"They are real!"—William Gazecki, Director of Crop Circles: Quest for Truth
These days, crop circles are up there with UFO abductions and the Loch Ness Monster as strictly tabloid fodder, not to be taken seriously by serious people who wish to be taken seriously by other serious people. And yet, as with many paranormal phenomena, the skeptical backlash against discussion of crop circles tends to obscure some truly interesting questions.
How much do we know about crop circles? Who studies them? Who (or what) could possibly create these perfect geometrical shapes without leaving a trace of their presence? William Gazecki tries to answer these questions with his documentary Crop Circles: Quest for Truth.
Most people know about crop circles, large geometric shapes pressed into farm fields, since their notice and popularity soared in the 1970s. Many people have also heard of hoaxsters Doug (Bower) and Dave (Chorley), two elderly British gents who came forward in the 80s to claim that they had created all of the circles themselves. Although there were several holes in their story (most obvious of which is who created the circles outside of Britain), many casual observers were left with the idea that all crop circles are hoaxes. Gazecki would like to disavow them of this notion.
However, and despite what the title claims, this documentary does not evenly explore both sides of the crop circle argument. Instead, Gazecki comes across as a fairly solid Believer who's more interested in exploring the implications of the phenomenon than issues of its authenticity. Indeed, Doug and Dave are not even mentioned in the feature itself, and only in passing in one of the deleted scenes. There isn't much discussion of hoaxing at all; it's brought up only to discuss how unlikely it would be, due to a number of compelling, yet ultimately hollow, reasons. To his credit, Gazecki is straightforward about his bias and does go on to offer a fairly complete view of the "crop circles are a real phenomenon" argument that should charm, if not convince, even the skeptical viewer.
Gazecki is aware that the explanations for and the study of crop circles is seen as fantastic and even kooky by many people. This is his first obstacle, and he overcomes it with grace by providing the viewer with science, mathematics, and methodology. He shows how samples at each site are carefully collected, marked, and compared against "control" samples from other areas of the same crop. He shows the mathematical study of the shapes and spatial relationships in each configuration. He shows the common factors that have been discovered through microscopic and biological testing of samples from around the world.
At this point, Gazecki brings in the theories, and boy are they interesting. One researcher thinks crop circles are a type of sacred art, sent by God. Another sees crop circles as a kind of "wake" left behind by fourth-dimensional creatures that have passed through this earth. Several others come on to talk about the otherwordly potential that crop circles may represent. Are they a form of communication? A way to test us and see how we respond? Is that why they are getting more and more complicated as the years pass?
The documentary offers some interesting tidbits apart from theory and skepticism. For instance, crop circles have been documented as far back as the 17th century, when they were thought to be the work of the devil or of witchcraft. Not discussed in the feature, but brought up in the director interview, are the many conversations with farmers who know (from family history) that crop circles were appearing as early as the 1900s but were smaller, simpler, and dismissed as pranks or problems related to weather events. Although never outright stated in so many words, the implication is that as soon as we started responding positively and widely to the crop circles, they started appearing in greater frequency and covering a wider area. It's an intriguing idea.
The DVD release sports a generous set of extras, including three deleted segments that help flesh out what has already been covered in the film. There is also a suite of interviews with the director that introduce completely new information about the crop circle experience. We find out how Gazecki originally became interested in crop circles, more about the community of people who study crop circles, and the director's take on why hoaxing is so unlikely. Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer and a photo gallery, which is actually a montage of aerial films showing famous crop circles. There is music to help pass the time in this section, but without chapter stops, it can become a little tedious.
Notably missing is a director's commentary, which would have rounded this set off nicely. Video quality is largely dependent on source material, some of which is 15 or more years old and done by amateurs, but it looks as good as can be expected, and the clarity of the soundtrack (except in isolated places where the original sound capture was poor) makes up for any deficiency in video. There are no subtitles or alternate language tracks, which is disappointing, but as the target market for this release is most likely English speaking, it is not surprising.
Ultimately, Crop Circles: Quest For Truth isn't meant so much to convince the viewers as to titillate and interest them in the phenomenon. The "everything must be debunked" crowd (not to be confused with actual skeptics, who have reservations but are willing to hear an explanation and are open to the idea that a thing might be true) will discount it outright, and that's okay, because that is not the audience Gazecki cares about. He wants to reach out to the rationalists and the uninformed and give them a reason to believe, or at least to want to find out more. To that end, he delivers the goods and makes this DVD worth a look.
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