Color, 1980, 97m.
Directed by James L. Conway
Starring Darren McGavin, Robert Vaughn, Gary Collins, James Hampton, Pamela Bellwood, Joseph Campanella
Olive Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R1/RA HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
This pivotal entry in the history of American UFO conspiracy theories arrived during the last great gasp of "In Search of..." films, following in the footsteps of the somewhat similar Capricorn One while advancing stories of interstellar genetic monkeying also explored in other films ranging from Quatermass and the Pit to Prince of Darkness. It's also the logical cinematic conclusion for Utah-based Sunn Classic Pictures, who made a killing in the '70s by four walling such titles as In Search of Historic Jesus, The Outer Space Connection, and In Search of Noah's Ark. Here they had a star-powered riff on the alien scenarios floating around since Roswell (location of the real Hangar 18), goosed up with a semi-all star cast and enough gloss to compete with other non-studio sci-fi films like The Final Countdown. The gambit didn't really work at the box office, and Sunn was sold off to become the distributor of decidedly darker offerings like The Boogens and Cujo.
Our story begins with a pair of astronauts, Steve Bancroft (TV regular Collins) and Lew Price (Hampton), surprised when the satellite they launch from their shuttle collides with a foreign craft in space. One of their colleagues is also taken out before they return to solid ground, where the UFO they intercepted has crashed in the desert and been taken to the titular hangar. Both men realize something is up, and sure enough, the investigating NASA deputy director, Forbes (McGavin), finds tantalizing clues among the dead aliens inside the craft including a woman (who awakes in a state of panic) and tantalizing symbols on the controls. Meanwhile the conniving White House Chief of Staff (Vaughn) is intent on keeping the discovery a secret at any cost, even if it means suppressing the evidence at any cost.
Despite a reasonably wide VHS release, Hangar 18 went the way of other Sunn films and dropped off the planet for quite a while (apart from serving as an early and very ill-advised, tedious episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000). The quasi-made-for-TV ambience is either a lot of fun or completely hokey depending on your mind set (including some marvelously plastic-looking spacecraft), and it's hard to imagine a time in which Collins (who had previously starred in The Sixth Sense, a paranormal show surgically transformed into a fake season of Night Gallery) was really a viable choice for a movie star. He's likable enough though and manages to soldier through the proceedings looking stern and serious, while it's always fun to see Vaughn do his evil rich guy routine (apparently warming up for its ridiculous apotheosis in Superman III). The TV feels extends behind the camera, too, including screenwriter Ken Pettus (who cuts his teeth on shows like The Green Hornet and The Wild, Wild West) and Boogens director James L. Conway, already an old hand at the Sunn speculative game. Keep an eye on that supporting cast, too, including turns by William Schallert (the dad from The Patty Duke Show) just before he became a staple in Joe Dante movies, and a young Stuart Pankin, who had a more typical comic role the same year in The Hollywood Knights.
As with other Sunn titles held in the Republic library (which then passed to Paramount), Hangar 18 has been kept in fine shape over the years and makes the leap to bare bones Blu-ray and DVD with a transfer about as good as one could hope. It's a fairly flat-looking film, of course, but there are some occasional blasts of colorful lighting to perk things up that didn't register in previous transfers at all. There's really nothing to complain about here at all, and fans should be pleased to finally toss their old VHS copies. The DTS-HD mono audio also sounds fine, pointing out yet again that it's shame we never had a soundtrack release for the solid score by John Cacavas (Horror Express, The Satanic Rites of Dracula).
Reviewed on September 16, 2013.