Sunday, June 19, 2011

In admiration of the scientific mind

I wanted a break from my weekend routine of flat hunting. So I watched Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Earth: 1, Flying Saucers: 0 - if anyone wants to know the final score). Unfortunately the film turned out to be a little too awful* for a place in my list of "counterpoint to 2001: A Space Odyssey" films, but it did have this one extraordinary scene.

A scientist and his wife/secretary are driving down a desert highway toward their top-secret rocket-launching facility. On the way, the scientist is recording memos on... is it a stenograph machine? (He speaks into it, apparently expecting it to record his speech.) Just then a flying saucer pops up behind their car - very much like the helicopter tailing Jamie Lee Curtis and her boyfriend in True Lies.

But unlike that helicopter, the saucer lurches forward like a drunk, three-legged dog making for his food bowl. Having passed the car, it then screeches to a halt, and executes the most shambolic reverse I've ever seen, lurching and wobbling and nearly taking the roof of the car with it. It then rises up vertically, does a booty shake, and accelerates away in a manner reminiscent not so much of the USS Enterprise engaging its warp drive, as much as Woody Allen accidentally engaging forward instead of reverse in Annie Hall.

All this leaves the newly wedded couple understandably flustered, particularly as the movie has just started and flying saucers haven't yet become anywhere near as omnipresent as from a little later on. So it's a while before they can manage conversation. Which, when it does appear, goes like this,

Wife: Russ, it was a saucer. A flying saucer?
Russ: Well, we saw what appeared to be a flying saucer. That's all we can say.
Wife: We saw it. We heard it. Both of us. What more do we need to know?
Russ: Well, we have to have time to think... to evaluate this... before we sound off.
Wife: Let me have a light. :after a light: Of course, it wasn't a saucer at all. I just shake like this all the time.
Russ: :sigh:

Later, while playing back the tape,

Wife: Russ, the saucer sound. It's on the tape! You forgot to turn it off! I remember now. I turned it off afterwards!
Russ: :grudgingly: Well, that's one piece of concrete evidence.

Isn't that just magnificent? He manages to keep this rationalism through most of the movie, slipping into empiricism (and a little smugness) only very briefly, and that too only when having to convince someone in a hurry, "Both Carol and I are subject to the same atmospheric disturbances (???!!!) that may have affected other observers, but there is a qualitative difference, when you're a scientist."


*It seems to have been quite influential, though, and the likes of Independence Day and Mars Attacks! have extensive references to it. Not to forget lines like "When an armed and threatening power lands uninvited in our capitol, we don't meet him with tea and cookies."

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