The Day Time Ended (1979)

Article 4320 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-28-2013
Directed by John ‘Bud’ Cardos
Featuring Jim Davis, Christopher Mitchum, Dorothy Malone
Country: USA
What it is: Odd little science fiction movie

A family living in a home in the desert finds that their area is the center of activity caused by a distant triple supernova whose light has just reached the Earth, and they find themselves in the middle of a time-space vortex.

The last couple of low-budget movies I’ve seen did little more than rehash familiar stories and plots. This one is much more ambitious; in fact, despite the fact that it does seem to show a certain amount of influence from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, it really is trying to do something original. It’s not exactly successful; it’s maddeningly episodic at times, vague and confusing at others, and it ultimately doesn’t really satisfy, but the journey is often entertaining and sometimes intriguing. There’s a fair amount of stop-motion special effects here; there’s a tiny alien creature, a miniature spaceship, and two of the oddest looking dinosaurs that I’ve ever seen. If they had hitched a really strong story to this one, they might have really had something, but even as it is, it’s worth a viewing for the more interesting touches.

Psi Factor (1980)

Article 4011 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-23-2012
Directed by Bryan Trizers
Featuring Peter Mark Richman, Gretchen Corbett, Tom Martin
Country: USA
What it is: Alien conspiracy thriller

When a civilian scientist attached to a military space probe project stumbles across evidence of extraterrestrial life, he finds himself on the run from those who want to cover up the discovery… as well as from the aliens themselves.

The minute I saw the names Sandler and Emenegger in the opening credits, I knew three things. 1) Steven Spielberg’s sister was going to be involved as well in some capacity (she’s an associate producer); 2) I could probably cobble together an equivalent production budget by raiding a line of gumball machines, and 3) despite the lack of means to effectively tell the story and the various problems that crop up, the movie will still have something going for it. Granted, the most satisfying elements in this movie come near the very end; for most of the running time, it plays like a bad conspiracy thriller with annoying characters (both the scientist’s girlfriend and the comic-relief pilot got on my nerves) and cliched dialogue. The oddest touch is a series of obviously symbolic scenes of children playing with insects; it happens enough that you know they mean something, but it’s not until the end of the movie that you’ll know what. The movie overall seems like a variation of the associate producer’s brother’s more famous CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, but at least the final revelations are its own. Make no mistake; most of the movie is pretty bad, but I didn’t walk away empty-handed, and that’s always a plus.

Starman (1984)

STARMAN (1984)
Article 3862 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-2-2012
Posting Date: 3-11-2012
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith
Country: USA
What it is: Alien on Earth story

An alien being takes the form of a bereaved woman’s dead husband, and enlists her help to transport him to a crater in Arizona where he can return to his own world. But the government knows of his existence and plans to capture him…

I saw this movie many years ago and it didn’t make much of an impression on me then; about all I could remember was a gag involving what to do when the lights turn yellow. I like it much better now, most likely because I didn’t turn myself off to the emotional resonance of the story like I did then. It’s tempting and not entirely inaccurate to describe it as a cross between E.T. and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, but thanks to a mostly thoughtful script and two excellent performances from Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen, the movie moves beyond a mere imitation and finds its own voice. And as a movie that involves love between humans and non-humans, I certainly prefer it to SPLASH, another movie that feels very similar to this one. If I do have a little problem with it, it’s because it’s a tab overlong, a problem that could have been fixed with some tighter editing here and there; I also can’t help but notice that the main characters seem to find it a little bit too easy on occasion to enlist the help of strangers. It also seems to be setting itself up for a sequel that never came, and I do find myself wishing to know what will happen after Allen’s character has her child and what he will be like.

In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973)

Article 3387 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-10-2010
Posting Date: 11-22-2010
Directed by Harold Reinl
Featuring the voice of Rod Serling
Country: USA / West Germany
What it is: Speculative documentary

The movie examines evidence of the possibility of visitation by extraterrestrials in ancient history.

Why does this movie leave me with such a vivid sense of deja vu? Is it possible it may have tapped into ancestral memories of the visits of ancient astronauts? Or is it more likely that I just saw CHARIOTS OF THE GODS about a month ago, from which this movie pillages most of its footage. The differences are 1) it only includes about half of the original movie, 2) the narration was replaced by new narration by Rod Serling, and 3) a handful of interviews was added to the mix. As a result, the movie is shorter and isn’t quite as insistent as the original movie; the additional interviews really add little to the mix, except perhaps the final one by Carl Sagan, who ends the movie telling us that there is not a “smidgen of compelling evidence” for the visitation of space aliens in ancient times. Still, I can’t help but comment on the fact in that last month, there has been a surprising number of articles by military men talking about UFO encounters, and the UN has named a Malaysian astrophysicist to be the first ambassador to space aliens, and these reports are being taken seriously by the press. Somehow, it made the documentary seem just a bit more relevant.

The Return (1980)

aka The Alien’s Return
Article 2899 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-15-2009
Posting Date: 7-21-2009
Directed by Greydon Clark
Featuring Jan-Michael Vincent, Cybill Shepherd, Martin Landau
Country: USA

Twenty-five years ago, three people in a small town had an encounter with a UFO. Today, all three people find themselves back in town. What did the encounter mean, and what is in store for them?

It starts out all right; the encounter with the UFO is intriguing enough to catch our interest. But once the action shifts to the present, the movie loses focus and steam, and, despite attempts to rekindle our interest with a cattle mutilation subplot and some tepid action sequences, it never recovers. An interesting cast (which includes, among those listed above, Raymond Burr, Neville Brand and Vincent Schiavelli) can’t save it either, largely because most of them are wasted in weak roles. At heart, the movie is heavily influenced by CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, with touches of STAR WARS and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY thrown into the mix, but it spins its wheels too badly to have much impact. This one is dull and forgettable.

Laboratory (1980)

Article 2675 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-24-2008
Posting Date: 12-9-2008
Directed by Bob Emenegger and Allan Sandler
Featuring Martin Kove, Ken Washington, Corinne Camacho
Country: USA

Space aliens kidnap humans and isolate them in a remote air force base for experiments.

You know, from a distance I respect this science fiction movie; despite the commonness of the idea of aliens experimenting on humans, I really haven’t seen it handled that much, and, despite the fact that it does show some influence from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (in its use of music as a communication device), it is far from an imitation. Still, when I look up close, it has too many problems I can’t ignore. First of all, the script is rather weak, and the characters are poorly developed and/or stereotypes. Second of all, the score is one of those that largely just drones on and on at the same tone without any regard to the action on the screen; they try to keeep it low and below the surface, but I still noticed. Thirdly, the decision to have the aliens speak in distorted video-game voices backfires because it renders much of their dialogue unintelligible. But worst of all, the movie just utterly fails to build up much in the way of suspense; it takes low-key one step too far into soporific. In short, this could have been a much better movie. Still, I do have to take note of a movie which combines the talents of both Steven Spielberg’s and Cameron Mitchell’s respective sisters.


The Phantom Planet (1961)

Article #1770 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-18-2006
Posting Date: 6-17-2006
Directed by William Marshall
Featuring Dean Fredericks, Coleen Gray, Anthony Dexter

Two astronauts embark on a mission to discover the secret behind a phantom planet that appears out of nowhere and destroys rockets. One crash-lands on the planet, and discovers a civilization of tiny people.

This is one strange movie. There are moments where it is engagingly surreal; the scene where the astronaut first encounters the little people is bizarre but quite fascinating. I also think the movie does a very nice job with the special effects for what must have been a very low budget. The plot is a bit of a mess, though, and is at times painfully contrived, especially with the two love triangles. The pacing is truly horrible as well, with long dull stretches of uninteresting talk, some of which sounds oddly Ed Woodian at times. The cast has some interesting names in it, though, with former silent star Francis X. Bushman appearing as the patriarch of the planet and Richard Kiel as a strange-looking dog-faced alien. Director William Marshall was formerly a singer for the Fred Waring Orchestra, and his son Mike Marshall appears in the movie.

Dr. Coppelius (1966)

(a.k.a. DR.?? COPPELIUS!!! /
Article #1488 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-11-2005
Posting Date: 9-8-2005
Directed by Ted Kneeland
Featuring Walter Slezak, Claudia Corday, Caj Selling

Two potential lovers get embroiled in the life of Dr. Coppelius, a scientist / inventor who specializes in life-size mechanical dolls.

After two encounters with Opera so far, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I stumbled across a Ballet. Now, if you had asked me, I would have predicted that Ballet would have been an even more alien form to me than Opera; the thought of trying to follow a story expressed entirely in dance would have made me feel ill at ease. However, I found this to be much easier to follow than either THE MEDIUM or THE TALES OF HOFFMANN. I think the reason is that the burden of translation isn’t as great; instead of needing to sort out what is being sung (as I need to do in operas), all I really have to do is make good use of the visual cues that are supplied me here, and this movie is quite generous with them. The opening credits provide mini-biographies of each character so that you know the role they play in the story, and it does a fine job of clarifying certain subtleties, such as the fact that when Brigitta is dancing with a broom, she is actually engaged in an imaginary dance with the man she loves, Dr. Coppelius. I’m also amazed at the breadth of emotion that can be conveyed in dance. In particular, I was amazed at how well dance can be used to convey humor; there are many comic moments that work beautifully here. I never really thought of Walter Slezak as a dancer, and his dancing here is quite minimal. However, he came from a musical family; he was the son of a star of the Metropolitan Opera and himself went on to sing there as well. The fantastic aspects here are prominent; Dr. Coppelius is something of an alchemist, which puts him in a category somewhere between science fiction and fantasy, and his laboratory wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie. All in all, I found this one fun and accessible, though I did need a little break now and then during the longer dance segments. And there’s one thing I do know; I like the music in ballets a lot more than I like the music in operas.

The Man from Planet X (1951)

Article #1207 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-4-2004
Posting Date: 12-1-2004
Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer
Featuring Robert Clarke, Margaret Field, Raymond Bond

An American reporter visits a professor living on an island near Scotland to get a report on a planet that is nearing Earth. He then encounters a resident of that planet who has landed on the moors.

Is this the first non-serial alien invasion movie? It’s closest competition may be THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD), but this one appears to have made it to theaters first. At any rate, if you want to appreciate Edgar G. Ulmer’s skill, this isn’t a bad place to start; it was shot for around $50,000, and though it does look a little on the cheapish side, it certainly looks more expensive than that. The Scottish moors that serve as the backdrop for the action are very memorable; the thick, eerie fog gives the movie more of the feel of a horror movie than other science fiction movies of the era. The story is a bit uneven, and it never quite builds up the suspense it needs in the second half of the movie, but it’s still fairly interesting, and it contains an excellent performance from William Schallert as an unscrupulous scientist who decides to use the visitor for his own purposes. There’s also a bit of ambiguity as to the alien’s motives; was he planning on an invasion from square one, or did the attack from Dr. Mears make him decide on that route? This one is definitely worth catching. Incidentally, Margaret Field was the mother of actress Sally Field.

Star Wars (1977)

STAR WARS (1977)
Article #288 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing date: 12-28-2001
Posting date: 5-14-2002

A farm boy finds himself embroiled with rebels fighting the empire when he encounters two escaped droids, one of whom is trying to deliver a message to a lost jedi knight.

No matter what anyone says about the role this movie has played in the decline of cinematic SF, I still think it’s one hell of a movie. I can never forget the wonder of seeing for the first time in theaters, especially the cantina sequence and its amazing variety of alien life forms. It’s also an effectively and efficiently told story; simple maybe, but exquisitely presented. Plus, it has Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, even if they are in roles that aren’t a real challenge to them. Still, it is sad to consider the impact that this movie had in shaping a specific idea of science fiction in the minds of corporate moneymakers; fortunately, they aren’t the only ones who make movies.