Stanley Kubrick, in conjunction with MGM Studios, may have opened the door with with 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Sunn Classics kicked the door down with their Oscar-nominated (Best Documentary Feature), box-office bonanza, Chariots of the Gods? (1970).
Now, U.S. indie studios and Drive-In distributors saw the sci-fi possibilities. Cash-strapped shingles didn’t have to create later, MST3K-lambasted muck jobs like Hammer’s “space western” Moon Zero Two nor meet Roger Ebert-indifference with films such as Universal’s Silent Running. There’s was no sense in trying to create copycat non-starters such as Mission: Mars in Kubrick’s backwash. The pre-Kubrickian productions The Angry Red Planet, Mutiny in Outer Space, Project Moonbase — even the really fine Planet of the Vampires — weren’t cutting it, anymore, for everyone was over the old Martians and space monsters jig.
Now audiences wanted “ancient astronauts”; films that connected UFOs to the Earth’s architectural structures of old. There’s no sense of pulling a Bill Rebane-on-a-shoestring to give audiences the-people-talking-and-drinking-coffee-epics Invasion from Inner Earth, The Alpha Incident or, worse, UFO: Target Earth. We had to wait until Glen “Larceny” Larson gave us his Lucasian-biblical answer to it all with Battlestar Galactica.
Documentaries. That was a genre the cheapjack studios could pull off with self-confidence: insert a talking head here, a fuzzy photo there, a film clip here, some stock footage of Egyptian and Mayan structures there . . . create a poster that oversells the film . . . we have ourselves a science fiction movie on the cheap . . . with profits a guarantee. Cha-ching!
Thou loose the floodgates through Roland Emmerich Stargate.
So came forth the box-office mop ups Encounter with the Unknown (1973) and Mysteries from Beyond Planet Earth (1975). And G. Brook Stanford’s own Schick-Sunn Classics-styled document with Overlords of the U.F.O (1976). Film Ventures International jumped into the frey with The Force Beyond (1978). We got docutales about the alien-infested The Bermuda Triangle (1979). Jack Palance and William Shatner, respectively, earned paychecks hosting the films The Unknown Force (1977), which tossed in psychics, miracle healers, and Man’s and the Earth’s untapped energies, while Bill got into the ancient-biblical astronauts game with Mysteries of the Gods (1977). Then there were the even chintzier UFOs: Past, Present, and Future (1974; You Tube), UFO: Top Secret (1978; You Tube), the most psychedelic-tripping of them all: UFO – Exclusive (1979; You Tube), and the forever-lost UFOs: Are We Alone? (1979). However, in the fictitious UFO sweepstakes, there’s the Ezekielian ancient astronaut romps — and Mill Creek box set losers — Escape from Galaxy 3 (1980) and Star Knight (1985) to ponder. . . .
Amid that rash of films was this superior flick that served as the third project between prolific television producer Alan Landsburg (Terror Out of the Sky, The Savage Bees are two of his many, classic TV movies) and Rod Serling for Sunn Classics. Their other two were In Search of Ancient Astronauts and In Search of Ancient Mysteries, both issued in 1973.
If that pre-Roland Emmerich, upselling theatrical one-sheet connecting Mayan structures to distant galaxies doesn’t tell you: we’re on a speculative journey regarding the “ancient astronauts” theory begun with Chariots of the Gods?. Those were tales that aliens visited Earth in ancient times to built structures to which they will return at a future date. Why and for what reasons are their return? To save man? And, if so, from what catastrophe?
Yeah, this one has it all: All the theories and speculations you’ve since seen many times on A&E, Discovery, and The History Channel with their endless series on the subject. Sure, it’s old news today, but back in the ’70s, woe, baby: this was “groundbreaking” insights that connected the Bimini Wall to Atlantis (build by the same aliens who built the Mayan and Egyptian civilizations), that connected Macchu Picu in Peru as an alien space port, and that a pyramid — larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza, in the deep waters of the Bermuda Triangle — with an “energy stone” in its apex, was responsible for the disappearance of Flight 19. (Remember went Spielberg’s aliens “found” them — and they gave us back the planes?)
If there’s any of the many ancient astronauts/UFO docs you need to watch, always err to the side of the ones narrated by the engaging voices of Jack Palance, William Shatner, Rod Serling, and Orson Wells — and surely watch the Landsburg-Serling trilogy. But definitely double-feature Harald Reinl’s Chariots of the Gods? with The Outer Space Connection. In a race against filmmakers with a UFO fetish, do you go with Alan Landsburg or Ed Hunt (with UFO’s Are Real). Eh, it’s a close one, but Landsburg for the win. And Alan Landsburg kept on going with Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle and a Bigfoot/Yeti exploration known as Manbeast! Myth or Monster? (both 1978).
Yeah, the documentary ’70s were good times. My pop loved these movies and read the books that inspired the films. Good times. And great times to revisit and write reviews on them.
You can watch The Outer Space Connection on You Tube.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.