Warner Bros. // 2006 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 3rd, 2010
What you thought you knew about Roswell is only the beginning.
In 1995, a man named Ray Santilli claimed that he had found proof of the existence of extraterrestrial beings. He submitted as evidence a 17-minute video, which Santilli claimed was footage of an autopsy being performed on an alien during the 1940s. The footage was believable enough to generate the interest of television stations around the world. On a single night, the footage was broadcast in more than 30 countries, most famously on an American one-hour television special hosted by Jonathan Frakes entitled Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction. Soon after, Santilli admitted that most of the video had been staged. Most of the video? According to Santilli, "a few frames" of the film were taken from actual footage that had badly deteriorated since he first viewed it. He claimed that his video was essentially a "recreation" of real footage that actually did exist at one point.
While it remains very doubtful that Santilli ever had access to anything authentic, the fact that he and his business partner Gary Shoefield managed to fool so many (and make so much money in the process) is kind of impressive. The story would undoubtedly have made a very compelling documentary, but writer William Davies and director Jonny Campbell instead decided to turn the tale into a fictional film...um, about a documentary filmmaker interviewing fictionalized versions of Santilli and Shoefield. The rationale behind fictionalizing the story was that the filmmakers would have license to add additional bits of humor to the proceedings and turn the whole affair into a comedy, but that's just the problem: the story is interesting, but the film rarely manages to make it very funny.
Santilli and Shoefield are portrayed by the British comedy duo of Anthony McPartlin (Love Actually) and Declan Donnelly (Byker Grove), better known simply as "Ant and Dec." The two guys are reasonably convincing in their respective roles and clearly have comfortable chemistry with each other, but there's just so precious little they can do to wring laughs out of the script they're given. Things start out promisingly enough, as an old man named Harvey (an amusingly foreboding Harry Dean Stanton, Repo Man) presents Santilli with footage of an actual alien autopsy. Alas, when the footage is nearly destroyed shortly thereafter, Santilli is desperate to continue with his plan of revealing his alien video to the world -- even if he has to create it himself. There's some fun to be had in this section of the film, as Santilli and his pals are forced to get creative in order to figure out how to stage a convincing alien autopsy (haggis is used as a brain).
However, once the fake film is completed, Alien Autopsy becomes repetitive and tedious. Santilli and his friends argue about how to handle the media frenzy surrounding the release of the footage, there are fights over finances, Santilli and Shoefield start to experience a strain on their long-time relationship, lies have to be covered by more lies and so on. This stuff (intercut with silly sequences depicting the behind-the-scenes measures taken by the U.S. government to cover up the truth) just isn't very dramatically compelling, and this is where one gets the sense that a well-staged documentary could have made the whole saga a bit more interesting.
The slightly odd framing device doesn't really work, either. It's basically about fifteen minutes worth of scenes where Bill Pullman nods, rubs his chin and says, "Wow, interesting," repeatedly. In a couple of bits, Pullman is gravely asked to sign confidentiality agreements detailing various odds and ends. These scenes add nothing to the film and serve as an even more blatant reminder that this should have been a documentary. There's a lot of potential lurking around in this material, but it's rarely tapped into. Then again, it's worth noting that the screenwriter is the same gentleman who gave us such strangely unfunny comedies as Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Johnny English.
The DVD transfer is fine for the most part, though some of the artistic choices are a bit peculiar. The flashback scenes (which dominate the film's running time) look sharp and clear, while the present-day Pullman scenes are grainy, grimy and generally ugly all around (I can't even imagine why -- maybe it's supposed to make it seem more documentary-ish?). There's also a lot of source footage in the film (real and recreated) that looks pretty rough. Audio is fine, and there's a surprisingly excellent smattering of pop songs to help keep the energy level up. Supplements include a commentary with Campbell, a 30-minute featurette entitled "The Making of Ant & Dec's Alien Autopsy," some deleted scenes, an alternate opening and some brief outtakes.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate Opening
* Deleted Scenes