Review and Summary
1980 was a great year. I started high school, the Space Shuttle was finally close to being set to launch on its first mission, and Hangar 18 came out and helped further prompt the UFO mystery and phenomena. Add to it Darren McGavin as Harry Forbes, NASA Flight Director and its adds in the whole “Night Stalker” atmosphere.
Hangar 18 was produced by Sunn Classic Pictures, who was known as a leader in documentary films. While the Hangar 18 is purely a SciFi movie, their advertising approach suggested that the movie would “reveal the truth” about aliens and UFO’s, Great effort for the time.
Long story short, basically we have a routine NASA Shuttle Mission to deploy a satellite. Unfortunately those aliens who don’t exist get in the way and it leads to a collision, and no insurance is not going to cover it. As a result, we see plenty of data between the ground and the shuttle that something happened, no hiding it now. The crew also loses a member who went EVA to fix the satellite prior to launch. One could say he loses his head over it.
NASA brings the shuttle home, and the alien ship goes in for a crash landing. Luckily for them it hits in Arizona, close enough to the Lunar Receiving Lab that NASA has just for such events in Texas, Hangar 18. The landing is witnessed by a civilian, but luckily he is convinced that he did not see anything and gets a job out of state. In the meantime, the military is able to come in and move the UFO from Arizona to Texas real quietly.
After the shuttle lands, Bancroft (Gary Collins) and Price (James Hampton), the 2 surviving astronauts, are promptly hustled off and debriefed with no hoopla evident. However, the next morning, low and behold, they are suddenly the focus of an incompetence charge from a leaked source for the death of their crewmate.
Just so happens that its election time and the Presidents man does not want to see this incident or the fact that Aliens are real cause any problems. So their solution? You guessed it, blame the 2 surviving astronauts for the death to get attention away from what really happened. Awesome idea! Yeah just as good an idea as Lucy and Ethel on the chocolate candy conveyor belt. Nothing possibly is going to go wrong with that.
So now we are all setup with our 2 trains on the same track heading towards each other for the crash on the bridge aka Gomez Adams Style!!
Harry Forbes (Darren McGavin) and a select group of scientist and doctors are taken to Hangar 18 and begin their investigation of the alien craft. Now one would think that for an alien culture to achieve travel from such distances that they would have also made their craft secure. Not in the least as the “primitives” are able to easily gain access. Waking around in the craft they discover a lot of what looks like left over’s from Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Voyage to The Bottom of the Sea… Damn this may suggest that Irwin Allen was actually an Alien and had used his foreknowledge for all his shows.
No matter that, I do think that the design of the ships rooms, controls, and atmosphere are fairly well done. Consistency is maintained in the designs throughout. Finally they make it to the ships bridge and discover the 2 pilots are dead, pleasantly dead as they are wide eyed and smiling, no evidence of who, or how the ship was landed. But best guess is an autopilot of some kind.
Things start to speed up here some. They discover all kinds of “samples” on the ship as well, including a young blond. Forbes also finds a set of broken vials that seem to be suspicious. Further testing finds that they contained chemicals that when mixed together created a poisonous gas.
So it’s all coming together now, the ship gets hit by the satellite, the vials break, the crew dies of the poison, the ship auto pilots down, and we simple apes can easily open up and gain access to the ship, therefore, yes perfectly logical that they would be stupid enough to leave such hazardous material like that in the open.
With the crewmen taken off the ship, autopsies are performed. Also the linguist who is part of the science team moves in on the ship to start studying all the displays and other artifacts found. I do give them credit here as the language and use of glyphs is pretty cool and consistent. Only thing is that you get another Jeff Goldbloom super computer able to decipher an alien language moment here that is reminiscent of Independence Day (1996). No that’s not too bad for 1984 considering the current level of computers at that time. The dot matrix printer and continuous printouts also brought me a touch of nostalgia for the old days.
Meanwhile, Bancroft and Price are following the trail of the missing data that would exonerate them. They find that all the data at the primary NASA facilities have been tampered with. They obtain data from a backup station that leads them to the crash site. There they find a chunk of strange glass as well as a couple of CIA goons trying to stop them. This leads to a car chase and an escape. Mild by today’s standards.
They proceed to take the sample to a professor who tells them it was created by exposure to intense heat that is not of this earth. From this they deduce that if there was a ship, where the government would take it to check it out. Hangar 18 fits the bill. So off they set for it. Once they get close we get another chase with the CIA goons, and Price gets his hero sidekick moment. He takes out the goon’s car, but not before he is shot. His dying words to Bancroft are to go on and find it. And off he goes.
Back to Hangar 18, and there have been some developments from the research and the autopsies. Turns out the aliens and humans share the same physiology, but in some cases they have developed organs that in humans are not used, but they seem to use them. From the computer deciphering, they find that the aliens have been here before. In fact they were here so long ago that primitive man saw them as gods. God’s that also say fit to have some fun with the local women. Therefore we can attribute the changes in man’s development to their offspring.
It’s about at this time that Forbes and group find out about all the trouble for Price and Bancroft. Forbes delivers the ultimatum to Washington, if Bancroft isn’t found and brought there safe, he and the team are going public with the UFO and the information.
Great thought, but probably not the best when the head of the CIA is part of this, and also has political aspirations. Immediately they hatch a plan to completely cover everything and get rid of the evidence. Their solution, small plane accident that wipes out the whole hangar.
Well without anyone’s help Bancroft makes it onto the base, hooks up with Forbes and is brought up to speed. It’s about this time that they discover a video with narration and text that seems to be of a number of important locations around the globe. Once again the uber computer begins to decipher the text, and time is running out.
In a competition of what happens first, the uber computer finishes the translation or the explosive laden plane makes the hangar go boom.
So starts the final act. The computer has finished its work. Turns out the aliens have been scouting around and collecting samples, data, and other information because they are coming back to collect on all the evolutionary benefits that have gone on since they seeded the primitive culture to bring it up. So now it’s becoming a prelude to war. Before anyone can do anything, the plane makes it to the hangar and crashes into it decimating the building and surrounding area.
However, the Saucer is still standing, and luckily for them all of the research team was onboard when it happened. The movie ends with the saucer sitting in the middle of the massive destruction, as a we hear a breaking news announcement of the ship being discovered and that Forbes and Bancroft are among those who were onboard and are releasing amazing information about it.
Overall, Hangar 18 is an enjoyable movie. Sure it has a lot of the “Movie of the week” elements and feels to it, but what else do you want from a movie from 1980. James Hampton and Gary Collins as action heroes just is kind of weak as well. But for me Darren McGavin makes it.
If you like Hangar 18, you may also be interested in these other Sci Fi films:
Independence Day (1996)
Unfortunately, finding this on DVD is a little difficult. Currently Netflix and Youtube have some listings of it.