I received some bad news yesterday. One of the country’s top literary agents had asked to read my mound builder manuscript, but told me that he couldn’t possibly sell it to publishers because no mainstream publisher would take on a book with a topic like that. Now, I know this is not true since Doubleday is publishing The Secret Token by Andrew Lawler in a few weeks, and that book is an almost mirror image of my own, except on the topic of Roanoke instead of mounds. Though now that I think about it, Lawler does offer some words condemning mainstream historians, so perhaps that is my problem. I am relating history rather than attacking it. Whatever the problem, it is depressing to be told time and again how much educated people love my writing but that it can never be published because the public would never buy it. I haven’t decided what to do with the book. It seems like a waste to let it sit unread, but it is also rather pointless to give it to some small press where it will never be seen.
Today, though, I’d like to talk about Robbie Graham’s new article at Mysterious Universe examining a forgotten B-movie from 1980 called Hangar 18. The movie Is a dramatization of a UFO conspiracy theory. In the film, astronauts aboard the space shuttle collide with an unidentified object, which the U.S. government later recovers. The object is a space ship in which dead human-like aliens are found, along with inscriptions in ancient alphabets used on Earth. The conclusion is that ancient aliens founded Earth’s civilizations and were worshiped as gods, and, once the inscriptions are translated, the movie’s scientists learn that they plan to return. They try to destroy all the evidence by blowing up the ship and all witnesses, but the ship turns out to be indestructible. Witnesses hiding in the ship then go public with the news.
The movie was one of the first featured on Mystery Science Theater, in 1989, during the its KTMA run.
Graham thinks this movie is really important, even though it self-evidently is not. He sees it as important because 1980 was the same year that Charles Berlitz (yes, him again) published the first popular account of the so-called Roswell Incident, and it was the year of the MJ-12 hoax. Graham believes that this is not entirely a coincidence, and he imagines that the movie presaged events in which Ancient Aliens pundit Linda Moulton Howe allegedly participated:
Hangar 18’s depiction of human-looking extraterrestrials is particularly interesting, as is the idea that these beings jumpstarted the human race—these very same details were to appear three years later in a “secret” Air Force report shown to UFO writer and journalist Linda Moulton Howe as part of her preparation for a documentary on UFOs. […] Most shocking to Howe was a paragraph that said the extraterrestrials had manipulated DNA in an evolving primate species to create Homo sapiens. Elsewhere in the document it was noted that the ETs had created a being on Earth whose purpose was to teach humans about love and non-violence.
That person was, of course, Jesus.
Graham actually provides the correct solution to the problem in his article but chooses to ignore it. The production company behind Hangar 18 was Sunn Classic Pictures, which is the same company that produced Alan Landsburg’s and Rod Serling’s string of UFO documentaries in the 1970s that were inspired by Chariots of the Gods, including In Search of Ancient Astronauts and The Outer Space Connection. Hangar 18 was nothing but a dramatization of these films, drawing on their material and recasting it in fictitious form. While Sunn Classic was not the producer of the Golden Globe-nominated 1974 Serling film UFOs: Past, Present and Future, the plot of Hangar 18 is basically cribbed from that one, with added background from Sunn’s back catalog. The film had been released in 1979 and seems to be the motivating factor for Hangar 18.
Graham speculates that the movie was actually a propaganda effort by the Mormon church to indoctrinate audiences into the Mormon belief in space aliens from the planet Kolob. Sunn Classic was founded in Utah and run by Mormons, and much of its output involved Biblical material, but this is an odd claim because Mormons have never emphasized space aliens as a key element of their faith, and the ancient astronaut theory’s attribution of New World antiquities to aliens directly contradicts the Book of Mormon’s claims that the Jews built them. Nevertheless, Graham writes:
The key question relating to Sunn Classic Pictures (and one that, for now, remains unanswered) is this: was the studio’s alien-themed output simply a reflection of Mormon ideals and beliefs held by the studio’s core writers/producers/directors (as well as an attempt on their part to cash in on the ever-popular subject of UFOs), or, was it a more lofty strategy on the part of Mormon Church itself to subtly educate the public about an aspect of the Mormon faith which, in the century of the UFO, was becoming both increasingly taboo and increasingly relevant (i.e. life on other planets and its possible links to humanity)?
I’m going to say no. The first alien documentary they released, In Search of Ancient Astronauts was not even their own. It was a recut version of a European documentary based on Chariots of the Gods to which Sunn had happened to have the rights because it distributed the European version in America in 1970. The subsequent films in Serling’s and Landsburg’s series were similarly adapted from ancient astronaut literature. Serling was Jewish, and the films that were released under Sunn Classic’s banner were actually produced by Landsburg’s Alan Landbsburg Productions.
The only conspiracy involved was the conspiracy to make money exploiting the Chariots of the Gods craze in every way possible. Hangar 18 was a little Close Encounters, a dash of Capricorn One, and a steaming pile of 1970s ancient astronaut documentaries. I don’t think we need to layer on a Mormon conspiracy to explain that.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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