Universal // 2009 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // April 2nd, 2010
There are four kinds of alien abductions. The fourth kind is abduction.
There are four kinds of bad movies. The fourth kind is this one right here.
In remote Alaska, citizens have been vanishing for decades. The FBI has sent record investigators to Nome to look into the phenomenon, but is mum as to the cause. The truth behind the situation involves -- as good movies always do -- aliens.
At least, that's what Dr. Abigail Tyler (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element) thinks. She has been videotaping her therapy sessions with her patients (all doctors totally do this) and everyone seems to be complaining about sleepless nights, visits at 3AM by strange grey people with funny accents. Each describe a near-identical experience...of the fourth kind!
The fourth kind, people! That's scary. Presumably this is slightly worse than the third, marginally worse than the second, and noticeably worse than the first kind of...alien things.
The Fourth Kind is certainly not the first movie to state the events depicted within are based on real events. Films make this audacious claim all the time; consider Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project, or even Fargo if you want to be cruel about it. The distinction between "real" and "totally made up crap" in Hollywood is a fine line, and the line between the two often hinges on nothing more than some clever text buried deep in the end credits.
Where The Fourth Kind deviates from the competition is in the sheer desperate lengths in goes to sell you its Truth, the narrative equivalent of a time-share condominium. Lost in a sea of uncertainty, doubletalk and ethical conundrums, the film pulls out its moral compass for guidance, and tosses it overboard.
An alien abduction movie based on real case studies that intermixes actual case study footage into its narrative structure to provide credibility to its claims of realness, The Fourth Kind enters a surreal land of metafiction almost immediately. Within seconds, the film breaks the fourth wall, informing audiences that the entire film is a dramatic recreation of actual events. We see actress Milla Jovovich, portraying Dr. Abigail Tyler, a real person, performing key sequences side-by-side in split frame with archival footage of the actual Dr. Abigail Tyler, recorded on poorer quality home video. On-screen subtitles helpfully indicate that one is an actress playing Dr. Tyler, while the other is the real Dr. Tyler. We watch both sitting side-by-side on a couch under hypnosis, synchronizing their screaming and hollering as they relive traumatic alien abduction events via hypnosis. The film cuts and weaves in scratchy and distorted audio tapes of real events, scratchy and distorted video footage of real abductions, retrospective interviews with the "real" Dr. Abigail Tyler interjected into footage of the fake Dr. Tyler / Jovovich running around in hysterics.
Sounds pretty good, eh? Talk about ambitious! This would be dynamite material if any of it was actually, you know, true. Shocking revelation to follow: it's just a movie. I know you may be upset, but we can refer you to grief counseling. And here's the problem -- the film puts so much hot air into the myth of this film being real and true, once you realize that both Dr. Tylers are actresses and the whole premise is hogwash, the film simply pops like a hot air balloon. And it's a long, long way down back to Earth.
Deflated from an explored narrative, audiences are left with a scary prospect: an overly restrictive PG-13 thriller about alien abductions that refuses to actually show anything even remotely scary, mixing up real actors playing real-life people who end up being fake people, and real documentary footage of the real-life people, who also end up being fake people. The end result is confusing, irritating, disorienting and unpleasant to watch, with wooden acting and a boring plot. One admits that a certain amount of creative liberty and truth-stretching is to be expected from Hollywood, but The Fourth Kind goes way past the line. This is the narrative equivalent of a two-man con job. It is disingenuous to the point of insult.
Thank heavens for small favors. At least the disc itself is rock solid in terms of its presentation. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is sharp and detailed with a clean and crisp transfer. Black levels are deep, colors are intense and there is nary a speck of dirt to be found. Audio comes in English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 presentations, which are vibrant, energetic and active throughout all the channels. Bass response is strong and dialogue is clear, and moments of intense confusion and static lead to some intensely textured environmental effects in your living room. A Dolby Digital DVS 2.0 transfer is also included, which presumably can enable some kind of virtual speaker fancy pants effects with the appropriate home stereo gear. Personally, it sounded like a plain old stereo transfer to me, as rock solid as the rest. The movie stinks, but credit where credit is due -- this is a nice presentation for a single-disc DVD.
In terms of extras, well...hope you like deleted scenes, because that's all you're getting.
I like movies. I like movies about alien abductions -- I have a serious soft spot for Communion. I like horror films. I like Elias Koteas, and I even like Milla Jovovich in that way that people do; gazing at her luridly and ignoring her acting altogether.
The point, of course, is that there are many elements in The Fourth Kind that could make a decent thriller, given the right sequence of events. Everything in this film is spectacularly wrong in its current iteration, but at one point, there certainly could have been a good movie here. I'm just not sure if that makes me feel better or worse about the situation.
A staggering train wreck of falsehoods, illusions, and confusing editing, The Fourth Kind burns up any currency with audiences almost immediately. Once you establish the very premise of a film as total shenanigans, it's hard to build much respect for it.
Guilty of FIBBING, the most heinous of crimes!
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site