Hangar 18 (1980)
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Director: James L. Conway
Tagline: “On October 25th, a large metallic object crashed in the Arizona desert. The government is concealing a UFO and the bodies of alien astronauts. Why won’t they tell us?”
Plot: On October 25th, a large metallic object crashes in the Arizona desert. The government conceals a UFO and the bodies of alien astronauts. They don’t tell people. Some wonder why.
Actually, there’s a bit more to it than that, if only a bit. It all begins with a mission into space aboard what appears to be a toy space shuttle captained by Gary Collins.
Everyone’s set to launch a satellite into space but unprepared for that satellite to hit a UFO, sending the UFO hurtling to Earth and decapitating one of the astronauts. That leaves Collins and tubby sidekick James Hampton to take the blame for the accident. Why? To aid the cover-up when the UFO lands in the Arizona desert. Why a cover-up? Because slimy political operative Robert Vaughn doesn’t want some pesky aliens getting in the way of the president’s re-election. Meanwhile, Darren McGavin leads a team to investigate the UFO, which resembles the bottom of a boot heel on the outside and a darkened room filled with Christmas lights on the inside. Their base of operations: a hangar at an Air Force base in Texas. Which hangar? Must you ask?
Got that? Now pad it out with many scenes of Collins and Hampton slowly, slllooowwwlllyyy putting two and two together and making their way to Hangar 18 as shadowy secret agents try to stop them. That ought to be as easy as a bullet to the head, but instead, the agents lean on padding-friendly techniques like cutting the brakes on their adversaries’ truck and sending them careening into a scene of traffic chaos that appears to be leftover footage from CHiPs.
On the scientific end of things, McGavin and his team find the UFO contains what appear to be the bodies of a blonde woman and pair of fat, bald men with piercing blue eyes.
Could all this have something to do with ancient astronauts who visited Earth long ago and may be responsible for creating humanity as we know it? Since Hangar 18 is a product of the same UFO-obsessed moment that brought us In Search Of… and Chariots Of The Gods?, the answer is, of course, yes. But nobody involved in Hangar 18 seems to have pondered the question much beyond that. It ends with a Vaughn-ordered air strike designed to eliminate the witnesses. But Collins and McGavin survive, a voiceover informs us, and the UFO remains intact. Sequel, anyone? (Answer: No.)
Key scenes: McGavin’s crew investigates the UFO using the scientifically dubious let’s-push-every-button-and-see-what-happens approach. That sometimes yields problematic results, as when it starts firing lasers higgledy-piggledy:
But the same approach also yields an alien language, seemingly taken from the cover of a prog-rock album:
Hooray for science!
Can easily be distinguished by: If you’re watching a film where all the spaceships appear to be reworked toys, you’re probably watching Hangar 18.
Sign that it was made in 1980: On the ground, Collins and Hampton opt for a windbreakers-at-all-times approach to fashion.
Timeless message: Don’t trust the government. Except for the parts of the government involving astronauts and kindly, curious scientists. Those guys are okay. Also, aliens are out there and they want something, but they’re pretty oblique about what.
Memorable quotes: McGavin, upon figuring out some alien code, in a line that typically throws in extra words for added gravity and to extend the running time: “We, mankind, the human race, are their children.”
Available for instant viewing on Netflix.