While the picture opened with the qualifier that it was all based on facts, I had done my share of reading from UFO literature of the day (another pastime from a well-spent childhood), so I was well aware that what the producers served up instead was very far from an actual accounting of Earth’s first devastating encounter with forces beyond our world (tip: the shuttle program wouldn’t put its first orbiter into space for about one year yet, but here it was featured prominently in their story). Instead, I knew full well what they were doing was picking elements from the broader flying saucer history and combining them into a story meant to loosely inform as well as mildly educate the audience to the burgeoning mystery surrounding both the unidentified aircraft question and Zachariah Sitchin’s scholarship into the dawn of man.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
The launch of a new satellite from aboard the American Space Shuttle goes awry when the projectile accidentally plows into an alien Unidentified Flying Object suddenly perched off the spacecraft’s bow. Before you know it, two astronauts will be fingered as the guilty culprit as the U.S. government closes its ranks around the truth, and they’ll find themselves on the run from sinister agents seeking to silence them for good!
What Hangar 18 does accomplish, it actually does very well: it presents a dynamic story about the conspiracy to silence regular folks and even other government officials about the subject of UFOs. In doing so, the story traffics in so many elements associated to the saucer question, including secret crash retrievals, authoritarian thuggery, the Men in Black, and clandestine military installations. The short skinny here is that if you are in any way a fan of what The X-Files did on television in the 1990’s, then you could do far worse than spend 90 minutes with this early 80’s gem. Flawed as it is, the film still hits a lot of similar notes.
And, folks, it was the early 80’s … so don’t look for these special effects to hold a candle to what producers were doing on television two or even a single decade later. They’re charming, at best, and understandably dated, at worst. I kinda/sorta have a fondness for what pictures of this type were doing at this day and age – having sat through so very many of them at the time – and they still work just fine for the purposes of this story today. In fact, I’d argue that the UFO internal sets were designed quite spiffy given the rather obvious limitations of their budget.
As for the ending?
Well, clearly that wasn’t based on any known facts (as the prologue and epilogues suggest). Given the fact that most governments of the world continue to deny any involvement in the investigation of UFOs or even UFO-related subjects, it’s pretty clear that at no time have representatives of the United States come forward and confessed they have a working alien spacecraft in their possession. So far as I know (I do follow fringe news fairly regularly decades later), our officials are still pretty much committed to denying it.
Unless I miss my guess (I’ve not been able to confirm this), I tend to wonder whether or not Hangar 18 began life as a made-for-TV movie that simply grew to the point that the studio decided to give it a theatrical release. I say this because there are a handful of actors in the film who had already built a relatively successful following in TV properties; plus there are more than a few passing similarities to ideas (fonts and props) that I’ve seen used in other TV productions. So I throw that out more as a curiosity than anything else.
Far from perfect, Hangar 18 is still a worthwhile way to kill 90 minutes. While the drama is a bit light, the story still hits a lot of solid beats; and its conspiratorial spine definitely holds up very well for those who gravitate toward that sort of thing. Sure, it’s obviously a product of its time, but – so far as this UFO nut is concerned – it’s still a story worth telling.