A town discovers manna crashing from heaven and becomes the capital of america's alien nation

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    Roswell's pop-cultural apotheosis has been as an inescapable reference on Fox Television's The X-Files, a paranormal Dragnet that details the efforts of two wooden, underacted FBI agents to expose what has metastasized over the show's four seasons into an increasingly baroque conspiracy between the Federal Government and sinister extraterrestrials — a fiction whose particulars have been cherry-picked from among the wilder theories flitting through the UFO community. Its perspective is offered by John Price, founder of Roswell's UFO Enigma Museum, which began in 1988 in the back of his video store and today sprawls through four big rooms and features a homemade diorama of a crashed saucer with blinking lights, surrounded by four dead-alien dolls and a stuffed, seemingly unconcerned jackrabbit. Says Price: "The old sci-fi films were just kind of made up from someone's imagination. But The X-Files calls us every once in a while for information; a lot of the shows do. So a lot of your sci-fi is based on facts, so to speak. And that makes it something that a lot more people will watch, because they're getting more than just entertainment."

    This observation is more or less true as well for two of this summer's potential movie blockbusters: Men in Black, an inventive action-comedy loosely based on lore about mysterious dark-suited agents who harass people who've seen UFOs; and the more solemn Contact, based on the Carl Sagan novel and said to be, in the words of its director Bob Zemeckis, the rare alien movie "rooted in true scientific believability." "We've done more for them than they do for us," says Price of Hollywood. A handsome, weather-beaten man with surprisingly still, pale blue eyes, he has no apparent enmity toward Hollywood, even though he once got what sounds like the brush-off when he tried to persuade his second cousin, the late producer Don Simpson, to make a movie based on Roswell.

    On the Hollywood end of things, Peter Roth, the Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Entertainment Group president, readily concedes that aliens have been good to Fox: besides its well-rated The X-Files, the company's movie studio produced Independence Day, and the network broadcast the patently hoaxed autopsy of a creature supposedly recovered at Roswell. But when pressed as to his personal feelings on the subject, Roth is willing to admit only that "there's something in the cosmos that suggests there may be a presence elsewhere." Dean Devlin, co-writer and producer of Independence Day, comes to the field more naturally: he was steeped in UFO culture as a boy by a mother who dragged him to UFO conventions. Although he's skeptical of official explanations of the Roswell Incident, he doubts extraterrestrials were involved: "I don't know what it was, but our government is so bad at keeping secrets, I have a hard time believing that after all these years, the smoking gun hasn't appeared. I live by the watchwords 'Never attribute to deviousness that which can be explained by incompetence.'"

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