Wednesday, 26 September 2012



Years ago, I used to have a paperback of Erich Von Daniken's Chariots Of The Gods?, which claimed that aliens had visited Earth at various times in mankind's distant past (though, significantly, not since the invention of the camera) and guided our species' development for as yet unknown reasons: what other explanation could there be for the Nazca lines in Peru, the ancient Mayan carvings on the Sarcophagus Of Palenque, or the "wheel within a wheel" from the Book of Ezekiel? Maybe it's true, maybe not. Fast forward to 1980 and we get this silly conspiracy thriller hitching Von Daniken's dubious theories to the mythos of Roswell, Area 51 and what would, thirteen years hence, develop into The X-Files.

A trio of astronauts encounter an alien spacecraft while launching a new satellite from the back of the shuttle (which appears far smaller than in reality): there is an explosion and the craft ends up in the Arizona desert. The American military secretly move it to Hangar 18 in an Air Force base in Texas (I'm not sure how you can secretly move something the size of a football pitch a minimum of 170 miles) where it can be properly investigated and monitored. But the shuttle astronauts, who've been hung out to dry over the disaster, decide to track down the alien craft even as NASA's top scientists (led by Darren McGavin) study it and its potentially life-changing contents. More enjoyable are the scenes with the White House top brass (Joseph Campanella and the legendary Robert Vaughn) scheming to contain the story for their own political ends as, somewhat inconveniently, the UFO has arrived two weeks before the election and the vote could go either way....

It's got the stamp of Capricorn One all over it as the sinister government agents, credited as mibs (men in black), try to control the situation - there's even a car chase where the heroes' brakes have been tampered with. Hangar 18 isn't very good, but it's an efficient enough matinee B-movie that rattles along perfectly well with a reliable cast of familiar TV faces (Gary Collins and Pamela Bellwood also show up) and a decent John Cacavas score. It actually had a UK theatrical release at the time - I can still remember seeing the "In cinemas now!" trailers in ITV's commercial breaks - and it got a home video certificate as late as 1996. Since then, however, the film seems to have vanished completely, which is a shame; however someone has uploaded the whole thing to YouTube which will suffice as a last resort, in the absence of a proper release that I could have added to my rental queue.


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