenzie (1948-2010) was the first editor of CosmicTribune.com.

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