Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2009

The truth is not out there

'The Fourth Kind,' in the immortal words of Jake LaMotta, defeats its own purpose

The Fourth Kind
Universal Pictures
Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi
Screenplay: Olatunde Osunsanmi and Terry Lee Robbins
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Will Patton, Elias Koteas, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Corey Johnson, Mia McKenna-Bruce and Raphael Coleman
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 38 minutes
Opened November 6, 2009
(out of four)

When watching The Fourth Kind, the first question is obvious. Why, if we have so much documentary footage of "real" unexplained events, do we need side-by-side recreations that look virtually identical to the real thing? To that question, there is no satisfactory answer. We watch events unfold twice at the same time, without purpose.

The slicker, dramatized versions do not enlighten us - they seem, naturally, redundant. More importantly, their effectiveness as cinema pales in comparison to the grainy, "real" footage, which is so effective that it makes the answer to our second question all the more disappointing.

And that second question is, Are these unexplained cases, as the movie and marketing department claim, real? Is the video footage real? And the answer is a resounding, and perplexing, no. All of it, as it turns out, was fake. You'd think that with all the weird, unexplained phenomena out there, a filmmaker with designs on this kind of movie could find something legitimate to build a story around. But no. Instead, director Olatunde Osunsanmi and his co-writer Terry Lee Robbins - if, that is, they really exist - staged everything. Made it all up.

Naturally, the problem isn't that the content of this or any movie is fake. I mean, we can all enjoy a good ruse. But it's that the filmmakers go to such great lengths within the movie to convince us otherwise. Milla Jovovich addresses the audiences, informing us that she is an actress, and is playing the part of Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychiatrist and the key figure in a series of unexplained events in Nome, Alaska, about a decade ago.

When Jovovich or other actors appear on screen in their dramatizations, they are accompanied by title cards like, "Actor Will Patton, playing the part of Sheriff August (Alias)." At the film's conclusion, we are informed of the fates of the characters we've been following, mysterious "facts" about the case and the whole town of Nome and the current whereabouts of the film's subjects.

The fact that there were no case studies, nor any actual archival footage, has been confessed by the studio. It was all marketing.

Then again, it wasn't just that, was it? No - it was part of the text of the film itself. It was ingrained within the entire thing. Some will say this is similar to The Blair Witch Project, but that's a faulty comparison. With Blair Witch, you could pretty much take it at face value and draw your own conclusions - it tells you about the "found" footage, and then shows it to you. You can believe the story or not, but whether or not it was true didn't actually disrupt the film while you were watching it.

The same cannot be said of The Fourth Kind. It spends all its time reminding us that it's based on "truth" - even showing us that supposed truth. The most disappointing part is, that "archive footage" was the film's best asset. From a technical standpoint, Osunsanmi nails it. The footage shows just enough to disturb us, confound us, scare us - but not enough for us to come to any firm conclusions. The footage is shrouded in mystery and ambiguity. It is a perfect replication of the kind of real archived footage that we've seen on news shows and niche programming for decades. In other words, we have absolutely no reason to doubt the footage's validity.

Except, of course, when we find out that it's all fake.

The "cases" in question involve a string of coincidences and bizarre circumstances involving inhabitants of Nome. Dr. Tyler realizes that many of her patients are having the same visions and the same symptoms - and as things progress, the situation grows more and more unsettling and people start to get put in danger.

Eventually, Tyler broaches the possibility of alien abduction - not because she's a nutter, but because she's seen unexplained things firsthand and finds no other reasonable explanation.

Even while I was convinced by the film's "real" footage, did I buy its explanation? Absolutely not. But that's not the point. It was intriguing enough to make you want to think about it, to wrap your head around it, to discover, if you can, what really happened, to hear and ponder whatever real explanations are out there. The unexplained is fascinating. Once it gets its explanation, not as much. And when that explanation is, "Just kidding!" - well, then we just feel cheated.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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