Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Phenomenon (2020) ***


Directed by James Fox

Narrated by Peter Coyote

The Phenomenon covers the history of UFO phenomenon as told mostly by former military personnel and other government officials. Produced with a stately tone minus the tin foil hat crowd drawn to this subject like moths to a flame (they've graduated to more (flat) earth based conspiracies for the moment), the documentary backs off from making major assertions about contacts with extraterrestrials, mainly concerned with what governments know and what they are not revealing to the public. At the same time it covers much of the same ground as TV shows like In Search of . . or Unsolved Mysteries. Intriguing questions are raised, but those hoping for smoking guns and mind blowing confessions will be disappointed.

UFO's were back in the headlines last spring when the Pentagon released footage of some strange craft pilots have encountered over the years. With the pandemic commanding everyone's attention, the story did not prove to be a watershed in saga government secrecy on the subject. Interest in UFO has somewhat waned over the past few decades, but has by no means disappeared. The realm of conspiracy theories has more competing narratives than usual these days. In a time of political polarization with people suspicious of their neighbors, teachers, dog catchers, and pizza parlors - conspiracy theories are like rocket fuel. While I joked about UFO believers in the previous paragraph it is a topic that brings together people from different political stripes and diverse professions ranging from academia, the military, law enforcement, the scientific community, and pockets of political circles. Maybe some hope in that regard?

The Phenomenon begins in the 1940s when reports of UFO sightings increased all over the world. Pilots reported encountering strange craft in the sky. There's the requisite recounting of the "Roswell Incident" that was probably a weather balloon crash, as Carl Sagan covered in his final book The Demon Haunted Earth. The so called "UFO Invasion" of Washington DC in July of 1952 also gets covered but with hardly any context. Much attention is given to odd activity around nuclear weapons bases, and reports of UFO craft messing with nuclear missile systems during the Cold War in the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1994 it was reported that ET craft landed near a school in Zimbabwe. Children at the school believe they interacted with "visitors" from the craft and the documentary includes their reunion 20 years later when they recall the incident. These people obviously experienced something, but the "ET" explanation bears no supporting evidence beyond eyewitness reports.

In recent decades politicians have expressed interest in UFOs. President Bill Clinton expressed an interest and asked for a special investigation of Roswell, but admits he learned little from his inquiries. Harry Reid, retired Senator from Nevada, also attempted to investigate the Pentagon for more transparency on the issue. Few have taken it seriously or expressed their concerns to the public. The Phenomenon suggests there's a government within the government deep state that knows all the secrets. Or perhaps some sort of global organization? Oh man, just listen to me.

That's the problem with documentaries of this type. They raise questions, but never raise the right questions. A sociological or psychological explanation would be helpful, since all questions regarding these phenomenon come down to more nuanced and complicated explanations that often involve religion. Carl Jung proposed such an approach to the issue of UFOS, but the public gets sidetracked into the rabbit hole of government conspiracies. For all I know there's a galactic body somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy keeping close tabs on Earth so things don't get too crazy. I'm certain that Brexit, the death of Prince, and election of Trump set off a Five Alarm Fire. But until there's overwhelming evidence, I'll remain a skeptic. 

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