Saturday, November 14, 2009

For an alien-abduction movie

there are surprisingly few aliens in The Fourth Kind. In fact, there are none. There are alarming bursts of the ancient Sumerian language, either rumbling away on a microcassette or spat out by humans videotaped while under hypnosis. And something, some shadow rolling across the sky, can be seen in footage recorded by a police car's dashboard camera, before that tape becomes hopelessly scrambled. But no aliens. Why are the aliens so shy? Because The Fourth Kind is a movie that mixes archival audio and video with dramatizations. While it's one thing to capture the psychological aftermath of alien abduction and possibly a glimpse of a real-life UFO, to find any video of actual extra-terrestrials would be a bombshell that no director or movie studio could sit on.
That's one possibility. The other is that The Fourth Kind is a colossal blunder of a hoax—an attempt to capitalize on widespread UFO belief that's cynical even by Hollywood's standards. In claiming its fact-based bona fides, the movie isn't winking knowingly at the audience, adopting the found-footage style of The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. This movie means it. It opens with actress Milla Jovovich explaining that the movie is about events that occurred between Oct. 1 through 9, 2000, that she's portraying Dr. Abigail Tyler, a "renowned psychologist," and that "every dramatized scene in this movie is supported by either archived audio, video," or is based on Dr. Tyler's "extensive interviews with the director." In the world of UFOlogy, aliens don't show up on camera. Witnesses, abductees and investigators all find threads of evidence, but there's nothing cohesively tying them together. For The Fourth Kind to appear real, it can't give us extraterrestrials, just the wreckage in their wake. The result is a movie terrified of ever delivering its own payoff. But its failure as a film is less about bad acting and clumsy direction; it's that it inhabits its demographic too well. Silly as it is, The Fourth Kind stumbles onto some of the biggest problems facing the discussion and investigation of UFOs, alien abductions and every other suspected act of interplanetary aggression.

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