Monday, October 13, 2008

Discovery "Investigations X": Could UFO's be really dangerous?

There have been several television coverages of the Stephenville, TX ufo sightings (on the TV blog), the Discovery Channel “Investigation X” film (link (one hour) tonight of incidents in Stephenville, Southwick MA, and Kokomo IN is perhaps a little bit more alarming. It at least raises the question of just how our whole culture would react if there were an unmistakable extraterrestrial-source landing with real damage or casualties. A bit of “The 4400” perhaps? Just conceivably, we could be wrong. Somehow, there could be a wormhole way to get past the physics of the speed of light and the geological epochs of time. Maybe somebody has noticed us. Maybe they are even from our own future.

The show did reconstruct the spectacular sightings, with banks of lights splitting, over Stephenville, with the Erath County courthouse. There was analysis of the way the fighter jets from Carswell scrambled.

In Southwick, in March 2008, a young woman made a camcorder recording of the lights. Shortly thereafter, there was a similar series in Kokomo, IN, north of Indianapolis (I’ve driven through it only once, in 1970). A young man named Justin Cronkhite made some sensational footage that makes the object look like a raimbow-colored airborne jellyfish, even moreso that the Southwick film. A local filmmaker named J. D. Puterbaugh also made similar video. A sonic boom occurred when fighter jets scrambled. That is against Air National Guard policy, and subsequent experiments at Wichita State University showed that a disk-like object can generate an even larger boom than a conventional fighter jet. The sonic boom came very close to damaging homes below, which is a very unusual incident. It was nearly, at least, a "micro-disaster" for the History Channel as well as Discovery.

In April 1978 I saw a blinking red and green object in the night desert sky east of Tonopah, AZ (west of Phoenix on I-10) that resembled one of Justin Cronkhite’s photos. That still sticks in my mind.

Another filmmaker photographed commercial jets and helicopters around LAX airport and compared the patterns to the films from Massachusetts and Indiana. He does not believe that the amateur video could have come from known aircraft.

In 2003, when I was in the screenwriting group in Minneapolis, I had a dream where a rocky craft slowly lands near a suburban subdivision of a southwestern city (like Dallas) at night. An electromagnetic pulse happened in the dream over the area. The craft sits on the ground for about fifteen minutes and then slowly rises and leaves after a few people board it. Then, in the dream, the people in the suburban subdivision are all in a zombie-like, hypnotic trance that they do not come out of. The dream was like a horror film from Sony Screen Gems. So, next, in this imaginary movie, viewed by one, the media and the president and stock market the next day have to deal with incontrovertible evidence of abductions (people missing) and actual medical casualties and EMP damage. This sounds like a nice little movie. It just needs, besides a beginning and middle, a logical end.

Update: Oct. 20

AOL reports that Britain has released previously classified reports of US fighters being summoned to shoot down UFO's during the Cold War, link here. In the AOL survey, 92% of respondents believe in alien life elsewhere in the Universe.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

History Channel: "Black Blizzard"

On Sunday October 12, the History Channel aired “Black Blizzard,” a 90 minute (with commercial breaks) documentary about the dust storms and dust bowl on the Great Plains of the United States (particularly Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and eastern Colorado and New Mexico) during the Great Depression, particularly from 1932-1935 (culminating in “Black Sunday”). The storms look like huge dark clouds 2000-10000 feet tall marching across the plains, with winds up to 100 mph. Some reached Chicago, New York and Washington with some dust. Families had great difficulties shielding even the insides of their homes from the fine, talc-like dust which killed “dust pneumonia” or a kind of silicosis. Storms generated their own internal static electricity, like lightning.

The dust storms resulted from careless farming methods that removed topsoil before 1930, followed by drought, cause by cool Pacific and warm Atlantic water, which shifted a jet stream further south.

When I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, there would occur occasional minor dust clouds and deposits on cars, especially in March and April.

The dust bowl problem of the 1930s anticipates our global warming challenge today.

The History Channel link is here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Quarantine" follows the formula of "Blindness" with some "Cloverfield" video journalism

One week after “Blindness”, we have “Quarantine” from Sony Screen Gems, directed by John Erick Dowdle, which combines the paradigms of the former movie (an epidemic, mostly in a confined building) with the video journalism style of “Cloverfield.” (No, they don’t destroy New York or LA; they’re trying to stop it). I’m reminded of how the advent of video journalism in the 1970s helped lead to a major strike while I worked for NBC, and I actually got to learn to operate a boom for a soap opera.

The first fifteen minutes has reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and camerman Scott (Steve Harris) doing a live-in report on an LA fire station. She shows the intimate, quasi-military lifestyle of “barracks” life for a fireman – with hints of the social and political implications. (I immediately recalled the Christian movie “Fireproof”). She even reports that firemen wear flame-retardant pantyhose close to their gams as they rappel down firepoles.

Pretty soon they get a call during this sleepover slumber party, and they arrive at an old apartment building that looks out of character for LA. One elderly woman is desperately ill and seems to be going mad. But as they are about to take her, the building is sealed off. It reminds me of the sealing off of the passenger train in “The Cassandra Crossing” which I saw in New York in 1977. Chaos ensues in the building, as the phone, cable and Internet are cut off. From rabbit ears TV (that could only work until Feb. 2009) they learn that the CDC has closed off the building. It isn’t long (the whole flick runs just 89 minutes) before we learn that the residents are spreading a sort of rabies, with transmission means about like that of Ebola (they attack each other). To the outside world, the residence takes on the character of Ft. Dietrich; inside, it’s all ruin. Vidal, normally professional, is reduced into the panic of her own survival. The movie opens to the outside world only a little at the end, much less than in "Blindness."

Eventually, all that is left of the incident is the videotape she made. Let’s say, it’s possible that a single resident could bring this on to the whole building, as an exercise of a weird cult. Back in the 1980s, a garden apartment building that I had occupied in Dallas would burn a few years after I left because one resident had an illegal meth lab.

Is this a plausible scenario? Could something like this really happen? Perhaps in any building, a resident (perhaps a disgruntled scientist or cult leader could do something like this with any of a list of pathogens if he or she had access. It could lead to a quarantine, perhaps secretive. Just look at what did happen shortly after 9/11 (and the government's misadventures in the investigations that follow). It is all pretty scary, although, for the last hour, “this is only a movie”. It is more a micro-disaster than a mega-disaster.

This film is apparently an adaptation of a film from Spain called "[Rec]" (2007) directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza from Filmax. In 2000 (before 9/11) there was another TV (ABC) filmed named "Quarantine" about a virus unleashed on a small village.

Friday, October 03, 2008

"Blindness" is more an experiment than a scenario for a "mega-disaster"; attracts protests!

First, this new film “Blindness” has generated some protests. At least, when I saw it tonight at an AMC Theater complex in northern Virginia, there were about ten demonstrators with signs outside the ticket office. I hadn’t heard about this, unless the case with “Tropic Thunder” where the protests were covered in the media.

This is not the first film by this name. There is a 1998 drama directed by Anna Chi. But the film is a bit of an event, since the Brazilian director, Fernando Meirelles, previously offered us “City of God” through Miramax. (This time the film has distribution from both Miramax and Focus Features.) The outdoor scenes, many in Sao Paolo and Montevideo, are among the most effective in the film, as the “city” becomes deserted in squalor, a sight already known from films like the “28 Days” movies (London), Doomsday (also London, from smallpox), and even “Open Your Eyes” (Madrid). The lighting in the film is overexposed and the colors in sepia, to simulate the mood of the afflicted.

This movie (based on a novel by Jose Saramango) is more of a sociological experiment that a “mega-disaster” movie. But first, for the medical premise. The movie starts with some shots of stoplights, and then a young Japanese man, sitting in a crowd, screams that he has gone blind. A kindly stranger takes him home and his wife takes him to the doctor (Mark Ruffalo). It seems that in a few seconds the normal field of vision is filled with whiteness (that would be awful when closing your eyes to sleep). Is this medically possible? Maybe a virus could infect the optic nerve or the brain tissue connected to it. But it wouldn’t be easily transmissible as in the movie. People with HIV sometimes go blind from opportunistic infections of the retina, but that takes some time. And a disease like this probably would not be “self-limiting.” (I add one note from personal experience from someone I met on the job a few years ago: a cause of blindness in some older people stems back from the 1940s and early 50s when sometimes babies were left on oxygen too long.)

Nevertheless, in 24 hours this has become a pandemic, and the authorities “quarantine” the afflicted in what looks like an asylum. The patients are left to fend for themselves with limited food rations. Conditions deteriorate quickly, mainly because the city outside becomes overwhelmed so quickly, a fact not known to the victims until toward the end of the movie. Because most of the film takes place in the confines of the “prison” and has to deal with the concept that the protagonists cannot see even that, it becomes confining. (It is filmed in regular aspect ratio,) You really don’t get the full sense of horror until they escape outside. By way of comparison, the Japanese film “Pulse” may be the most effective of all in conveying an existential horror destroying the inhabitants of a city.

The people really do become savage. A newcomer played by Gael Garcia Bernal (“Bad Education”), scruffy this time, anoints himself king and somehow gets a little control of the food rationing among the wards, for a while, but then they get into a food for sex swap. One woman can see, staying with her husband, but that does not figure into the story much until the end. The film was tricky to act, and playing in it is not a challenge that all actors would relish.