Tag Archives: Aliens

A Pedant Watches Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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Warning! Spoilers ahead.

On my podcast, Dimland Radio (available on iTunes & Podbean) I do a semi-regular segment I call the Dimland Radio Pedantic Moment. It’s a moment in which I’ll get all pedantic on some usually minor thing I’ve noticed. For example, in one of those life insurance TV ads Alex Trebek does he mentions the three P’s of life insurance offered by a particular company. They are Price, Price, and Price. A Price you can afford, a Price that cannot change, and a Price that fits your budget.

Um, Alex? A price that fits my budget is a price I can afford. So, it’s really only two P’s then, isn’t it?

See? Like that.

Sometimes my pedantic moments are rather lengthy. On last week’s show my moment was a long one. It covered much of what I didn’t understand about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A listener to my podcast attempted to assist me in getting past my pedantry, but some of it is still mystifying to me. I thought I’d go over the problems I have with the film here, as well.

Don’t get me wrong! I really like the movie. It’s just that…

The plot.

A super-advanced, extraterrestrial species, which had been visiting our planet and kidnapping our people for decades (unless you believe they built the Egyptian pyramids – they didn’t, humans did – then they’ve been coming here for thousands of years), had decided to make themselves known by driving average people crazy by implanting an image of Devil’s Tower in their minds without any explanation as to why. The people are just compelled to figure it out and go there.

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“Huh. Where have I seen that before?”

The aliens are kinda jerks.

They also steal a four year old boy right from his terrified mother’s arms. Because they needed just one more human, I guess.

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“It’s OK, lady. We’re just going to do a few experiments on him.”

No, the aliens aren’t kinda jerks. They are complete ——–!

(I prefer not to swear on this blog, but you know what I mean.)

They have also been leaving clues for the government to come meet them at Devil’s Tower. The government scares off the locals and builds a base which includes a landing strip, for some reason, and wait for our interplanetary neighbors to show up.

The pedantry.

Something the government people picked up on is a series of five musical notes coming from the spacemen that they think means something. They think it is important. This is where I get a little lost. There’s a meeting of the government people in Carnegie Hall or some similar facility, in which the head man demonstrates some hand signals matched up with the music. The hand signals come from a method of teaching music developed by a fellow named Zoltan Kodaly.

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“It’s been my life-long dream to play a reel-to-reel tape machine to a live audience.”

This is received with thunderous applause from the government people in attendance. It was met by me with a confused, “Huh?”

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“Hot crowd! Hot crowd!”

So, at the end of the movie, the alien mothership shows up and the humans and ET have a musical conversation. But, how do we earthlings know what to say in response to whatever it is that the little grey men are saying? Sure, some fellow says the aliens are teaching us a basic tonal language, whatever that means. Another says it’s the first day of school, but how do we know what the tones mean? How do we know what to play back?

On my first day of school, if my teacher had asked me to spell cat without first teaching me the alphabet, it would be pretty futile, wouldn’t it? If the aliens are trying to communicate with us using musical notes, we would need to know what the notes represent first, wouldn’t we? And yet the government men somehow know how to respond. One of them tells the musician what to play; at first, eventually a computer takes over. The musician is the only one who seems to understand my confusion. He even asks, “What are we saying to each other?”

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The musician (in the middle) is thinking to himself, “Well, at least it’s a payin’ gig.”

Remember Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home in which a massive space probe is destroying the earth trying to talk to extinct humpback whales? It was the Enterprise crew that figured that out, so Admiral Kirk suggests that they respond by reproducing humpback whale sounds. Mr. Spock correctly points out that though they could make the sounds, they don’t know the language. “We would be responding in gibberish.”

Isn’t that what the humans were doing in that scene in Close Encounters?

My pedantic moment continued with my discussion of the return of the hostages these heartless aliens had been picking up on their numerous visits. Out of the mothership pile several confused people, some of whom had been gone for decades. Just how thrilled will they be to learn their loved ones had moved on or even died. “Thanks a lot, alien buddy old pal.”

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“Welcome back. You’re wife has remarried and she’s in her 60s.”

They could comfort themselves by saying, “Well, at least, I haven’t aged.” Because the aliens must have been traveling at light speed the entire time they had held these people captive. And this led to a remark made by one of the government men when another said that Einstein was right about the whole the relativity thing and aging. The remark was, “Einstein was probably one of them.” Them being the aliens.

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“Don’t look now, but isn’t that Ash from Aliens standing behind us?”

When I was a kid I thought that line was profound. Now I find it incredibly irksome. The suggestion that the human species can’t produce someone as intelligent as Einstein is profoundly insulting. Much the same way believing the ancient Egyptians weren’t capable of building the pyramids is profoundly insulting.

And here’s the pedantic thing: The government people were expecting these hostages to be returned. They had a checklist of names and a big board of photographs. How did they know? We hadn’t even learned to communicate yet! Remember? It’s the first day of school!

And just how do we know these people weren’t replicants as in Blade Runner or pod people as in The Invasion of the Body-Snatchers? They could have be sent here to take over the world! Look, the aliens have shown they don’t care about the loved ones left behind when they take prisoners. They pulled cute, innocent, trusting, little Barry right out of his mother’s arms. They didn’t give a damn.

I don’t trust them.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it. It’s still a great movie.

Packing Peanuts!

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A Pedant Watches An Episode Of Star Trek: TNG

I’m a little bit of a pedant. Ask some of my friends and they’ll say I’m a lot of a pedant. Ask my wife and she’ll go all dead in the eyes and quietly groan.

It’s something I’ve been since I was a child and I have been doing my best to keep it under control. Well, the other night I was re-watching some Star Trek: The Next Generation (the finest of all the Star Treks) and an episode from season four, Clues, had me getting a bit or a lot pedantic, depends on if you ask me or my friends. Please, just don’t ask my wife.

Before I go any further, I will warn you that there are spoilers ahead. I’m going to pretty much describe the entire show, so if you haven’t seen it… Well, I warned you.

The episode Clues starts off as most Star Trek: TNG episodes do with the Enterprise gliding along through space. Captain Picard (the greatest of all the Star Trek captains) is informed that a fairly boring, previously uncharted star has been detected by the ship’s sensors. What brings that fairly boring star to the Enterprise’s attention is the M-Class (Earth-like in Star Trek speak) planet orbiting it. That piques Picard’s interest and they alter course to investigate.

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The entire crew, except Commander Data (seated at bottom), rendered unconscious.

When the Enterprise begins to approach that fairly boring star, but isn’t quite in visual range of the planet, a wormhole suddenly appears and swallows the ship. Everyone on board is knocked out except Commander Data, who is an android and therefor immune to the effects of the wormhole. The bridge crew revives and Data explains that an extremely unstable wormhole had sent the Enterprise some distance from where they were and everyone, except him, was knocked out in the process. Knocked out for a mere 30 seconds.

The decision is made to not go back to investigate the M-Class planet, but instead to send a probe to gather information. The information from the probe shows that the sensors were wrong and the planet wasn’t M-Class, after all. It seems odd, but Data gives a plausible explanation and  no one thinks anymore of it.

Until…

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24 hours of growth in 30 seconds?

The ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Crusher, brings a space moss growing experiment she had set up, just before the wormhole encounter, to Captain Picard and she asks him if they were only out for 30 seconds, why does her experiment show 24 hours of growth? This is the first clue that something is amiss. I won’t go into all the clues, but they begin to add up and it becomes obvious that Data isn’t being truthful about the wormhole and the 30 seconds. When questioned Data repeatedly responds that he cannot answer the questions, but he does indicate the crew might be in danger if he were to reveal what he appears to be hiding.

The decision is made to return to the scene of the crime. It may be dangerous, but the mystery must be solved if they are to ever trust Data again. When they arrive they find the M-Class planet the sensors had originally spotted. They are also confronted by a mass of green mist that sends out a little puff that hits up against the ship’s defensive shields and dissipates. However, a tiny amount had gotten through, undetected, and enters the body of a sleeping Counselor Troi. The mist takes possession of her body and she goes to Data’s quarters.

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A possessed Counselor Troi entering the Enterprise bridge.

We know she is possessed by some alien life form due to her demeanor and her voice. The alien tells Data that the plan didn’t work and that the ship had returned. The android pleads with the alien do nothing and he promises to attempt to fix the situation. The alien compiles as Data is called to the bridge for a final showdown with Captain Picard. Realizing the jig is up, Data informs the crew that he was under Picard’s orders not to tell what had really happened during the wormhole incident.

He explains that the alien possessing Troi is part of a species of xenophobes who are determined to stay isolated. They have the ability to affect the minds of other intelligent species. The aliens knock out any intruding species and then moves them to another part of space, making it appear as though a wormhole was responsible. Usually the hapless travelers figure themselves lucky and move on, but Data screwed that up. He remained conscious and revived the crew, so they became aware of the aliens.

Instead of destroying the Enterprise, as was the aliens’ first choice, Picard talked them into arranging it so that it appears to the crew the whole scenario plays out the same way as with other interlopers. But, since Data will still know, Picard would order Data to never reveal what really happened at the wormhole. The aliens agree and they do their magic, which takes 24 hours.

The problem is too many clues were left behind and humans just can’t resist a mystery. So, they came back. Picard convinces the aliens to give his crew a second chance. He told them to consider the first attempt a rehearsal “to shake out the flaws.” This time they would make certain to leave no clues behind. The aliens agree.

The crew once again regains consciousness as they did after the original wormhole encounter. The first encounter and clue-finding aftermath have been completely erased from their memories, the clues have been removed, and the ship’s clocks have all been set to show a mere 30 seconds of unconsciousness had been experienced by all. Again, they decide not to go back. Again, they send a probe, but this time they also set up a warning beacon to advise other ships to stay away. And, again, Data remains the only crew member to know the truth and, since he is an android, he will keep the secret forever.

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“I know something they don’t know.”

The episode ends.

Pretty good, but the pedant in me surfaced. The first go-round took 24 hours to set up. Then there was the time of finding clues and returning to the planet, which for simplicity I’ll say took 24 hours. And the final attempt to remove all clues and do the wormhole trick again, I’ll say took yet another 24 hours. That’s 72 hours that have gone by in what the crew and the ship’s clocks think was 30 seconds.

Well, that’ll work fine until the Enterprise meets up with another ship, puts into space dock, or sends a report to Star Fleet. At some point, they will notice they are three days behind and will likely trace it back to the wormhole incident and back they’ll go. This time the aliens will say, “That’s it! Three strikes, you’re out!” And destroy the ship.

What is a pedant to do?

Worry not. I was able to figure out a way around the 72 hours. If the first encounter happened on a Tuesday, the aliens would have to make it appear to have happened on a Friday. There would have to be memories implanted so the crew thinks they did stuff during those three days. They would, also, have to make it look as though three days of work had been done. And there would have to be three days of log entries by the captain and the crew. As long as someone thought of these tasks, the crew and the aliens would have been able to work them out.

There’s still one thing, though.

When the alien possessed Counselor Troi she was in bed and was wearing a nightgown, but when she shows up at Data’s quarters she is in her uniform. Why would the alien care enough to have her change clothes?

I might never be able to work that one out.

Packing Peanuts!

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