Every time I stumble upon UFO-related content –be that a new book, TV show or documentary– one of the first questions that crosses my mind is *who* its intended audience is supposed to be. Because if the sole purpose of the new material is to present evidence corroborating the reality of the UFO phenomenon, but your intended audience is the UFO community alone, then you’re merely preaching to the choir; if on the other hand your intention is to convince skeptics or the undecided, then just supporting your arguments with credible witnesses’ testimonies, shaky home videos and CGI recreations is probably not going to be enough –it didn’t work 20 years ago, so it’s unlikely to work today.
These are the things I was thinking of yesterday, when I sat to rewatch James Fox’s old documentary UFOs: Out of the Blue (freely available on Youtube) which was well received by UFO enthusiasts when it came out in 2003 for putting together a broad “UFOlogy 101” anthology, clearly in the typical ETH camp, which included first-hand interviews about some of the most compelling cases in recent history, like Rendlesham and the Phoenix lights –unfortunately a few notoriously fake videos were also included in the mix (e.g. Billy Meier’s ‘beamships’ or the August 1997 video from Mexico). Back in those days of the early 2000’s Fox was a regular feature in the UFO roundtables organized by Larry King, where he would often butt heads with Bill Nye. Out of the Blue was followed by I know What I Saw in 2009 which also followed a similar formula of interviewing witnesses and making a case for the “big coverup” maintained by the US government on the subject.
Then in 2012 James became one of the stars in National Geographic’s Chasing UFOs, which was so poorly received (even among UFO buffs) for its sensationalistic tone and tiring use of reality TV gimmicks –i.e. running around in the middle of the night with IR cameras shouting “OMG what was that?!”— it only lasted one season.
After that, Fox kind of disappeared from the public UFO radar. In 2013 it was announced that James was associating himself with Tracy Torme –screenwriter for Fire in the Sky, who was also involved in the infamous TV show UFO Coverup? Live!— on a new documentary tentatively called “701,” as an allusion to the number of UFO reports on the Blue Book’s files which remained unsolved. Sporadic updates about the project kept popping here and there on UFO forums and podcasts, but in all appearances it seems the project remained in pre-production limbo for many years.
Finally, last Wednesday James released the trailer for the long-awaited documentary, which has now been renamed as “The Phenomenon”:
“THE PHENOMENON” is the first high-production-value documentary to assemble the pieces of the UFO puzzle into a startling, up-to-the-minute picture, peering into 70 years of history right up to fresh discoveries that challenge everything we think we know.
It opens by proving there is a shocking “hidden history” that began in the late Forties and Fifties, when fleets of UFOs appeared in the skies over nearly every state in the U.S., culminating in a flyover of Washington D.C. It uses never-before-seen archival footage and beautifully shot new interviews, deploying high-calibre journalism and edge-of-your-seat storytelling to take audiences on a revelatory journey that leads them to an unsettling, unavoidable conclusion: “We are not alone.”
Featuring eyewitnesses, experts and officials include “60 Minutes”-level interviews with former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who arranged secret government funding of UFO study programs; John Podesta, White House Chief of Staff for Clinton and advisor to Obama, who tried to lift the veil from inside the corridors of power; former U.S. Energy Secretary and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who believes in the likelihood that an alien spaceship did crash in Roswell; Chris Mellon, FMR Deputy Sec. Defense for Intelligence, Jacques Vallee, the most famous living UFO researcher, an Advisor to Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” who worked closely with famed Project Bluebook astronomer J. Allen Hynek; and many more.
I gotta be honest with you: I am not looking forward to this documentary. Right now it feels like a rehash of Out of the Blue –this new film will also be narrated by Peter Coyote, just like the old one– with prettier CGI recreations, yet following the same strategy of alluding to the “big coverup” by the big, bad government, with the inclusion of the Nimitz UFO encounters and the interviews of David Fravor, former Senator Harry Reid, and TTSA’s Chris Mellon, just to make the material more contemporary. The title choice and the inclusion of the Ariel case gives me some hope that Fox has moved away from the stereotypical ETH model, yet the insistence of including Roswell doesn’t make me raise my hopes too high…
Granted, the public perception on UFOs has shifted in the last couple of days, thanks to the revelation of the Pentagon’s AATIP program –something we’ve covered multiple times— but the public has already heard Fravor’s testimony, and we’ve long known John Podesta is on board with ‘Disclosure’. Learning what happened in the past is surely important –especially for the younger members of the community– but do we really need a new remedial class of “UFOlogy 101”? After 20 years, isn’t it time to move forward?
You know what would be refreshing in a UFO documentary? Exploring the possibility that the main reason for the “cover-up,” is because the powers that be don’t have a clue of what’s really going on.