Appellate Judge Dave Ryan dares to view the disc the government doesn't want you to see. For years, the U.S. has covered up a vital secret in the name of national defense. But the truth is now out there: Dan Aykroyd is Canadian!
Well, he was a Conehead…
Dan Aykroyd is a pretty interesting guy. Absolutely fantastic at improv or sketch comedy; not so great with formal scripted material such as films. Married to Donna Dixon—and that definitely is an achievement. Shook up the Vineyard by riding his Harley to Belushi's funeral. Almost an SCTV cast member. Canadian, but not dead.
And apparently a big-time UFO buff. Boiled down, Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs is really just an extended interview with Aykroyd on the subject of (natch) UFOs. It's a film by true believers, for true believers. Unfortunately, from an entertainment perspective it's caught in a sort of limbo. Aykroyd is too smart and well-spoken for this to be a hysterically bad farce, but the documentary overall relies too much on presupposition, pseudoscience, and thinly supported "evidence" to be any sort of essential investigatory piece for the UFO crowd. It's basically a film version of one of Art Bell's radio shows.
The UFO community is…well, it's a mixed bag at best. Of all the "paranormal" pseudosciences, UFOlogy is probably the one most amenable to the traditional scientific method. After all—if aliens do exist, and are visiting our world, odds are they'll accidentally drop a pen or a hankie at some point, which, one would hope, would serve as tangible, demonstrable proof of their existence. And some UFOlogists approach the field with the proper scientific skepticism and research techniques. Like Fox Mulder, they want to believe—but they recognize that belief must be buttressed by provable facts and evidence.
However, for every legitimate researcher out there, there seem to be three people who proceed from the premise that UFOs do exist and are being covered up, and place the burden on doubters to disprove those "facts." Sorry, folks, but that's not how it works. For example, I would dearly love to believe that Alicia Silverstone is secretly pining away, longing to find true love and animalistic sex in the arms of a potato-shaped tax attorney from the East Coast. If I had, in hand, an authenticated letter from Miss Match stating, "Dave, you're hotter than Paul Rudd, George Clooney, Brendan Fraser, and all the Hatey-ans combined—marry me," then I could probably shift the burden to you to disprove my strongly held belief. But if all I'm relying upon is a leap from "want to believe" to "do believe, and you should too"—well, in that case, I probably shouldn't register at Crate & Barrel quite yet. Yet ultimately, that's what the bulk of UFO "documentaries" do—they beg the question.
This somewhat jumpy 81-minute piece alternates between segments of a sit-down interview of Aykroyd by filmmaker David Sereda and clips, photographs, artist's renderings (done by Sereda himself—I dig the one with the alien mother ship hovering over Yankee Stadium) and relevant interviews featuring various UFO sightings over the years. It pulls out some big names in the UFO business, too—most prominently, the late Mercury and Gemini astronaut Gordon Cooper, who spent the last few years of his life speaking and writing about his personal UFO encounters. Sadly, Cooper doesn't look or sound well in the interview pieces contained here; I assume they were made fairly close to his death in 2004. That's too bad, as Cooper's charisma and charm were legendary, and his insider status as both a Navy pilot and astronaut gives his stories more credence than those of the typical UFO enthusiast.
Unfortunately, the show relies too heavily on purported evidence—especially video footage from shuttle flights—that is rather easily explained by things other than aliens. In fact, the outer-space "UFOs" should be familiar to anyone with night photography experience. If you take a point source of light, or something close to a point source, and focus either farther out or much closer in, the out-of-focus point source will, because of the shape of a lens, typically smear into a torodial (donut-shaped) dot. Now, the area around an orbiting Shuttle isn't exactly a pristine vacuum. Shuttles vent gasses, including goodly amounts of water vapor, which instantly crystallizes into a spray of tiny snowflakes upon hitting the vacuum. Well, those little flakes—like virtually anything man-made in space—are highly reflective. In other words, they become point sources of light when the angle of the sun is just right. So it's easy to see (and, on a dark night, demonstrate) that the "three-mile-long UFOs" that NASA is "covering up" are actually out-of-focus ice crystals, or floating bolts, or the like. In fact, there's one particularly egregious example of a shuttle UFO encounter, where the EVA controller explicitly notes that the "UFO" is actually the lens cap from one of the astronaut's cameras. None of this means that UFOs don't exist or that the government isn't hiding something…but putting an emphasis on this sort of easily debunked "evidence" diminishes the UFO argument as a whole.
Notwithstanding all this, Aykroyd is actually quite informed on the subject. He's done his homework. For what it's worth, he seems to have (unlike the documentary as a whole) a healthy level of skepticism about the subject. Don't get me wrong—he's a true believer. But he recognizes that you can't just blithely say that the government is covering up things, or that extraterrestrial life is kidnapping people for anal probing, unless you have some sort of evidence and some sort of rational basis for that belief. If I might put words into Aykroyd's mouth for a second, I think that he, like many reasonable and intelligent people, think that there are UFO-related issues that remain subject to debate, and occurrences that have yet to be adequately explained. At times, he does drift into (ahem) nutcase territory, like when he talks about the possibility that Men In Black caused PSI Factor's cancellation. But this is Dan Aykroyd—maybe he's just putting us on. Interviewer Sereda doesn't help much—at one point, he asks Aykroyd what he'd do if he could go back in time. (Um…cancel the deal for Blues Brothers 2000, maybe?) I fail to see how that question relates to UFO conspiracies. On the other hand, some of Aykroyd's answers genuinely surprised me. When asked who, dead or alive, he would like to have the opportunity to meet and talk with, I didn't expect him to respond with a string of theoretical physicists—Richard Feynman, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, Einstein, and a couple others. (Feynman's definitely on my short list too, for what it's worth.) The bottom line, though, is that Aykroyd comes off as a knowledgeable, enthusiastic UFO buff.
Which leads to the obvious question: If Aykroyd is nothing more than an actor who's a knowledgeable UFO buff, why should you pay to listen to him? The answer is you probably shouldn't. Unless you are a deep true believer, or an Art Bell junkie, you'd be better served by other UFO-related discs, such as the outstanding Unsolved Mysteries UFO collection. There just isn't enough here to justify a purchase, or even a rental (unless you really want to hear Aykroyd's thoughts on the subject).
For a small, low-budget affair, the documentary acquits itself well. Picture and sound are adequate for the task. (Although the disc is advertised as being a fullscreen presentation, the entire film is actually presented in a matted 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio.) Danny is appropriately side-lit, giving the interview pieces a very suspicious and deep-mysteries-being-revealed kind of look. The stereo track is clear. The only extras provided are a preview for this disc and a preview of an indie skateboarding film. One minor annoyance: director-producer Sereda appears to be pathologically afraid of copyright infringement. Because every single image in this piece is captioned with its source. It's like footnotes in a high school term paper, for Pete's sake. David, that's what the credits at the end are for. I applaud you, however, for erring on the side of attribution.
In a bit of irony, when Aykroyd talks about Feynman, Sereda includes a brief audio clip of a typically witty Feynman quip on the subject of UFOs. To paraphrase, Feynman said that it was far more likely that UFO phenomena were the result of the known irrationality of terrestrial beings than the unknown rationality of alien beings. Unfortunately, Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs tends to prove his point. On the other hand, if you're reading this and have come to the conclusion that the CIA and FBI have gotten to me and, through threats or other means, coerced me into spreading disinformation to hide the real truth about UFOs*…well, then this is definitely the disc for you.
*Please note that if the CIA, FBI, MIB, or any alien-controlled organization would like to enlist me in the effort to hide the real truth about UFOs, I'm confident that we could arrange a…shall we say…in-kind compensation arrangement that would be acceptable to all parties. You guys do have the power to brainwash blonde actresses, right? That was one of the Roswell things, right? Right? Call me!
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