Over the past 100-plus years of Hollywood moviemaking, audiences have seen countless depictions of what humankind might do in response to an extraterrestrial encounter -- greet visitors with gunfire, give them Reese's Pieces, upload a virus into their Mac-compatible mainframe, sneeze on them, etc. The industry's latest alien invasion movie, 'Battle: Los Angeles,' arrives in theaters this week, and director Jonathan Liebesman took the unusual approach of trying to show how civilians and military personnel might actually respond in the event of an attack.
At the Los Angeles press day for the film, Cinematical spoke to two military experts, Capt. Robert Salas, and Col. Charles Halt, both of whom experienced actual UFO encounters, and they offered their opinions about the film's authenticity. Additionally, the duo revealed a few details about how the government might respond should extraterrestrials descend upon the planet, and interestingly, what we might be able to learn from even fictional films about aliens should we encounter a real one in the future.
Cinematical: Do you know of any contingency plans the government has in the event of an actual alien invasion or UFO attack?
Capt. Robert Salas: Of course this is speculation on my part, but I would say definitely, even though officially the Air Force has claimed that they had stopped investigating UFO reports as of 1969, they haven't. They are definitely interested in these objects. I certainly am of the opinion that they have recovered crafts and continued to track these objects as they enter our atmosphere. And so our military would be irresponsible by not having contingency plans. So I most definitely think at some level, probably the deepest level of the Pentagon, that they have made such plans, yes.
If we were attacked, even by earthbound forces, how would people be evacuated? Does the film represent an accurate depiction of what the government would do to deal with the situation?
I think 'Battle: LA' did depict a situation that happened very quickly. It was almost like what happened at Pearl Harbor -- we didn't really expect it and then the attack came and there was all kinds of panic; even the military didn't know how to react that quickly. But even though I think FEMA and Homeland Security has gone through a paper scenario on what they would do in case of an attack or an emergency -- and of course the military probably has too, when it actually happens, there is bound to be chaos. So I have no doubt that the film depicted that fairly accurately. As our military troops were trying to intervene and face the enemy [at Pearl Harbor], they had to deal with civilians at the same time. So like I said I think that is probably fairly accurate.
How hypothetically accurate did you find the film's depiction of a military response to an alien attack?
Col. Charles Halt: I thought they did a great job as far as the military response. It really was very well done, I thought. I'm sure we have contingency plans, but I don't think we have something that would completely cover that, but we have things that probably could be adapted. The real question, I guess, would be to find the vulnerability of whatever [was attacking] if the incident occurred. And that was part of theme of the movie, I think -- you've got to shoot them where their heart is.
Do you think that it would be like in the movie, it would be evacuation and then using that sort of military force?
Halt: I don't think we could evacuate an area that large unless we had quite a bit of notice. If there ever would be such thing as an invasion and I don't think so, it would probably not be biological. What we saw definitely was not humanoid. Under intelligent control yes, perhaps some type of artificial intelligence, [but] the change in size, shape, the movement, speed, it doesn't fit. So I don't think it was biological, what we saw.
What would happen in terms of protecting the president in the event of something like that?
Halt: Well when I was in the IG, we did an inspection of the evacuation points, and I actually played the president. They would come in and pick me up in a helicopter and we timed it, the time we would go up into the mountains of Maryland to a certain site X and spend time there and whatnot. There are some very good plans. But would that be necessary if there was an alien invasion? I don't know. I'm almost inclined to say no, but that's more less something of a set-up to [whether] should we start arming missiles.
What's the most common inaccuracy you see in movies that try to depict military behavior?
Salas: In 'Battle: LA,' I don't think some of the dialogue would have gone that way, as far as when it was announced to the troops that these objects had been declared with some creature flying them. Also, I think there would have been a longer time scale to try to explain what was going on. But they had to have some kind of scenario, because nothing like this has ever really happened. So there were some things that I kind of cringed at in terms of how the military would react and what they would say to each other. And also, it seemed to me like the aliens had these weapons that were a lot like submachine guns or something like that, and I would think if they had the technology to fly these vast distances, they would have much more sophisticated weapons.
How accurate is it that even the soldiers seem to get most of their information from the mainstream news media?
Salas: (Laughs) Not accurate. Most of the reports that come in -- if we're talking about the UFO field -- a lot of these anchors are the gee-whiz type; they talk about UFOs and they giggle. And that's what we're trying to overturn, people like myself who have studied this seriously for over 60 years -- to get rid of that giggle factor and also educate people on how much real evidence there is out there. That's what I'm looking for -- I'm looking for the time when CNN reporters will take this subject more seriously and ask, "is there science out there we can look at?" Because there is.
After so many movies about flying saucers and alien invasions, how much do you think the entertainment industry is feeding into people's perceptions of UFOs as opposed to simply reacting to them?
Halt: The movies have made people more aware and probably less reluctant to report something. But also, Hollywood's going to give people what they want, too; if you're clamoring for action movies, UFO movies, you're going to get it. After all, that's what they're in the business for.
Do you think that because films have depicted UFOs as flying saucers, is it possible that one led the other -- people have seen more flying saucers as a result?
Salas: The actual flying saucer shape was a description given by a person who actually saw these things over Mount Rainer back in 1947, I believe it was, and he called them a saucer shape. So the term "flying saucer" comes from that, and certainly a lot of the photographs have been authenticated -- they have gone through pretty thorough investigation and a lot of them have been saucer-shaped or oval-shaped, you could call them. A lot of them have looked like hats, and a lot of them are triangular-shaped; a couple of police officers in Britain saw something that looked like they were diamond-shaped or tetrahedron in shape. So there are many different shapes that have been observed.
Ultimately, is there anything that you think should or would happen if we actually got invaded by an extraterrestrial force?
Halt: Well, unless it's a very hostile, aggressive invasion of some type, you're going to go to work the next day, you're going to still pay your taxes, you're still going to have concerns. Your lifestyle would probably change and a lot of things will change, but we're still going to go on. I'm firmly convinced that whatever's out there is watching us, perhaps prodding here and there, perhaps injecting something here or there, perhaps planting something in people here, and maybe their motivation is to save us from ourselves.