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Not Lost in Space
For reasons no one quite seems to understand, movie science fiction grabs a lot of people down deep, even those who aren't trekkies. No doubt this susceptibility derives in part from the sheer dazzlement of high-tech wizardry so stunning that it turns the most jaded moviegoers into wide-eyed children. Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) set a new standard, a quantum leap ahead of anything seen on the screen before, but that was surpassed by the sound-and-light show of Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the elegant marvels of George Lucas's Star Wars saga (1977-83), and a generation of ever more spectacular special effects.
Magic aside, all of these tales are made of the stuff of psychodrama, both personal and cultural. We don't need the resident semiotician to point out that something is cooking in the very violent four-film Alien series (1979-97), in which the loathsomely parasitic she-monster becomes known, without the least trace of affection, as "the bitch." About Alien it is hard to say too much: primal, visceral, purely dark, and very haunting—the all-mother as Evil. This is not the friendly "other" one travels 50 light-years to encounter.
What is most curious, though, about these films is not their enormous popularity (note the mammoth crowds for this spring's retooled Star Wars saga). Rather, it is the great distance these pop-tales go in pushing religious themes, particularly the quest to meet and know an alien "presence" who either comes to Earth or for whom we go looking. Close Encounters features a Damascus Road everyman scrambling up Sinai (Devil's Tower, Wyoming) to meet, bully though it is, the stupendous Power of techno-splendor; ET is a glowing-heart incarnation tale that climaxes in resurrection and ascension.
Invariably tales of space or time travel carry this heavy thematic freight, the allure of the "might be" or "should be." Maybe it's imagining the endless "out there" in relation to we small creatures on ...