Heard of Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Ever wondered why it was called the 'third kind'? Well, believe it or not, UFO specialists (who have studied - get this - ufology) have some kind of elaborate classification system for Close Encounters, which is actually broken down into no less than seven different 'kinds', each one having up to seven sub-categories. So, if you bump into an alien and it paralyses you with its heat rays, well that's a Sixth Kind encounter, whereas if it only waves at you from the window on its space ship as it's taking off to leave for another universe, well that's just the Third Kind (subcategory A). I'm not kidding. And if you want to get to the Seventh Kind I think you have to sleep with an alien. Or something.
Since the '70s the first four categories have been globally recognised, established by a researcher called J. Allen Hynek who conducted UFO investigations on behalf of the US Air Force, and later consulted on the aforementioned Spielberg sci-fi movie. Level four is alien abduction, the subject of The Fourth Kind, a 2009 movie starring Milla Jovovich.
Please be aware that there may be spoilers ahead, particularly for those who still believe that The Blair Witch Project was a documentary
Introduced by Milla, as herself, talking to the camera, we initially learn that this movie is a splice of seemingly real-life video footage and over-dubbed audio recordings, with filmed 'movie segments' to recreate the events in their entirety. Of course, the film is entirely fictional, but it attempts to gain a firmer grip on plausibility through the inclusion of this rather 'odd' video/audio material. The story revolves around a bunch of people who were in the life of a certain Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychologist in a remote Alaskan town who began to videotape her sessions when she realised there were increasingly strange trends between them. She also happened to be a sufferer herself, and her own sessions, together with footage of a supposedly more recently-created interview, are expanded upon using purposefully glossy 'recreated' movie scenes.
The story goes like this. Dr Tyler lost her husband to a strange assailant, who killed him while she was sleeping besides him. Although she was there, she can only remember snippets of what happened during some quite traumatic hypnotherapy sessions. She maintains that it was an extra-terrestrial. During her video-taped sessions with other patients under hypnosis she draws connections between their experiences - most obviously in that they all saw a white owl and some 'unspeakable creature' - and begins to question the truth behind her own fragmented memories. In spite of having to take care of her two young children, and despite being surrounded by disbelievers, Dr Tyler refuses to give in on her journey to uncover the truth.
The Fourth Kind is a big fat lie. It attempts (and often succeeds) to fool viewers into believing that the poor quality Blair Witch-esque home video footage is real. But the whole thing has been staged. I mean all of it. Let me clarify this for anybody who isn't quite sure what I mean. Every single minute of this movie has been filmed by the Director. None of it is real archive footage, it has just been filmed to look that way. It's all an elaborate hoax. They get two actors to play most of the roles (and even show some of them split-screen) in an attempt to make you 'believe'. This is either the most elaborate April Fools' Joke movie in the world, or it is just a big con waste of time.
You see, as soon as you know that the whole thing is a lie, you wonder why they bothered. And then you realise, they went to such great lengths because the joke is on the viewer - it's an exercise in teaching you to 'believe' by making fiction look utterly real. Have you heard about that time when Orson Welles narrated a certain famous story over the radios and the whole world thought we were being invaded by tripods? Well, imagine if that had been done on purpose to trick those listening at home. Sorry, but I think that a few lawsuits would have been pending. This movie, thankfully, will hopefully not have as much of an impact, but it really is playing on the idea that audience members won't question what's going on too much, and will get sucked into the whole thing.
It's all very elaborate. Initially you wonder why this wasn't just a simple hour-long TV Documentary about extra-terrestrial 'experiences'. It has enough supposedly real video (and audio) material to warrant a proper Documentary study, where the relevant material could have been discussed by suitable scientists in the field - offering both for and against theories. You see, the seemingly real footage really speaks for itself - even though it's fake! You end up buying into the whole thing, dismissing the movie segments as additional fabrications but endorsing most of the real footage because of the shoddy, jarringly poor way it has been filmed. Cleverly the 'real' material does not - in any way - show extra-terrestrial life, or try and provide any conclusive evidence of such, instead going for the 'that was really strange' angle. Even if you ignore 'Dr Tyler's' own experiences (because, honestly, they are the least credible and could largely be explained by the trauma suffered by the tragic death of her husband that she witnessed) the most 'inexplicable' evidence comes in the form of the faked footage from the multitude of sessions she had with different patients who all told the same story, under hypnosis. Not everybody can be hypnotised (funnily enough, soldiers and the like are the easiest because they are so used to following commands) but there is no reason to believe that they are all faking being hypnotised. And to the best of my knowledge, it is extremely hard to lie when hypnotised. Sure, you can probably not be very clear in your telling of 'the truth' but to get a whole bunch of people, probably hypnotised, all telling the same story - down to the same damn image of the white owl - is pretty peculiar, to say the least. Until you realise that it's all a big con. The 'real' interviews have been faked too, and played - split-screen - alongside the movie-style interviews to give them more credibility.
Initially we get a plethora of split-screens and name-cards, trying their hardest to establish the fact that these are actors playing real individuals (even though they are not), using 'real' video and audio material, often dubbed over the movie scenes (!) to help you suspend disbelief. But whilst it may be easy to get swept up by these tactics, the reality is that this is nothing more than a piece of fiction, featuring some faked documentary footage. And once you reach that conclusion, you feel utterly cheated. This is not even a re-enactment, as it so desperately wants it to be - because nobody can prove anything actually happened!
I've mostly enjoyed the movies that Milla Jovovich has done. Often frivolous (Resident Evil, Perfect Getaway), they are nonetheless fun, and she always gives us a tough, engaging heroine who is far more than just a pretty face. But I honestly have no idea why she signed up for this. My worst fear is that many who got involved didn't do so because of just the paycheque, but also because they believed in it, either as an exercise in cleverly fooling the public or, worse, because they believe in some UFO nonsense. By standing up at the film's start and introducing the whole thing, as herself - saying the words that she says - it really does seem like Milla is laying herself on the line because of her faith, either in the project, or the extra-terrestrial. Similarly the Director appears, as himself, throughout the movie, as the interviewer of the 'real' Dr Tyler (played by Charlotte Milchard). All of the supporting cast members - including the underused Will Patton (24) and the underrated Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line) - try their best to play the bit parts, but have little material to work with when faced with the segmented storytelling style. But Milla and the Director fair the worst.
The film would have had more impact had it taken a Paranormal Activity angle (although arguably even that succumbed to Spielberg-vision) and was just filmed as a normal movie. But I guess that's the whole point - they didn't want it to be just another abduction thriller, they wanted to play a Blair Witch-style trick on audience members (except Blair Witch didn't really fool many people). Here, I'd have preferred if the filmmakers spent less time splitting the screen and getting two people to play each role, and more time investing in a fictional but 'suggestive' movie. A more fluid, more easily digestible way of storytelling would have worked better and perhaps even had a more significant impact. The heavy-handed approach to making the viewer believe that this is all 'real' is an unforgiveable scam on the parts of the filmmakers. And at the end of the day, you feel unsatisfied by the conclusion, and cheated by the allusion to reality. Really, you would have more fun pondering Mulder's standard 'paranoid conspiracy theorist' ramblings in an average episode of the X-Files than giving much of the narrative here any of your cognitive time.
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