I am a bubble burster, always have been. My first experience with The Fourth Kind was writing up the trailer for SciFiSquad with the slug "Trailer for 'The Fourth Kind' Might be Lying to You". I have no innate grudge against the film, but I am aware that we live in the year 2009 and that I am surrounded by magical Interweb-enabled devices that can tell me whether or not I should believe a movie that purports to be "based on actual case studies". Immediately after watching the trailer I set out for confirmation as to whether or not its claims about alien abductions in Nome, Alaska had any basis in this world. I found nothing.

However, I have since then seen The Fourth Kind and I can tell you flat out that it is fascinating. Not because the film is, in fact, fact, but because of how intentionally delusional it is in its approach. It's interesting that people assume/remember The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity both sold themselves as being "real footage" because neither did. Both just played with conventions of the first-person perspective to create an illusion of truth. The Fourth Kind is not content with such a linear ploy, though. It not only contains the same 'found footage' gimmick as those two films, but it pretends the footage is real. It has its star actress literally walk right up to the camera and tell us that the movie is unadulterated truth.

And while that tactic annoyed me at first, I've since come to respect it. I cannot think of any film that has ever used the Door-in-the-Foot technique so brilliantly. I'll explain.
If I asked you for $100 dollars, you'd likely say no. If I then countered with a request for $1, you're more inclined to say yes out of a sense of guilt for having turned down my intentionally extravagant request the first time around. This is exactly what The Fourth Kind does. The events that happen in the film are so shocking, so outlandish, and so melodramatic that anyone with a shred of common sense would instantly identify them as flights of fancy. And yet TFK asks you to believe every word of it. The twist, however, is that it asks you to believe it all because it knows you won't.

If your experience is anything like mine, you'll walk out of the theater afterward and the first thing people will be talking about is whether or not it's real. Inevitably someone is going to say, "Well sure, I know that wasn't actual footage, but it can't all be fake, right?" And that's when you'll realize the producers of TFK have just shoved their metaphorical door into your foot. They've leveraged the curiosity in all of us to the point where you don't doubt that you've been lied to, but that you do doubt their story is completely fictitious. You've turned down their $100 demand, but you've given them that $1 benefit of the doubt.

So out of respect for that age-old, but subtle bit of social engineering on the part of the makers and marketers of The Fourth Kind, let's give them the $1 once-over they've earned by looking at some of their claims.

Dr. Abigail Tyler's case study footage is real.

This is the easiest thing about TFK to debunk as it requires no actual research. Common sense tells us that if any of the "actual case studies" were real, the 'archival footage' would have been on YouTube years ago. It's absence tells anyone with any awareness of media's hunger for controversy that the footage is fake. If it was real, it wouldn't have taken 9 years to get out. However, there is an interesting attempt at misdirection going on here.

By openly telling the audience that half of the movie is a Hollywood re-enactment, they're drawing attention away from the 'archival footage', essentially saying "If we're willing to admit that we faked XYZ, then obviously we didn't fake ABC."

But just for posterity, let's do some research. Oh, wait, a query of the Mutual UFO Network's database of case files returns zero results for reported sightings/encounters in Nome, Alaska.

The FBI has continued to investigate Nome's inordinate number of missing persons.

Surprise: this one is partially true. The FBI has indeed visited Nome to take a closer look at reports of missing persons, but they drew no abnormal conclusions. In 2006, according to the Anchorage Daily News, the FBI were able to attribute the majority of the two dozen missing persons to common causes such as alcohol abuse and snowmobile accidents (on average, local Alaskans have higher rates of alcoholism than any other state in the US of A; oddly enough there was no visible drinking in the PG-13 rated film), while completely dismissing the notion that there was anything connecting the disappearances. Further, the ADH notes one reason this outside investigation team was brought in was because the citizens of Nome had lost trust in their local police department after they had bungled an investigation into the death of one of their own.

Not once does their coverage of the FBI's 2006 public debriefing on the matter mention alien abductions.

Speaking of Nome Alaska...

This is what Nome looks like in The Fourth Kind:

This is what Nome looks like in the real world (photo credit):

All of the abductees see a white owl before their episode.

While there is no telling whether or not people in Nome find white owls staring at them from the window before entering their room, seeing a white owl is a common element of the abduction scenario. However, TFK reverses the order of events in seeing the owl. According to John Carpenter - the abduction specialist, not the director; though this Carpenter is the Director of Abduction Research for the Mutual UFO Network - the owl encounter takes place aboard the alien's craft, not prior:

"A table or two may be present in the typically undecorated room. Aliens may stand over their subject, and stare deeply into his or her eyes. While this is traumatic for many, Carpenter thinks the stare plays a positive role. Aliens have strong hypnotic-telepathic powers; their stare represents an effort to calm their subjects. The stare might conceivably be used to help abductees imagine themselves encountering a white owl -- an image that is much easier for our minds to accept."

So the film gets the chronology wrong, but the visual right.

Ancient Sumerians chronicled visitors from outer space.

Though the film claims to have changed the names of the people involved, it is clear that the real-world inspiration for Hakeem Kae-Kazim's character (the one who tells Dr. Tyler about how the Sumerians carved etchings depicting "ships like Apollo" thousands of years ago, and who also translates the Alien language as being Sumerian) is Zecharia Sitchin, arguably the world's biggest proponent of the belief that man descended from ancient astronauts. He has published over 12 books on the matter, all of which are dependent on his translation of ancient cuneiform tablets. However, though there are very few people who can actually 'read' Sumerian, those that can disagree with his translations:

"the substance of my disagreement is not due to "translation philosophy," as though Mr. Sitchin and I merely disagree over possible translations of certain words. What is at stake is the integrity of the cuneiform tablets themselves, along with the legacy of Sumer and Mesopotamian scribes. Very simply, the ancient Mesopotamians compiled their own dictionaries - we have them and they have been published since mid-century. The words Mr. Sitchin tells us refer to rocket ships have no such meanings according to the ancient Mesopotamians themselves."

So there you have it. There is no Dr. Abigail Tyler, there are no reported cases of UFO encounters in Nome, Alaska. The FBI did pay a visit to Nome, but only to conclude that its missing people were almost all due to alcohol-related incidents; the film crew, however, did not visit Nome as the production was shot in Bulgaria. Contactees do report having seen a white owl, but this occurs on the spaceship, not in the bedroom. And finally, people who have dedicated their lives to translating dead Mesopotamian languages say that the Sumerians were not referring to rocket ships in their tablets.

Did I miss anything?
categories Features, Sci-Fi