Yeah, I know what I saw: I saw a disjointed, haphazard documentary on a fascinating subject. History has released I Know What I Saw, a 2009 documentary that purports to show, "government and military officials reveal[ing] the truth about UFOs." Great. Count me in, because I'm sympathetic to the argument that something is going on out there that isn't being explained to the public, be it extraterrestrial visitation, or hyper-advanced military weapons technology, or...something. Unfortunately, director James Fox brings nothing new to the table here that hasn't been covered in countless other UFO documentaries, and what he does reveal comes across in a rambling, disorganized fashion that actually does a disservice to some of the more fascinating testimonials here. Not all that compelling of a work on the subject.
Let's get something straight before I very briefly discuss this documentary...briefly, because there isn't all that much in it to evaluate. Don't email and claim I'm a "non-believer" or a "government stooge" or an uninformed amateur just because I didn't enjoy I Know What I Saw. If you've read my other reviews on similar subjects, you'll know that I grew up during that second "golden age" of UFO mania - the 70s - when pop culture interest in the paranormal was not only mainstream, it was fun. And as such, being indoctrinated in that heady atmosphere of genuine awakening to the possibilities of "otherworldly" phenomenon, such as 70s favorites like UFOs, Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, and Chariots of the Gods, filtered through the even more powerful framework of commercial exploitation (there wasn't a missed Saturday matinee of Hangar 18 or The Legend of Bigfoot, or an episode of Jack Webb's Project: UFO for me, only to name a few), I came out of adolescence with an open mind to the subject of extraterrestrial life and supernatural phenomenon. And after decades of paying my taxes and reading the newspapers (and shaking my head at both), I've certainly been convinced of the chicanery and duplicity involved with even the most insignificant dealings involving the federal government. So director James Fox's contention in I Know What I Saw that the government is hiding something about all those UFO sightings finds an open mind here in this reviewer.
...but that argument, along with some compelling interviews and testimonials, doesn't automatically make for a successful documentary. First of all, that argument of government stonewalling on UFO sightings is as old as the hills. The potential buyers of I Know What I Saw are most likely viewers who have at least some familiarity with the subject. So just saying, "the government is covering up," isn't going to cut it. We've heard that statement far too many times already for it to register anything more than, "Well...yeah. Of course they are." More importantly, I didn't hear or see a whole lot of concrete evidence in I Know What I Saw that "the government" or more specifically, the USAF, is stonewalling. There is the small bit about soon-to-be-former Senator John McCain looking into the March 13th, 1997 Phoenix, Arizona sighting - still one of the largest urban UFO sightings on record, where thousands of completely credible witnesses saw something that wasn't swamp gas, or F-16s, or military flares, or any of the other b.s. excuses the Air Force routinely puts out for these sightings - and getting blocked by the USAF and the National Archives. Okay.... And we have Colonel Charles Holt, involved in the infamous Rendlesham Forest UFO sighting (in 1980, Holt and over 80 trained USAF personnel witnessed some unknown craft land and take-off in the woods outside a RAF base in England, with Holt close enough to it to even touch it) saying the incident was swept under the rug and classified. Fine...but I've heard that account several times in other documentaries; his statements certainly aren't new here. And we have several testimonials from air traffic controllers, pilots from different countries, and average, everyday eyewitnesses who state, "No one is answering any questions." Well...yeah, but we already know that. What's different about I Know What I Saw?
Much of what is supposedly "new" about government cover-ups in I Know What I Saw (even though I read in a couple of background pieces that it contains sequences from an earlier Fox documentary, Out of the Blue) comes from a forum director Fox organized at the National Press Club on November 12th, 2007, where government and military officials from several countries came together to give their testimonials about UFO sightings they either witnessed or had direct knowledge of, as well as information regarding government cover-ups of those incidents. Participants included Captain Ray Bowyer of the Aurigny Air Services, who witnessed a UFO sighting off the Channel Islands; General Wilfried De Brouwer, former Deputy Chief of Staff for the Belgian Air Force, who photographed strange black UFO "triangle" crafts in 1989; John Callahan, Chief of Accidents and Investigations for the FAA, who claims the CIA ordered him and his staff to remain quiet about the Japan Air Lines flight 1628 incident on November 16th, 1986, when the crew spotted multiple UFOs, and so on. The purpose of such a forum, one would assume, was to bring out these credible professionals in their fields, and hold them up for public scrutiny, with the obvious question, "What would they have to gain by detailing their encounters with UFOs?" answered with a resounding, "Nothing," thereby spurring public demand to get the U.S. government to become more transparent about their obviously on-going investigations into UFO sightings. And while these testimonials are compelling (and from my end, believable on the surface), the documentary does not attempt to disprove these accounts. They're presented at face value, with the supposed weight of the witnesses' credentials and credibility presented as the only proof needed for their statements...a shaky foundation to build a documentary on, particularly with a subject so fraught with hoaxes and scams and little tangible physical evidence the public can access.
So, at face value, I don't have a problem accepting what they say. These are professionals who truly don't seem to have anything to gain by their revelations, so why disbelieve them? And there are plenty of unrelated witnesses who couldn't possibly be involved in some kind of conspiracy (again, the March, 1997 Phoenix sighting was witnessed by thousands of residents). But I wouldn't bet my house on these forum members' testimony, either - not because they're not credible, but because the subject of their testimony is so fantastic, so outside our normal experience, that we need far more scrutiny and rigorous investigation as to the validity of what they say happened, before I'd rule out all the various human failings of perception or conduct that could have compelled them to tell these particular stories (secret military craft of this world mistaken for extraterrestrial vehicles, disgruntled ex-employees fighting back against a government entity, or the simple need for attention could all be plausible explanations, as well). Just because they're "professionals" and not Merd and Ferd out in the swamp, kicking back some cold ones, doesn't mean they're to be believed without question, just as an average Joe's testimony shouldn't be mistrusted because he's not a trained observer (for my money, I Know What I Saw's most credible witness is regular guy Ricky Sorrells from Stephenville, Texas, who recounts simply and believably his encounter with some kind of unknown craft in January, 2008 - a craft that the USAF first denied was in the air...before they incongruously claimed it was a group of F-16s).
The question of witness validity aside, I Know What I Saw's other major problem is a matter of context. This is one jumbled look at UFO sightings and government cover-ups. Alternating clips from CNN where director Fox is interviewed by Larry King (proof, at least, of lizard-like alien visitation) and Anderson Cooper (insert your own joke here), with video footage from the 2007 National Press Club forum and various witness interviews, I Know What I Saw is all over the place when it comes to discussing the various paranormal events that make up the backbone of the doc. One minute we're treated to scenes of Fox entertaining the Forum participants at dinner (to no discernable effect for the viewer), and the next we're segueing into a brief look at the Rendlesham Forest incident, before we have another interview on another subject that doesn't seem connected with what we just watched. Context for many events is non-existent. "Foo fighters" from WWII are briefly mentioned (then dropped), while the 1966 Michigan UFO sightings that then-Congressman Gerald R. Ford became involved in are touched on without any background on the actual sightings themselves (what's the point of hearing Ford's call for government transparency when we don't even know in what regard he's asking for this information?). Other incidents are slipped in with no set-up whatsoever (the Salida, Colorado footage from 1995 is dropped into the doc with an unintentionally funny, "Oh, someone sent this to me," line that even had my teenager cracking up, before the incident was abandoned with no follow-up), leaving viewers who may not be familiar with these well-covered UFO incidents largely in the dark. Eventually, after 94 minutes of this herky-jerky back-and-forth, what one comes away with after watching I Know What I Saw is not the sense that we need more governmental transparency concerning the on-going UFO sightings, but rather that the director needed a clearer vision - and a better editor - for this ungainly documentary.
Hey! History gets with the program! I Know What I Saw is presented in an anamorphically-enhanced, 1.78:1 widescreen transfer - a shocking development for a History doc (which are usually letterboxed flat). Unfortunately, the transfer itself is problematic, with the HD exhibiting a herky-jerky motion regardless of what machine I played it on (and I tried four, including a neighbor's, just for a base-line). That's going to tick some UFO techies off.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audiotrack is adequate, with reasonable recording level but discrete separation effects. No subtitles or close-captions were available.
There are additional scenes included for I Know What I Saw. They include: French Air Force General Denis Letty, from January, 2008 (3:56); Richard Hall, National Investigation of Aerial Phenomena (2:30); John Callahan, Federal Aviation Administration (1.42); Witnesses to Arizona UFO Event (8:26); and Dr. J. Allen Hynek, U.S. Airforce, 1979 Interview (5:25). As you can see from the very brief runtimes, these snippets aren't going to add a lot to the discussion to sway you one way or the other on the subject.
Hey, don't roust me on the forums or in emails because I didn't like "the most compelling film on the subject to date," to quote Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell. I'm a believer, man. I don't know exactly what is out there...but it's definitely not swamp gas or errant F-16s or military flares, that's for sure. It's either the military's latest technology (perhaps retro-engineered from those little buggers from Roswell?), or we've got company. Whatever those UFO sightings are, at least 5 to 10% of them can not be explained, and the government, true to form, sure as hell ain't talking. I Know What I Saw's goal may be admirable - let's get the files opened up and admit something is going on in the skies - and its witnesses compelling in their own right. But a lack of rigorous investigation and worse, a slipshod, willy-nilly construction dooms I Know What I Saw to marginal status. A rental for sure for the faithful, but the average viewer will benefit ironically from one of the government's favorite dodges: "Nothing to see here - move along."
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.