NOTE: This post first appeared in the Roswell Daily Record. I wrote it for them to honor their annual UFO Festival, which took place June 30-July 1. The famous Roswell UFO incident happened in July, 1947.
When thinking about the famous Roswell incident of 1947, one of the first things which comes to my mind are the wonderful old black-and-white science fiction movies of the 1950’s, with their whirling ‘flying saucers’ and exciting plots. When I grew up the local TV stations would show those movies as their Saturday midnight features and my father and I would make popcorn and watch them. He was a huge science fiction fan and so was I. Those early movies really imprinted themselves on me and influenced the kinds of stories I was going to write, including nowadays.
There were many fun and exciting movies made in that time frame, including “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. The film makers used the best available special effects at the time and stretched the viewer’s imagination with tales of life beyond Earth and the adventures which could be had out there. Or here when the invaders arrived. “Forbidden Planet” in 1956 even turned the flying saucer trope on its head and had the humans exploring space in such a craft, which I remember delighted me no end as a kid.
But my absolute favorite movie of the time and to this day remains “The Thing from Another World”, which was adapted from a John Campbell short story and kind of became another story altogether. Later film makers would remake the movie and come closer to the original source material but with a lot more gore. There’s a place for all of the movies (and especially for anything with Kurt Russell as the star) but nothing topples “The Thing from Another World” from its place atop my personal best list for old scifi. Ironically the flying saucer is never actually shown in the movie – the expedition to find it traces the rough outline in the snow and we get that moment of shock along with the characters as we all realize what lies under the ice. A fin does poke out above the surface but (spoiler alert) the hidden craft is soon destroyed by a hasty application of thermite.
This movie goes on to unspool with all my favorite tropes – the isolated group of humans menaced by an alien threat, in a hostile environment, the brave military officer leading the effort to save the world by saving this tiny collection of people and the smart female main character who is actually the one producing major insights about how to fight effectively. ”What do you do with a vegetable?” she asks after it becomes clear their implacable enemy is indeed not a species like our own. (Edited to add: someone else asks the question but she has the answers!) Now I will admit that the monster himself isn’t too compelling, despite being awesomely portrayed by James Arness, but hey, it was 1951 and there was no computer generated imagery. There were barely any computers.
I love the crisp dialog in the movie, with people speaking over each other the way real people do all the time. I liked the close camaraderie and teamwork on the part of the small military team stranded with the scientists at the North Pole. I enjoy the romance, which has its mildly kinky moment (for 1951) but also gallantry and caring on the part of the main male character and the viewer can tell there will be a Happy Ever After ending for this couple.
I have a feeling this movie imprinted me with those tropes because I found viewing it so satisfying. My other favorite scifi movie is “Aliens”, which if one examines the plot, bears a lot of similarity to “The Thing from Another World”. Hostile environment, small group of people menaced and fighting back, strong woman (hello Ripley), strong military man (I sigh over Cpl. Hicks but Kenneth Tobey’s Captain Hendry was a hot hunk for his day), non-human aliens with whom one cannot conduct negotiations…
My elevator speech for my own brand of scifi romance novels is “Like ‘Aliens’ but with less gore and a whole lot more romance” and that’s what I try to write for the most part. It’s a plot setup that pleases me on many levels, including the romance between the two main characters which develops and strengthens as they battle the enemy and the elements together. I relish bringing each book to a successful conclusion. Wreck of the Nebula Dream and Escape from Zulaire are two from my backlist which exemplify this, I think.
The 1951 movie ends with the intrepid reporter character admonishing us all to “watch the skies” and I think Roswell and its history with unusual flying craft, rumors of aliens and other mysteries carries on the important legacy, particularly in a time when reports of unidentified flying objects or unexplained aerial phenomena as they’re now known have picked up in volume and frequency again. Watch the skies, Roswell, keep the rest of us safe and enjoy the party.