[Editor's Note: The made-for-television movie "Roswell," which first aired on the Showtime network in July 1994 and earned a Golden Globe nomination for best TV film of the year, has just been released (January 1995) through video rental stores nationwide. With this in mind, CNI News is pleased to offer the following review of "Roswell" by ISCNI member Larry Lowe. Reproduced in CNI News by permission of the author. May be reproduced for personal use only.]
"The story of the century lasted for most of the afternoon on July 8, 1947."
Kevin Randle and Don Schmitt
"The Truth about the UFO crash at Roswell"
M. Evans & Co. 1994
Roswell, New Mexico is as good an allegory for the American spirit as any small town can be. All but lost on the eastern plains of New Mexico, it is out of the way from anywhere to anywhere else. That American icon, Route 66, runs through Albuquerque in the northern part of the state. The southern route takes you through Lordsburg and Deming on your way to El Paso. In between, on the east side of the Capitan mountain range from the Rio Grande valley which cuts the state in half, is Roswell, with a population less than 45,000.
South of town lies an industrial park located on the remains of the former Army Air Field that gave the city its one dose of furtive notoriety. Just after World War II Roswell could boast the world's only atomic bomb squadron, the 509th bomb group. But atomic bombers came and went and Roswell lapsed into the timeless small town routine that Ward Cleaver would call the good life. Then, in the middle seventies, odd stories began to surface about the summer of 1947. Twenty years and four books later, the name Roswell is now inextricably linked with the most remarkable set of allegations to be made in the dense web of public confusion that is the phenomenon of Unidentified Flying Objects.
Investigators Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt claim that, at the height of a wave of sightings of "flying discs" that swept across the country in the summer of 1947, one of the discs crashed into the base of a bluff about 35 miles northwest of the front gate of the air base. They also claim that, after securing the area, removing the debris, and bribing and threatening the populace into secrecy, elements of the United States Government managed to keep the fact that an extraterrestrial craft crashed there secret for nearly half a century.
If indeed that is the case, it may now be changing. "Roswell" has garnered a Golden Globe nomination for best TV film of the year. Executive Producer/co-writer Paul Davids and Director Jeremy Kagan have made the movie that is to the still-obscure-by-normal-standards Roswell Incident what Oliver Stone's "JFK" was to the Kennedy Assassination. In doing so, Davids and Kagan have very nicely framed arguments about the existence of a coverup and the reasons for one.
If you have read the material, you will recognize "Roswell" as an accurate docudrama. If not, you might think it an intriguing bit of fiction. It is that blurry duality that represents the core problem in addressing the clear and substantial evidence of UFOs, which points to technology or other forces operating with a deliberate agenda of deception from a base outside our normal reality. It is too easy to dismiss accounts as fictional if they fall too far outside the parameters of common belief.
Writing a documentary screenplay about a mystery with no firm solution is a difficult task. Davids, the driving force behind the project, has managed to do just that. The "Roswell" story is not one of aliens, but of one man's quest for truth and redemption. The searcher is an aging Major Jesse Marcel, (nicely played across several decades by Kyle MacLachlan) one of two army air corps officers to initially examine the debris and recognize it as not of this planet. As an element of the coverup, Marcel was sworn to secrecy and then made to look the dunce by superior officers during a press conference. General Roger Ramey claimed the intelligence officer of the 509th could not tell the difference between a spacecraft and a weather balloon. Over time, Marcel's duty to remain silent is at greater and greater odds with his sense of dignity and fairness.
The docudrama unfolds during a 1970's reunion of the 509th, where Marcel takes the last opportunity of his life to query former squadron members and attempt to piece together the events of 1947. Bit by bit, pieces of the story are found, some coming quickly from casual observers, others dragged out of reluctant witnesses. Any one of them is at best a fuzzy memory. Not all of them fit together. Those that do have jagged edges. Some directly contradict others. The picture that forms confirms Marcel's opinion and provides a suggestion of an alien presence on earth much more serious than that proffered by the tabloid press. Along the way, the story mirrors the investigation of Randle and Schmitt, showing the difficulty of correlating different versions of events.
Kagan, for his part, has crafted a complex visual delight, using no less than seven different cinemagraphic styles to indicate the variation from the 'hard' reality of an aged Jesse Marcel to the 'soft' reality of rumors and innuendo that seem to be at the core of the UFO phenomenon. The look of the movie shifts according to the level of indirection from eyewitness reality, an effective visual design subtle enough not to call attention to itself.
Eventually, Marcel's curiosity gains him the attention of a shadowy figure played with appropriate self confidence by Martin Sheen, who takes him to an abandoned hangar and sketches in the missing portions of the picture. A crashed alien craft at the beginning of the Cold War between the US and a paranoid Soviet Union. A clandestine effort to care for the one alien left alive and to reverse-engineer the phenomenal craft. A rationale for secrecy to avoid provoking preemptive action by an all too human enemy. A self-reinforcing conundrum of deception and ridicule by now so convoluted that no sitting government could admit to having been involved in it. At the climactic moment we hope and pray that the blanket of denial will be torn away and the truth, whatever it is, will be laid bare.
You have to see the film to appreciate the cosmic irony of the hangar scene. I shall not reveal the logic that concludes the confrontation between one man searching for the truth and the nameless representative of his government who dangles it before him. I suggest you tape a copy of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "First Contact" and "Roswell," then watch them back to back. The two stories are flip sides of the same coin. The last statement by the shadowy Sheen is the one and only truth of the whole affair.
"Roswell" the movie has the honest look of a small town main street. Given the option of telling the story within the confines of a Showtime budget or risking not telling it at all, Davids elected to do the former. The resulting focus on the people and the period, instead of speculation-by-special-effects on what actually hit the ground the night of July 4, 1947, helps the piece. In the tradition of "Fire in the Sky," but without the studio's intrusion on the facts of the case, we see the effect of a very unusual event on the lives of generally usual people.
All in all, "Roswell" is a good watch. The baseline of understanding in the debate about UFOs and E.T.I. has been raised. If you feel compelled to offer an opinion about extraterrestrial life and/or the capability of the government to keep secrets, make sure you have seen this movie and read the book by Randle and Schmitt before you do so.
The closing scene shows a determined Marcel back at the crash site, making a final futile effort to find a solid piece of evidence, one tangible remainder of an event that has haunted him for years. As the sun sets behind the Capitans, the camera pulls back to reveal how vast the plains are, and how hopeless his quest, and we see Jesse Marcel as the best allegory for the American spirit that any man can be.
Watching the film makes it clear that if any of the alleged incident is true, or something like it is, then the American public is the unknowing victim of the most heinous form of repression conceivable. Extraterrestrial contact is too important to be left to government, least of all to paranoid elements of the intelligence community in whose hands "Roswell" (and most of the UFO community) claims it lays.
What the movie offers is an appreciation of how the truth could be hidden more or less in plain sight, varnished with a thin layer of denial and ridicule. It is also clear that -- whatever the case may have been in the 1940s -- if a coverup was initiated at that time it is by now so ingrown that only an extremely clear political message from the people in whose name the secret is being kept can provide the impetus to end it. "Roswell" is a movie that took a lot of perseverance and moxie to make.
The consequences of it being even close to the truth are too profound to be dismissed. If you don't dismiss it, one thing you can do is sign a copy of the Roswell Declaration and send it in. [The Roswell Declaration is posted in ISCNI's Electronic Cafe, topic # .]
Killing a president is one thing. Denying a society the truth about their place in the cosmos and possibly their origin is another. No amount of investigation or revelation will bring John Kennedy back or change our history to what it might have been had he not been shot. But revelation of the facts about what happened at Roswell is the reversal of policy needed to make things right with our growth as a species. The Cold War is over. Any justification for a coverup of the sort depicted in "Roswell" no longer exists.
Whatever happened outside Roswell, the government has still not properly explained it. And whatever it was, it scared someone so much that extraordinary measures were taken to hide it from the American people. To this day, new explanations are still arriving, all of which are contrived and unsatisfactory. If you have any threads of the spirit of '76 in your soul, and you haven't yet seen this movie, get it at your local video rental store now.
(Originally published in MUFORUM, Winter 1995, the newsletter of the Mutual UFO Network, Los Angeles.)
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