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Away We Go

With Taken, Steven Spielberg hits every cliché in the aliens-having-their-way-with-us playbook. Do we care? Nah.

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NOT A BIRD, NOT A PLANE, EXACTLY: Steven Spielberg's Taken has everyone checking out the skies for alien sightings.
  

In case you were wondering, they really have been busy, those little gray-skinned androgynes with the almond-shaped eyes in the oversized heads -- not only saucering in whenever they want to and sucking up whomever they please but also performing abominable experiments on us in their orbiting space labs, fertilizing our eggs behind our backs, sticking implants that look like tumors into our feverish brains, and making our noses bleed. All this plus dolphins and hypnotherapy, not to mention wheat that glows in the dark and crop circles that say "howdy."

On the other hand, it may be that aliens mean us no permanent harm. They just don't know any better. They crossbreed to batch up a better evolutionary product, like square tomatoes. They need us to complete themselves, like an acrostic. And this fiddling consumes a lot of time, at least four generations for three different families in places like Montana, Nevada, and Texas, amounting to twenty hours over two weeks on the Sci Fi Channel. Fortunately, though I haven't seen them all in the rough-cut version of Steven Spielberg's Taken, there will be plenty of special effects to keep us from thinking too much. After which, except in dreams and deep regressions, we won't remember anything anyway.

To be fair, I enjoyed these many hours even as I deplored them. Narrative is my last remaining addiction. Ten different directors and dozens of actors get to play in the twilight zone before superpsychic 9-year-old Allie (Dakota Fanning) is raptured up to the great beyond in a column of blue light. By the time we reach this teleportation, relatively familiar TV faces like Michael Moriarty, James McDaniel, Matt Frewer, and Eric Close will have come and gone. We are left with the bereft (Emily Bergl and Adam Kaufman, who don't even know that they've had sex till they go into group therapy) and the evil (Heather Donahue, who has graduated from the Blair Witch bitch to a mad scientist willing to kill anybody who interferes with her career goals).

It's not just that Taken has bought into every loony tune in the UFO canon, from the preborn-polliwog look of the alien invaders to a government cover-up at Roswell and everywhere else. (In fact, by the end of these two weeks, the American military will have abducted almost as many civilians as the E.T.'s have.) It's that Taken apparently intends to be an anthology of those tunes, the authorized CD of late-twentieth-century mythomanias, all paranoia all the time, lacking only that sense of humor we could count on to show up once a month on The X-Files.

So put Taken into the time capsule. When the alien anthropologists actually do arrive to inspect our ruins, they should bring along a missing perspective: Each of our ages coughs up its fur ball of anxiety in a form appropriate to its imaginative resources -- a phantasmagoria of faeries, goblins, trolls, gnomes, and freaks; of wild men, wolf boys, zombies, and witches; of triffids, pods, blobs, and body snatchers. Devil worship and demonic possession! Fluoridated water and socialized medicine! Our millennial lot has been alien abductors and satanic day-care teachers.

To whom we might very well add the serial killer in The Mermaids Singing, the first of three adaptations of Val McDermid mystery novels on BBC America under the umbrella title of Wire in the Blood. All three TV movies feature Robson Green, who did much the same sort of thing in Touching Evil, as Dr. Tony Hill, a clinical psychologist turned criminal profiler, and Hermione Norris (Mad Cows, Cold Feet) as Detective Inspector Carol Jordan, whose partnership with the tormented Tony verges on the personal before veering off. First up, they must figure out who in the north of England is kidnapping young men, not all of whom are gay, then torturing them with medieval instruments like the rack or strappado, and finally videotaping their death agonies (snuff films with production values). Not for the squeamish, but remarkably well done.

After which, we will probably need Young Dr. Freud, David Grubin's two-hour documentary on the Abe Lincoln of psychoanalysis reading Cervantes and snuffling cocaine while Martha peels an apple. There is nothing new here for a reader of any of the standard biographies -- not surprisingly, the day his father died was fraught -- but some lively opinionizing by granddaughter Sophie Freud, historian Peter Gay, and biographer-analyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Liev Schreiber is the voice of "Sigi"; Blair Brown jollies us along. Did you know that Carl Jung believed in flying saucers?


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