UFO sightings took off in America in the summer of 1947, but it was what happened after one encounter were things get really strange.
Although stories of unexplained phenomena can be traced back throughout human history, it was the summer of 1947 that America experienced a series of events that defined our modern perception of UFOs and alleged alien encounters. In late June, a pilot named Kenneth Arnold encountered unearthly lights in the sky over Washington state and first coined the term "flying saucer". Arnold wasn't the only one who saw something strange, either as, that same week, Tacoma resident Harold Dahl reported that he and his son witnessed something in the sky over Puget Sound. The following night, the mystery intensified as Dahl claims that he was visited by mysterious man in a black suit who warned him not to speak about the incident. In the decades that would follow, reports of these "Men in Black" would go invariably occur in the wake of UFO sightings with some witnesses describing them as human beings working for a clandestine organization and others suggesting that these beings themselves might from a place beyond this world.
Skeptics of UFO encounters often point to paranoia as being one of the major contributing factors behind such incidents and, indeed, Americans had just cause for fearing danger from above. World War II had ended less than two years prior and the atomic bomb was only the latest example of the destructive potential of human technology. In fact, it was in nearby Oregon that, in 1945, a Sunday school teacher and five of her students became the only direct combat casualties to die in the continental United States. Killed by mysterious aircraft, the reason for their death was terrifyingly terrestrial, the result of Japan's Fu-Go (Fire Balloon) campaign, through which thousands of hydrogen balloons carried explosive devices through a Pacific jet stream air current, depositing them in the American Northwest in the hopes of starting forest fires that would distract and demoralize the US.
It was another specter of the war that brought Kenneth Arnold to Washington in June of 1947. A professional pilot, Arnold was on a business trip when he learned of a substantial reward being offered for anyone who could locate a crashed Marine troop carrier that had been lost near Mount Rainier the previous December with 32 souls aboard. On his return home, Arnold decided to take a detour to search for the missing aircraft in his CallAir A-2. At around 3pm, Arnold's famous encounter took place as he witnessed the bright lights of nine disc-shaped objects that seemed to move in perfect formation and at incredible speed.
Arnold's report spread through the media like wildfire and soon led to Dahl coming forward about what he himself had experienced a few days prior. Out on a boat with his son near Maury Island, Dahl claimed to have seen six similar-looking objects. In his case, there was an additional physical encounter, however, with one of the objects raining metallic debris on his boat, minorly injuring his son and killing their dog. Dahl even claimed to have recovered some of the strange metal fragments.
The next morning, a man in a black suit driving a black Buick met Dahl at his home and asked him to come to breakfast at a local diner. The man proceeded to describe exactly what Dahl had witnessed. He also gave Dahl a stern warning, telling him that bad things would happen to Dahl and his family if he continued to speak about the Maury Island Incident.
Focused on getting to the bottom of what he had seen, Arnold was put in contact with a United Airlines pilot, Captain Emil J. Smith, who also claimed to have witnessed similar saucer shaped lights in the sky just a few days later, piloting a flight from Idaho to Seattle. Smith's account was backed up by his copilot and a flight attendant, all of whom witnessed inexplicable discs of light.
Working together, Smith and Arnold met with Dahl to investigate the Dahl's claims. They were joined by two intelligence officers from the US Air Force, who left with Dahl's metal fragments. Unfortunately, neither man made it back alive as their return flight crashed near Kelso, Washington, immediately igniting conspiracy theories about what had actually occurred. Was it all a tragic accident caused by a UFO hoax or did the mysterious Men in Black make good on their threat in an effort to hide something greater?
Dahl's claims in particular were soon written off as a publicity stunt with newspapers reporting that he had publicly recanted his story and that he had admitted to having fabricated the whole affair. When the Dahl case was publicly unclassified in 1997, however, it was revealed that he had made no such admission. In 2017, the Washington State Senate officially recognized the 70th anniversary of the incident.
Regardless of what really happened in the skies above Washington all those years ago, the stories sparked an intrigue that continues to this day. Since then, tales of Men in Black have gone hand in hand with UFO sightings, long before the phenomena became widely recognized in popular culture.
It seems that, wherever people witness the unexplained, the Men in Black are not far behind.
New stars, new aliens, new gadgets and new locales make 'Men in Black International' a true expansion of the blockbuster franchise.
When the original Men in Black hit theaters in the summer of 1997, it was an instant hit, bringing in more than $580 million at the worldwide box office. Will Smith, who had appeared the previous summer as part of the ensemble cast of Independence Day, had officially become a movie star and, over the course of the next two decades, he and Tommy Lee Jones would return for two more big screen adventures, turning Men in Black into a billion dollar franchise. Now, with Men in Black International, Sony Pictures is prepared to explore a whole new facet of the franchise, shifting the action from New York to London (and beyond) and reuniting Thor: Ragnarok Revengers Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth as two all new MiB agents, M and H.
"I've always loved the original films," says Tessa Thompson. "I saw them at an age where they just struck me with the whole world and how imaginative they were. I knew that F. Gary Gray was attached and I have loved his work from the first TLC video I saw, 'Waterfalls,' which meant so much to me as a kid, F. Gary directed. I thought it was so interesting to take a filmmaker like him and give him this beloved franchise."
"In some ways, 'Men in Black' is no different than anything else in that it begins with the characters and continues on to the story," says producer Walter Parkes who, alongside his wife and coproducer Laurie MacDonald, has been a part of the MiB franchise from the beginning. "We did feel that, after the first three movies, that particular story had been told. The key in getting to this one was the character that Tessa plays, Molly, who becomes Agent M."
When the film opens, Molly is a young girl whose family is paid a visit by the MiB following an extraterrestrial encounter. Although she witnessed it all, the visiting agents only neuralyze her parents, setting her on a quest to figure out the truth once and for all.
"They thought that none of it had happened," says MacDonald. "She was what looked like a lone conspiracy theorist... We very quickly came up with the idea to pair her with a male lead who should be someone to whom it came very easily."
In contrast to M, Hemsworth's H is cocky and overbearing with an ego that he proudly wears on his sleeve.
"H is an agent whose reputation precedes him," Tessa Thompson explains. "He is very unorthodox. He has saved the world, or so he says. Or so everyone say and so he likes to remind everyone. He's sort of a star agent. Apart from his dashing good looks and his Jag and his cool swag, he's also pretty accomplished. M is someone who is very ambitious. She doesn't want to be probationary long. She wants to be a proper agent. She wants to learn from the best and she has also come into MiB with the idea from Agent O that there might be a problem in London. There might be something just a little askew. She's very inquisitive and ready to figure out with an investigative spirit what it might be. She very quickly wants to find a way to get on a case and Agent H is an agent who she knows has a case going."
"She definitely has her reservations about him," adds Hemsworth. "Initially, she's just excited to be on the mission, but she soon says, 'Wait, something's not quite right here. Something doesn't add up about him. He might not be what he's cracked up to be. She sees through the facade and the bigger lie. She doesn't quite know why, but she eventually figures it out."
Linking Men in Black International back to the original trilogy is Emma Thompson returning as Agent O, the MiB head who first appeared in Men in Black 3 (played by Thompson in the present and by Alice Eve for the parts of the story set in 1969).
"It was so much fun shooting with Emma Thompson," says Gray. "She came and destroyed it. I loved it. I loved working with her. She came in and brought so much good energy to the set... She was such a joy to work with and you could tell that, when she stepped onto the set, everyone stepped their game up. When the Queen walks in, you've got to give her her due."
Also a key member of the Men in Black International cast is Kumail Nanjiani as a CG character, Pawny. Pawny has lived his entire life as a pawn on a chessboard, following the orders of his alien Queen. When the events of the film free him from that servitude, he embraces M as his new leader.
"I was excited to play a CG character," says the star. "I've never done that and I got to do the whole thing with the dots on my face for facial capture and all that. I was really excited. Then they sent me the design for the Pawny character and I got even more excited. First of all, I love "Men in Black". I'm a fan of those movies. Even if it was me in it, I would have done it, but the fact that I got to play a CG character who's [tiny] was very exciting."
Dance fans will be delighted by the appearance of two shapeshifting alien antagonists, played by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, better known collectively as Les Twins. Working with the choreography experts was a dream that, for Gray, has been a long time coming.
"I met the twins in 2012,” he recalls. “They were, at the time -- and still are -- the best dancers in the world. There's a YouTube video I saw called 'Rug Dealers'. They did this incredible freestyle dance that has 40, 50, 60 million views just from them dancing in this one spot with a locked off camera. I said, ‘I believe that, if I put them on the big screen, they would just take off because they're so incredibly talented.’ They're six foot five French models that are so talented and so passionate. I tracked them down and said, ‘I want to create a movie for you.’ This was in 2012. We met and got along. I started to develop that movie, but then I went on to do ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and then ‘Fast and the Furious,’ I read ‘Men in Black,’ I realized that there was room to wedge them into this movie. I called them up and said, "I have these great roles for you as the antagonists in the movie. You would be absolutely perfect.’"
In addition to its human (and alien) stars, Men in Black International plays up the global side of the franchise, going far beyond the New York setting of the original trilogy.
"I think the other thing that motored the development of this 'Men in Black' was something that had been built into 'Men in Black' since the very beginning and we didn't really know it,” says Parks, “Which is that this is a global organization. We told the story of the New York branch in the first movie, but we never assumed it was the only branch.”
“It really does have an international scope,” says Tessa Thompson, “and it meant that we got to travel to such international locations like the Marrakech and the Sahara and Ischia and Italy and Paris and New York. I think it adds a real uniqueness to this film.”