The Truth is Up There

With the FBI UFO report coming June 25, we assess our cinematic encounters with aliens

Right now somewhere in the bowels of the Pentagon a team of hand-picked analysts, expert in the lore of aliens and UFOs, is working with a dog’s breakfast of information including short video clips, eyewitness testimony, blurred images, multiple format high-intensity data recordings, and Joe Rogan podcasts to produce a report unveiling what some have described as “the greatest secret in human history”.

Truly. What could be a more epochal than a clear admission by the US government that it has been aware–for decades–of the quotidian appearance of varied objects–throngs of transmedium Tic Tacs, gaggles of inverted pyramids and flocks of hyper-sonic hexagons etc… etc… all traversing our skies demonstrating a level of technological sophistication far beyond anything we might currently have under the tarp in Area 51? The Pentagon in a steady drip of oddly timed admissions stated, “Yes, the images are real.” and “Yes, we don’t know what they are.”

One former Naval pilot interviewed on CBS’s 60 Minutes ratcheted up the WTF factor by claiming pilots training on the Atlantic coast using both radar and infrared technology see things like that all the time. “Every day. Every day for at least a couple years.” Every day. For at least a couple of years.

I’m not running the National Security Council, but one has to suspect if multiple strange inexplicable objects defying our tracking and intercept capacities were constantly appearing in restricted U.S. air and water space for over two years someone in the government used more than a two-year-old cell phone hastily pulled out of F-15 mechanic’s pocket to film the phenomenon.

So here we are. Come June 25, the government will reveal all it knows about aliens.

According to a clause buried in the 2.3 trillion dollar Corona Relief Bill in the Intelligence Authorization Act section, after decades of misdirection and a whole lot of sailing “calmly on” in the face of seeing “something amazing” we will get a peek behind the carefully crafted curtain that has enshrouded these sightings for over 70 years. Come June. U.S. intelligence agencies including the Office of Naval Intelligence, the new Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (U.A.P.) Task Force (when in doubt rebrand) and the FBI will, supposedly, finally, have to reveal to Congress and the world what they know.

How will the world react?

For the answer to this existential question we turn, as we have so often in times of confusion, to Hollywood. The movies have been anticipating our first knowledge of alien life forms for decades. This is our report.

Alien Assessment, Contact Management and Outcome Synopsis

Alien (1979)

Alien Assessment–Hostile (extremely).

Contact Management–Mostly psychological resilience and plucky MacGyverism in the face of a seemingly relentless unstoppable foe.

Outcome–We win. Sort of…

Lessons–Never trust a company named Weyland-Yutani. A.I. Never travel on a vessel named “The Nostromo.” Never get off the ship. (Last lesson comes with a nod to Apocalypse Now.) Joseph Conrad is everywhere.

War of the Worlds (2005)

Alien Assessment–Hostile (extremely).

Contact Management–Mostly psychological resilience, fleeing and dodging deadly energy beams.

Outcome–We win through dumb luck.  Aliens as invasive species ultimately get their comeuppance for entering our – not for cream puffs – biosphere when our “microbes” bring them low. Crossed a galaxy, buried their death dealing devices for thousands of years. Had a whole terraforming the planet through use of human blood craving evil red plants scheme in place. But, forgot about the microbes.

Lesson–Aliens may have big brains, but no attention to detail. As H.G. Welles noted, it’s always the little things.


Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Alien Assessment–Hostile (extremely).

Contact Management–Mostly psychological resilience and plucky MacGyverism in the face of a seemingly relentless unstoppable foe. With the added bonus of a very fortuitous re-engineering of that alien technology recovered in 1996.

Lesson–Ronald Reagan was right. Earth really would unite to fight off the aliens. But what do we do with all that “can do” aggression after we drive them away the second time? Also, are we really supposed to believe governments that can’t decrypt an I-Phone can really re-engineer a truly “alien” technology hundreds perhaps thousands of years ahead of our own?

 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Alien Assessment–Like distant but somewhat interested parents busy with more important things, periodically checking in on their latch key kids.

Contact Management–Wonder and lyric fatalism merged with a dogged active pursuit of our ever just out of our grasp absentee extraterrestrial parental figures. Humans struggle with their defenestration from the top of the food chain while pursuing Easter egg like monoliths come brain boost Pokemon cards powering us up intellectually over the eons. One of us ends up on the other side of the universe attaining fragile elder status while eating an infinite supply of TV dinners in what looks like an alien’s idea of the Presidential Suite of a Parisian hotel till reborn as a “star child” floating towards our waiting Earth. To do what?

Lessons–It’s good to be king. In a situation involving highly developed extraterrestrial entities advanced AI will not be our friend. (Thanks for nothing HAL.) Finally, if generations of seasoned viewers of this pic are to be trusted, everything; even displacement from apex of pyramid of life to the realization of your ultimate insignificance goes better with weed.


Brother John (1971)

Alien Assessment–Not malevolent. Worse. Fair-minded and judging our civilization on its own merits. Yikes!

Contact Management–None, absent a few futile last minute pleas for compassion. In this haunting, much underrated film we are assessed as a civilization in secret from within then judged. A magnetic Sidney Poitier plays what appears to be an alien born into human form in the deep South during the segregation era who grows up and then travels the world cataloging our shortcomings. When he has seen enough he returns to the small Southern town that birthed him to submit the final report upon which humanity’s fate will hinge.

Outcome–Human civilization being unknowingly assessed by a higher intelligence goes about well as one would suspect. An excellent Will Geer, as the doctor who delivered Poitier’s character decades earlier is one of the few who begins to grasp what is transpiring. The aging, turned misanthrope by time Geer, giddy at first that his dull deeply flawed fellow humans may finally be getting what they deserve back pedals quickly once the reality of what humanity has coming its way sinks in.

In his last minute pleading with Poitier he notes the aliens, by choosing as their vessel for assessment of human civilization a black man who would grow up in the segregated US South, “didn’t give us much of a chance”. In his final assessment Poitier acknowledges Geer’s plea regarding the “good” in us but chillingly counters it’s not enough. “I have seen…people. Swarming all over the world…like maggots on a rotten apple, getting ready to leap off the earth. First to the moon, and then to the stars”. Ouch!

Lessons–Beings with higher intelligence can be harsh. Even those of us that know we’ve got it coming get weak in the knees when the day arrives. Looking at ourselves objectively, blowing us all up might seem a reasonable option.

Mars Attacks (1996)

Aliens–Hostile (exceptionally) but in a fun way.

Contact Management–Standard encircle with the army seek to communicate Day the Earth Stood Still set piece. Usual human bumbling, self serving scheming and well-intentioned missteps leads to wide scale slaughter and laughter.

Outcome–We win through dumb luck.  Aliens ultimately get their comeuppance for entering our–not for cream-puffs–audiosphere when the yodeling styles of our very own Otis Dewey Whitman, Slim to his friends, bring them low. “Ack Ack!”

Lessons–Aliens can be as ridiculous as we are but pretty good back up singers and strangely alluring femme fatales. Sixties icons Tom Jones and Jim Brown can always be counted upon in a crisis. “Ack! Ack!”


Contact (1997)

Alien Assessment–Like indulgent and slightly disappointed parents of sadly not up to snuff offspring.

Contact Management–Basic human “what’s in it for me” woeful scheming, careerism and finagling. But thanks to a handful of earnest scientists we pull it all together in time to decipher 60,000 pages of alien blue prints to build the Book of Ezekiel inspired “wheels within wheels” machine that might be our stepping stone to the stars.

Outcome–Our woeful flaws as a species once more costs us an invite to the gatherings of the intergalactic cool kids. Once again, we’re not “ready”. Downer. On the plus side, they’re not going to wipe us out.

Lessons–If we get our act together and do not blow ourselves up some really cool stuff might happen. Billion year old alien philosophy sounds a lot like something you’d see on a Hallmark Card. “The only thing that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.” Really? Anybody want to be stuck sitting beside this guy on a journey to another galaxy?

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Alien Assessment–Friendly, if a little patronizing.

Contact Management–The grand daddy of deep thought, well researched first contact films posits a top secret multinational body run by well meaning scientists in conjunction with cooperative militaries that coordinates and manages inquiries into mysterious UAP style phenomena occurring around the world. Elaborate misinformation campaigns are conducted to mislead the public as to the momentous meet up about to take place. However, the mysterious aliens have their own invitation list and members of the great unwashed crash the Devil’s Tower, Wyoming welcoming party.

Outcome–Heartwarming wonder for those in the know, bubbly optimism for the initiated, disinformation for an assessed as unready to face the truth general public. Humans have taken the first tentative steps to joining a peaceful welcoming intergalactic community and it sure beats staying home with the kids. Befitting the first deep thought heavily researched alien encounter film, allegedly even benefiting from leaked information provided by government experts, the issue of “time” as Einstein saw it and the potential to travel through it, while only half whispered at the end of the film, hangs almost imperceptibly over the whole. Arrival (2016) would then take that thought almost 40 years later take a wrong turn and disappear up its own butt.

Lesson–Humans will definitely be allocated to the short bus in any conglomeration of space faring species. Sure, there was a friendly smile but once they fly off don’t expect a text the next day. Upside? They are basically grabbing a few samples and are on their way. Downside? Post contact depression. Not an alien eats alien universe. Rather, alien doesn’t take other alien’s calls. They’re just not that in to us and that’s probably good.

Then there’s that “time” thing.

Scientist: “They haven’t even aged. Einstein was right.”

Team Lead: “Einstein was probably one of them.”

And there it is. The answer to everything. These U.F.Os, or U.A.P.s, have nothing to do with galaxy-faring extraterrestrials. The most logical explanation for these phenomena and the highest probability outcome is time travel. These objects are not being operated by “aliens” but rather our future selves. Hence the “shyness”, occasional crashes and our otherwise inexplicable alleged ability to re-engineer some of the recovered technology. The late Stephen Hawking once stated, “the best evidence we have that time travel [into the past] is not possible, and never will be, is that we have not been invaded by hordes of tourists from the future.”

By the way, has there ever been a trippier re- engineering of “alien” technology leak than “the set” of Irwin Alien’s Time Tunnel? I mean. What did you think they were guarding out there “buried deep in the American desert”? Dead aliens and intergalactic spaceships?

Come to think of it maybe this whole list should have been more Time Cop/Terminator, less E.T..

We’ll all know the truth on June 25. Or will we?

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Samuel Porteous

Samuel Porteous is a Shanghai/Hong Kong-based artist/author and founder of Drowsy Emperor Studio represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA). His work includes visual arts, illustration, graphic novels, screenwriting and film. Sam has published in the WSJ, Financial Times, SCMP, Fortune China, the Globe and Mail, National Post and Hong Kong Standard among others. He is also the author of "Ching Ling Foo: America's First Chinese Superstar" a biography of the late polymath magician come diplomat and author/illustrator of the graphic novel series Constable Khang's Mysteries of Old Shanghai.

4 thoughts on “The Truth is Up There

  • June 15, 2021 at 8:19 am

    Nice article. Denis Villeneuve is hardly my favorite director, but Arrival is not the worst example of the genre. A little surprised not to see it here.

  • June 16, 2021 at 12:43 pm

    This is a great read! Thanks for the smiles and intelligent insights.

  • June 21, 2021 at 10:17 am

    Thanks for bringing Brother John to my attention, Sam, and for reminding me that the truth is out there.

  • June 21, 2021 at 6:33 pm

    Amazing article Sam!!


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