UFO sightings in the U.S. are nothing new. Although the earliest of them date back to the late 19th century, it was in the aftermath of World War II that the first great wave of American UFO sightings took place. It began in the summer of 1947 with the widely publicized claims of Kenneth Arnold, a businessman from Idaho who reported seeing nine strange space crafts traveling over Washington’s Cascade Mountains from the window of a plane. He said that they flew “like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water,” and thus the term “flying saucer” was born. Dozens of similar sightings were reported in the days that followed, and from then through the end of the 1950s, hundreds of UFO sightings were reported every year. The frequency of UFO sightings has ebbed and flowed since then.
One of the more recent flashpoints in the history of UFO controversies has been the claims of Bob Lazar, who brought the U.S. Air Force test site Area 51 to public attention in 1989 when he claimed to have been formerly employed at “S-4,” a purported adjacent facility dedicated to unlocking the secrets of alien spacecraft in the custody of the U.S. government.
Featuring extensive interviews with Lazar and those who know him, Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers has obvious appeal for those of the tinfoil hat persuasion, but it clearly seeks to draw in the consideration of wider audiences, opening with an appeal to open-mindedness and featuring narration from Mickey Rourke.
Although evidently seeking to broaden its audience through attaching a big name, in the film itself Rourke’s voiceover is absolutely pointless. Not a single scrap of useful or even specific information is given at any point. He never even narrates anything of relevance, only over-the-top b-roll — namely dramatic landscapes and distractingly stylized reenactments featuring director Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell.
These reenactments generally feature Corbell either receiving phone calls — his ringtone is Gandhi’s “Spiritual Message,” because this is a documentary that lacks even the faintest conception of subtlety — or texting, for instance in a magenta-lit bathroom. In the case the neon lighting fails to serve as a constant reminder of how staged it all is, the blatantly expository and entirely awkward phrasing and pacing of these sequences should do the trick. While reenactments have a poor reputation in general, filmmakers like Bart Layton (The Imposter) have shown that they can indeed be used compellingly. They just usually are not. Bob Lazar falls under the “usually.”
But back to Rourke’s narration, the purpose of which by the end of the documentary feels like a more pressing mystery than whether or not Lazar speaks the truth. Between calling beliefs “stowaways to the imagination emporium,” claiming “reality simply isn’t what it used to be,” and making the case that the “detonation of ideas” leads to the discovery that “we’re wrong, we’re always fucking wrong,” the real question brought to mind by Rourke’s narration is less “what are you on about?” than “what are you on?”.”
Consisting entirely of bungled axioms and tangential ramblings, Rourke’s voiceover doesn’t sound like narration belonging in a documentary so much as the uncensored thoughts of a stoned Nostradamus. It’s so bad there are moments you can’t help but think it must be in jest, but then there will be some reminder that no, the documentary is being entirely earnest, it’s just dreadful. When expository information is needed, it’s provided through narration from Corbell, which only further begs the question of what actual purpose Rourke’s narration is supposed to serve.
A few gems of compelling content are scattered between these long stretches of stuff and nonsense. Whether Lazar actually believes what he claims, and whether or not these beliefs are connected to actual reality are two separate things. Even in the case that the former is true, the latter could still easily be false, a rather basic concept the documentary largely chooses to ignore in favor of conflating the whole thing to a question of whether or not Lazar believes what he says, and then spending the bulk of the film trying to convince you that he does. And Lazar does seem believably convinced. Unfortunately, that doesn’t actually prove anything.
The few genuinely eerie moments in the documentary come from the few instances of external validation of Lazar’s story. Though several investigations have found no evidence of the degrees Lazar claims to hold from MIT and Caltech, he was listed in a phone book for the Los Alamos laboratory that claimed he never worked there. If he worked there, why did they lie about it to the media? And would they have hired him if he couldn’t provide proof of his schooling? It’s one moment of intrigue in the midst of a whole lot of filler and hand-waving that suggests there is enough of a story here for an interesting documentary — at least a short one — but Bob Lazar completely misses the mark.