Judge Gordon Sullivan just wants a life now.
If you're out there…give us a sign.
Filmmaker Paul Davids printed out a seat of paper one day and then left the room. When he returned some of the ink was smudged. It was inexplicable at first, but eventually Davids decided it meant that sci-fi legend and cult-film stalwart Forest J. Ackerman was trying to communicate with him from beyond the grave. This led Davids on a filmmaking odyssey, talking to both believers and skeptics in an attempt to find out if there is life after death. The result is The Life After Death Project, a documentary that will have trouble pleasing either skeptics or believers.
Someone says it very early on in The Life After Death Project: there is no credible scientific evidence for life after death. It really is that simple. Yes, some funky, unexplained things happen in life (and even happen in this film), but that alone does not make for objective scientific proof. That leaves us with two sides. On one are the believers. These are people who have experienced phenomena that science can't explain. Whether it's an ink-smudged piece of paper or a bright light when they briefly died, these folks offer their personal stories of strange doings. On the other side are the skeptics, many of whom are scientists. They have no proof for these stories except personal anecdotes or unexplained happenings that can't be directly, scientifically tied to the afterlife. Both sides get their say, but ultimately neither offers a compelling case for their side nor effectively refutes the other.
There's a perfect moment in The Life After Death Project that neatly sums up everything wrong with the film. After we learn about this ink-smudged piece of paper, Davids gives it to a scientist to analyze and try to explain/replicate it. We see a scientist explain that after hundreds of hours of experimentation he was unable to replicate the "uniform obliteration" of the ink smudge. This moment is heavy with significance in the world of the film, but reveals two very serious errors, only one of which the film really acknowledges. The first major error is that inability to replicate some phenomena is not significant scientifically speaking. Since a functionally infinite number of variables contributed to the ink smudging, it could take an infinite number of tests to replicate the smudge, which in turn could take an infinite amount of time (this is why scientific theories aren't proven but must be disproven). Hundreds of hours is much less than an infinite amount of time, so a negative result simply isn't that meaningful. Luckily, the scientist in question admits that he doesn't know how the obliteration occurred and rightly concludes that he can't "rule out" involvement from the afterlife. This is pretty basic scientific thinking, but the film seems to take his "can't rule it out" for "it's probably true," which is stretching things.
Some of the stories of believers are interesting and, whether or not you think they're caused by the great beyond, the experiences can be compelling. That's why it's great that the second DVD of this two-disc set includes 101 minutes of testimony from believers, including those who have died as well as those who work with the dying. On the first disc there are 40 minutes of bonus features that run together as a single piece, including info on Forest J. Ackerman, the director, and a revisit with the "uniform obliteration" expert several years later. None of them further the case of the film, but fans of Ackerman and his contemporaries will likely enjoy these features more than the film.
The film itself gets a decent presentation. Obviously shot on a lower budget and with little interest in wild effects, The Life After Death Project looks like a low-budget documentary. We get a lot of talking-head shots and stationary cameras. The transfer reflects that, giving a clean but unspectacular 1.78:1 image that's generally free of noise and compression problems. The stereo audio tracks keep all the interviewees audible and well-balanced with the show's music.
The most compelling thing about The Life After Death Project is the occasional interesting interview about some weird stuff that happened to the interviewee. These stories can be enjoyable, but do absolutely nothing to establish the scientific validity of life after death. More importantly, the film is neither-here-nor-there: it doesn't offer much new or comforting to believers or skeptics, and it presents nothing that's likely to change any viewers mind. Fans of Forest J. Ackerman might enjoy the extras, which include a tribute by contemporary Ray Bradbury, and believers might get a kick out of the collected testimony on the second disc. Otherwise, pretty much everybody should steer clear of this hokey production.
Guilty of wasting viewers' time.
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