Los Angeles Times
October 20, 1975
BY DICK ADLER
Times Staff Writer
| Despite recent headlines from Oregon, many respectable and serious people still believe there is plenty of evidence to support the existence of flying saucers. "The UFO In-cident," tonight's NBC made-for-television movie (Channel 4,9 p.m.), dramatizes beautifully one of the most convincing cases in the literature of the field, and manages to be a deeply moving love story at the same time.
A great deal of the film's success is due to the excellent work done by James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons as Barney and Betty Hill, the New Hampshire couple whose strange adventures inspired John G. Fuller's book. The Interrupted Journey." On a trip back from Canada in 1961 the Hills saw what seemed to be a flying saucer and pulled off the road to watch it land. When they returned home they were shaken to discover that it was several hours later than it should be: there was a sizable gap in their memory of the trip.
For a variety of reasons, including the fact that Barney was a black man married to a white woman, the Hills de-cided not to tell anyone what had happened. Only when extreme physical and mental discomfort (ulcers and anx-iety for Barney, recurring nightmares for his wife) led them to seek the help of eminent Boston psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon did the full story emerge. Under deep hypnosis the Hills separately and reluctantly told Dr. Simon almost identical stories about being taken on board the flying saucer and undergoing physical examination by its humanoid occupants.
The tapes of those sessions provided the basis for Fuller's book and the fine screenplay that S. Lee Pogostin
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and Hesper Anderson have fashioned from it. By concentrating on the relationship between Betty and Barney and the obvious stress this incident placed on their marriage, the writers—and director Richard Colla—have given Jones and Parsons plenty of room in which to create two completely believable human beings in an incredible sit-uation.
Jones is an actor of immense power, and range, and he uses both here to indicate how a man like Barney Hill ("I was brought up to be careful," he says at one point) would suffer almost any torture rather than subject himself to public ridicule. "I've got to get out of here!" he screams under hypnosis, and we cant help but share his fear. At the same time, in his private scenes with his wife. Jones also supplies the warmth and humor that helped keep the Hills from cracking under the strain.
Estelle Parsons is equally successful in showing us a woman whose own fear of the unknown allowed her to give in to her husband's desire to keep the incident under wraps. And Barnard Hughes is solid and touching as Dr. Simon, the psychiatrist who at first thought he was treating a unique case of double amnesia and only later realized it was something even harder to understand.
Physicist Now Lectures
Stanton T. Friedman, a nuclear physicist with a strong background in space science, is now a full-time lecturer and investigator in the field of UFOs: he served as a technical consultant on tonight's film. "When I first heard about the case," he recalls. "I put it into my 'gray' basket because of insufficient evidence.
Then I met the Hills in 1968 and began to be convinced. The case now rates very high in believability for me because the data were brought out by people like Dr. Simon who were not involved in UFOs at all, and because it was done privately and without the glare of publicity. But what really clinched it for me was the work done by an Ohio schoolteacher and amateur astronomer named Marjorie Fish, who showed in 1969 that the map drawn by Betty Hill under hypnosis in 1964 could well be a three-dimensional diagram of twin stars known as Zeta Reticuli."
When Betty's map, a copy of one she said she was shown in the saucer, was first examined by astronomers it bore no resemblance to any known star systems. But recent discoveries of stars that were invisible to us in 1964 led Fish to speculate as to whether or not Betty's drawing might be a view of some distant galaxy as seen not from earth but from a point in space. Using these new data, a computer came up with a map of the Zeta Reticuli system —faint stars 220 trillion miles away—which astronomers agree matches Mrs. Hill's precisely.
"Even if Betty had seen a map somewhere and memorized it, there wasnt enough information available in 1964 to make her drawing so exact." Friedman says. He also points out that another detail Mrs. Hill revealed under hypnosis—a large needle injected into her navel—was dismissed as unscientific at the time, but has since become a recognized method of monitoring a pregnancy. Joking and Serious
As a lecturer Friedman specializes in coming up with serious as well as joking answers to the questions most of us have about UFOs: Why don't the aliens communicate with us? ("Do you talk to the fish when you go for a swim?") Why so many visits? ("Do all space travelers have to be adventurous astronauts or spectacular Lindberghs? How about thinking in terms of passengers on a 747?") Why do they come? (His possible reasons include "graduate students doing research, travel agents checking out new locations, to obtain data for the Federation Intelligence Agency, advance men for space missionaries.'')
Friedman, of course, hopes "The UFO Incident" will win converts to the cause. There's a built-in resistance to the subject at the networks," he claims. "When NBC did its UFO documentary last December many people there wanted to kill it—even though it wound up with a very high rating. If this film does as well, maybe it will persuade the government that it's time to open its secret file and tell us all it knows about UFOs. And it might also bring out people who have had similar experiences but who have been afraid to talk about them."
Whatever your own feelings and convictions about flying saucers. "The UFO Incident" is a remarkable film on many levels. As James Earl Jones says, "When I heard those tapes I was convinced that something unearthly had really happened." He acquired the rights to the story and tried for a long time to turn the project into a feature film, with no success. The subject of UFOs has been so up and down that no studio wanted to risk it," he says. "But once I turned it over to television it was easy going. Dick Colla found a perfect way to do it that kept it from falling into the science fiction or horror movie area."
Tension. Growing Fear
Colla, who also produced the film with Joe L. Cramer, has created a mood of tension and growing fear by avoiding most of the cliches: we dont even see the humanoids (aside from an early brief, heart-stopping view of a hand) until the movie is more than half over.
What he and his writers concentrate on is the way the story came out: We sweat with Barney when he screams under hypnosis, "I want to wake up!" and feel all his repressed fear pouring back into him. And we understand and sympathize when Betty tries desperately to fall asleep rather than go on with the session. Equally shared is their tremendous feeling of relief when they begin to unburden themselves, as well as a vivid awareness of their deep love for each other.
Not many movies of recent memory have managed to pull off this kind of emotional depth. Dont let the admitted strangeness of its ingredients put you off.