Skip to comments.Spielberg's alien tale is 'Taken' to cable
Posted on 12/02/2002 11:04:08 PM PST by vikingchick
If you were assigned to make a fantastical 20-hour, 10-part series about alien encounters, you'd think you'd concoct the freakiest, funkiest extraterrestrials ever conceived.
Not if you're making "Taken," the alien-abduction saga that premieres at 9 tonight on cable's Sci Fi Channel.
"Steven said we had to respect the lore," says Jim Lima, the project's visual-effects supervisor. "We had to be faithful to what was said the most by people who had encounters."
Steven is Steven Spielberg. He is not only one of the most powerful people in entertainment, but also the man who gave the world "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." The man who can green-light so many projects gave birth to this one four years ago. It's on cable because no network could commit such a massive chunk of its prime-time schedule.
Because of Spielberg's decree, the aliens in "Taken" are rather standard issue: gray, about 4 feet tall, long fingers, skinny bodies, oversized heads with huge black, almond-shaped eyes. Spielberg scored with the acclaimed World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers" on HBO, and now he's out to see if an audience will stay with 10 two-hour, movielike episodes over two weeks.
The series follows three American families - the Clarkes, Keys and Crawfords - over four generations, from 1945 to the present day and slightly beyond.
It pays homage to major alien encounters reported in America's postwar history, including the most pivotal event: the supposed crash of a spaceship near Roswell, N.M., in July 1947.
"It's the coolest thing that I've ever seen," says Tobe Hooper of the series. Hooper directed the pivotal first episode (each episode has its own director). Hooper knows about "cool," not to mention strange, having directed "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and "Poltergeist" (co-written by Spielberg).
Although it was up to Hooper to integrate "the grays" into the story, it was the Earth-bound humans who received most of his attention. The director said he was hooked because the story was so character-driven.
"I liked that it wasn't sci-fi-y," he says on the phone from his home in Southern California. "It was like the real thing."
The real thing begins in the skies over Germany during World War II. Capt. Russell Keys (Steve Burton) is leading an Allied bombing mission. His bomber gets hit and is headed down in flames but is saved by some mysterious blasts of blue light. He and his crew are mysteriously healed and wake up in a field in France. But who really saved them and what was done to them after they were "taken"?
Keys returns home to a sepia-toned America to reunite with his parents and his best girl, something out of "The Best Years of Our Lives."
"I tried to give the characters that subtext, to give it that Norman Rockwell feel," says Hooper.
Hooper said no expense was spared.
"We had 60 locations and more than 60 actors. I had every lens, every cinematic toy," he says. And he had Lima.
The visual-effects guru, who had worked previously with Spielberg in television on "SeaQuest DSV" and "The Others," also had created outer dimensions for films such as "Space Jam" (he also designed the Green Goblin for "Spider-Man.")
"It was like doing 10 movies," says Lima on the phone from his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. "We had 16 months of production. In my earliest discussions with Steven, he explained that science fiction is 'Minority Report.' Science mythology is UFO sightings, close encounters of the first kind." (Close encounters of the second kind are defined as physical evidence; close encounters of the third kind are alien sightings.)
Lima used a cavalcade of computer-generated digital tricks; there are no puppets or animatronics. But there is a human element. He took a digital photograph of his wife's eye, enlarged it, stretched it out, colored it and used that for the aliens' eyes.
"The iris is still in there," says Lima. "I wanted to show thought, to have these digital characters show emotion."
The grays also can take human form and read minds.
If "Taken" is groundbreaking for its length and visual effects, it also must set some sort of record for script-writing. Les Bohem wrote the entire 20 hours. A former member of the band Sparks, Bohem ("Dante's Peak") emphasizes the human relationships and family interplay.
The ensemble cast includes Catherine Dent, Joel Gretsch, Eric Close, Ryan Hurst, Matt Frewer and Michael Moriarty as the stern colonel who covers up the initial Roswell crash in tonight's episode. Some characters span several nights. Eight-year-old Dakota Fanning (the daughter in "I Am Sam") narrates all 10 episodes and appears in the final four.
Her voice is at once innocent and filled with wisdom.
"It's very much 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' " says Hooper. "It has that sensitivity, that kind of elegance."
As for the phenomenon itself - the long lists of people who claim to have been abducted, poked and prodded by aliens and returned to Earth - Hooper says he has studied it more than half his life. He finds it valid.
"I'm definitely a believer," says Hooper. "There's something out there."
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
I turned it off.
Would have preferred if they'd just ran with a Monday night Stargate-a-thon.
I was just mentioning, in another forum, that SciFi is pulling a 'MTV': it was cool when it started, then it peaked, and now it just sucks.
That's what happens when your audience outgrows its niche
Otherwise the production was high standard, but I was somewhat disappointed in the initial episode's plot. Still I will give it a chance to do better.
I think Tobe Hooper is cool for saying that he thought that the series was cool, and it was cool of him to share his cool opinion with the cool reporter, who included Tobe's cool statement in the cool article so that all of us cool FReepers could read it and share it with our cool families, cool neighbors, and cool co-workers. Cool, I think. Or maybe not. Who cares?
Still on Saturday 5 am eastern.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.