High Strangeness: UFOs & Old Cars

Friday, March 14, 2014

UFOs & Old Cars

I will have to eat my hat.

I have not been shy about expressing my opinions of the silly UFO shows that fill up so many of the prime-time schedules of cable TV channels. These shows rehash the same old material (case in point: I just got an email promoting tonight's NEW episode of "MUFON's Hangar 1," that promises to reveal the secrets of how we developed radar and transistor radios and ball point pens and the Dyson vacuum and every other great technological marvel since WWII from reverse engineering captured flying saucers--this content is neither new nor true, nor is it found in any MUFON case investigation file); the hosts have funny hair; the production values suck... and on and on.

So, a commenter recently recommended that I check out the new Canadian UFO reality show called "Close Encounters," and made a good case for it, but I still refused to go there. I had seen a promo for the show and it looked dumb. Well, this last week, with my wife away on business and my kids and dog ignoring me, and "Are We Alone" week still calling out to me from the Science Channel, I decided to give "Close Encounters" a try.

I'm glad I did. The show is really quite good, and pretty entertaining to boot!

Is it because it's Canadian? I'm not sure, but I liked it. I watched a couple episodes, and since each episode looks at two UFO cases, I got a pretty good sampling of what it's all about. The first re-enactment was of the Cash-Landrum case, and I saw the Kecksburg incident and a few others, and they were all uniformly well-written, well-directed and, to my great surprise, well-acted as well; seriously, the gals in the Cash-Landrum case really had me going. The expert commentators (including my man Mark Rodeghier from CUFOS) were very matter-of-fact and informative in their reporting of the events, and the production qualities overall were first-rate, but what really impressed me was the attention to detail...

I'm an old car buff, and I notice when a car in a re-enactment doesn't fit the period being recreated. If a scene is supposed to be taking place in the '50s and the cars are from the '60s, it's going to ruin the whole thing for me. Can you possibly imagine how much fun my wife has watching TV shows and movies with me?? Maybe that's why she suddenly had to fly to Philadelphia last week...

Anyway, I'm watching the re-enactment of the experience of Val Johnson, a Sheriff's Deputy in Minnesota who reportedly had a Close Encounter of the 2nd Kind in 1979 -- and when I saw Close Encounter of the 2nd Kind, I mean the UFO and the squad car had a head-on collision. In the show, the performer playing the part of Johnson was shown driving a 1972 Dodge patrol car, which impressed me, because where the hell do you even find a 1972 Dodge Polara 4-door sedan, much less a law-enforcement version? That's crazy. Why would a TV producer in Canada bother with a detail that only I would notice? Especially since he or she couldn't possibly have known that I would watch the show! Somebody really really wanted to make this look period-correct, and they succeeded.
Yes, it's really a Ford, but check out the smashed windshield & dented hood!

(Full disclosure: I did some searching later [because if I don't you will!] and found that the real car, on display in a museum in Warren, MN, complete with unrepaired damage from the incident, was actually a '77 Ford -- doesn't change the fact that the producers took the time and trouble to make things look right, and that they did it for me.)

Like the Johnson case, the Cash-Landrum encounter took place entirely inside and around a car, and here the producers got things almost right, scoring an Oldsmobile Cutlass Siera that first sold in late 1981 for a re-enactment of an incident that took place in late 1980. This doesn't bother me so much because any early-'80s Cutlass was crap and deserved to be burned up by a flaming UFO, so what difference does a year make?

Then the re-enactment of the 1965 Kecksburg, Pennsylvania Close Encounter of the First Kind case really blew me away: the witness, Jim Romansky, is shown driving a 1964 International Harvester pick-up truck. Again, where would you find such a thing, and why would you go looking for it unless you really, really wanted to do things properly?
These days most '64 International pickups look like this.

I am well aware that on some level this is a silly reason to like and recommend a show, and it certainly doesn't prove that any of the other information in the show is reliable or trustworthy, but in a world where it's so easy to come up with multitudes of reasons why most cable TV UFO shows suck, it's amazing and refreshing to find even one small reason to like one of them.

Sadly, old cars are not often associated with Close Encounters, so now that the producers have covered the Johnson, Cash-Landrum and Kecksburg stories it may be that the rest of the show will suck, I don't know. But I will give it a chance the next time my wife goes on a business trip.


Curt Collins said...

I was pretty critical of "Close Encounters" until I saw MUFON's "Hangar 1" fiasco.

The Cash-Landrum dramatization combines some experts' mistakes in retelling the story with bad fact-checking on the producers to gives us an incredibly inaccurate recreation of the incident. Lightning bolts- oh my!

But, they tried. They stay away from the sensational alien BS, and there is some attention to detail and they do have good people talking about the cases. The 1/2 hour format just doesn't allow for a deep examination of cases, esp. when the show does two cases per episode. Still, it's a nice intro to the cases and hopefully some viewers will read up on them.

Saucerspud said...

Glad you took a chance on Close Encounters. I had a feeling you'd like it.

Yeah, they're rehashing classic sightings that any UFO enthusiast has heard about before; but it's refreshing to see the cases presented in a more sober, understated manner. I now have my DVR set up to record it.

I haven't even bothered with Hangar 1. Shame on you, MUFON.

I'm so sick of UFO "experts" claiming that any significant technological development is from reverse-engineering crashed flying saucers. Ridiculous.