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Taken 1st half


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Monday 16 December 2002

How the other half leaves:
Episodes six through the end of Steven Spielberg's miniseries.

Steven Spielberg Presents Taken
A Sci Fi Channel miniseries, December 2 - 13, 2002
Written by Leslie Bohem

by John Shirley

[ Read Part 1 of John Shirley's review here ]

In the course of this miniseries, Allie’s father, Charlie Keys asks someone skeptical how they explain the fact that "abductees" describe much the same experience of aliens — if the story isn’t true, why is it so consistent? Because, says the skeptical person, we’ve all seen enough of the same movies and television, read enough of the same books. We draw on the same sources. This explanation is repudiated in Taken, but not in real life. The first really famous so-called abductees, a real couple named Barney and Betty Hill (no, wise guy, I don’t mean Barney and Betty Rubble), described something that was remarkably like a cheap sci-fi movie they’d just happened to have seen a short time earlier at a drive-in. There was a rash of encounters with aliens like the ones in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in the years after that delightful Spielberg movie. Many early "encounters" involved aliens strangely like the ones in the 1955 movie This Island Earth. Earlier in the year in which that "something" crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, Kenneth Arnold made national headlines describing seeing weird spacecraft that moved like skipping saucers over water — but the craft didn’t look like flying saucers. But because a newspaper story called them "flying saucers", most of the spacecraft "seen" ever since just happen to be saucer shaped.

Taken uses UFO mythology very well. Writer Leslie Bohem has gone into the arcane theories of UFOlogists on how the supposed abductees — and all those mutilated cattle — are part of an alien experiment in genetics. He uses his own variant of implant myths, secret government UFO programs, Wright-Patterson Air Force base and Area 51 legends, the whole dreamland shebang — and we may expect all of these Bohem versions to turn up in future alien abduction scenarios from earnest, honestly frightened people who just happened to have seen Taken. Barney and Betty Hill were mentioned in Taken, and Taken will create new Barney and Betty Hills. Count on it, especially because the story is so oozingly sympathetic to abductees. The cry will once again resound: "Oh woe! No one believes how special we are!" And the stories will be consistent.

I enjoyed this miniseries, especially the first half — rather guiltily. You’ve just close-encountered my guilt.

But as for the enjoyment, it diminished somewhat as the miniseries wound down to its final episode. Why? Because, as I said, the miniseries wound down. It didn’t wind up, to a taut conclusion. Mr. Bohem — a very good, highly creative writer; I should be so good — didn’t have quite enough story to dramatically sustain ten episodes. Thus, drama had to be forcibly interpolated in little bursts of improbability, and rather lengthy scenes of frequently reiterated agonizing.

Spoilers are coming, if you plan to see this thing on video or something...

Mary Crawford, granddaughter of the evil Colonel Crawford, who’s taken over the program, decides, for reasons not quite clear, that a group of abductees must die. They know Too Much. They know that the Little Girl — a delightful character, played by the naturally talented child actor Dakota Fanning, who’ll probably grow up to be a gorgeous and naturally talented movie star — is part alien, part human, the locus of a Gray Aliens genetic crossbreeding experiment. So these abductees have to die. Which makes no sense, since they also claim to have been abducted by aliens and no one believes that, so who’d believe them about this other thing? But it sets up Sally’s dad’s objections to the planned killing, which sets up, supposedly, her telling a soldier to shoot her dad in the back, so he won’t interfere with her plans. Even though the senior Crawford is the head of the program, the gunny goes oh, fine, and shoots his boss in the back. Then the boss lays there dying while they all get interested in something else. No biggy; hell, we shoot the boss in the back all the time — why even put a blanket over him? There’s also a hostage situation by an enraged abductee who actually isn’t an abductee at all (you knew that revelation was coming), which seems equally contrived. And so does most of the conflict between Matt Frewer’s character — he’s so very Matt Frewer I can only think of him that way — and Mary, leading to, of course... Mary shooting him in the back. Mary locates the kid toward the end, kidnaps Allie and Allie’s Mom at gunpoint, and loses her prisoners, all in a fairly pointless five minute scene that’s just there because, well, we needed the drama.

The last five episodes are also fraught with contradictions.

Mary is supposed to be a cold calculating bitch, but her face is constantly screwing up with powerful emotions, a roadmap of regret and remorse and fear and frustrated longing, and at the end she suddenly decides that it’s okay for the little girl, who she’s been chasing like a wolverine after a mouse, to now go her way freely. The aliens are variously encountered, and people can communicate with them telepathically, but no one thinks to ask them why they’re doing all this abducting till the end of the series. The enraged hostage taker is suddenly, improbably all right with everybody. The aliens want the little girl but don’t come to get her... until it’s dramatically useful. The aliens don’t seem to eat early in the series but eat toward the end. Turns out they can speak English with their cute puppety little mouths when they want to, also. At the end, in order to avoid provoking an earthly conflict, Allie sacrifices herself by summoning the aliens and going away with them forever — and her mother, who’s been ready to die for her all along, weeps but never once says, "Hey wait — I could go with you!" Allie can slow time — which she uses in a cool, breathtaking scene to stop speeding cars from running her over — but she never uses this power again, though it’d help in any number of situations. And thought the aliens supposedly lost touch with all emotion, the alien known as "John" is constantly showing it, and says he’s "learned to control his emotions." So if he had to learn to control them, they can’t be too hard to come up with, so why are the aliens going through this vast program just to try to get them back?

Because that, apparently, is the sadly disappointing, all-too-familiar rationale for the alien abductions. They "lost something" that is basically emotion and feeling and caring and all the things that make humans human — and they want it back. So they crossbreed with us to get emotion and empathy back. And apparently those feelings are a road to some transcendent state they’re looking for... which is the only original twist about this solution to the alien mystery, though one never explored. Aliens who lost something and "want to feel human again," who want emotions again — oh, oh how delightful to feel emotions, just like robots who ache to feel emotions in any number of episodes of Star Trek — crops up in the Star Trek movies and in any number of other clichéd science fiction tales, and is just generally frustratingly bogus.

And we didn’t really believe the anguish of Allie’s parents in losing her... Somehow their relationship stopped feeling real about episode nine.

Still... The guilty pleasures are there. Those fractally designed space ships are pretty cool. There were some tense, sinister scenes in the series, showing fresh, mordant imagination. Allie is an intriguing character; that trick with the spaceship that wasn’t really there got me good. There were some great shots with the aliens; lots of fun with UFO culture to delight insiders; and some interesting pearls of crazy-wisdom from Matt Frewer’s character.

Sure, Taken should’ve been two episodes shorter, with a more original solution to the mystery, and I hate to think that this will generate more abductee baloney. But I enjoyed the flying saucer ride. I always enjoy riding them. I remember that time they took me, out on that lonely road in Oregon. Did I ever tell you about that? Seriously. No, really. I get frequent nosebleeds, you know... It all started one night...

Read Part 1 of the Taken review here

John Shirley is the author of numerous books, including recently-released Demons from Ballantine/Del Rey, the Bram Stoker award-winning Black Butterflies (Leisure Books), and Darkness Divided from Stealth Books. His newest novel is And the Angel with Television Eyes from Nightshade Books. He is also a writer for screen and television. The authorized website is

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