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Children Of The Stars

Other // Unrated // March 8, 2016
List Price: $12.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted April 16, 2016 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Inside a less-insidious, more sci-fi Scientology

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Documentaries
Likes: Fringe societies
Dislikes: Deep science-fiction
Hates: Cults

The Movie
For the most part, all good documentaries have a bias of some sort, simply because they usually have an angle of some sort that motivates the narrative. If you don't have that, a documentary tends to wander. Whatever the perspective is behind Children of the Stars, it's almost irrelevant. Utilizing interviews with those involved and a wealth of archival footage, director Bill Perrine has crafted a very straightforward history of Unarius, a non-profit educational organization, which is focused around contact with intergalactic beings and the channeling of past lives. If that sounds like a cult to you, then that's what you'll take from this film, but it could just as easily be a recruitment effort to the types of people seen throughout the documentary.

Unarius does not describe itself as a religion, even if much of its make-up would suggest that it certainly is one. Led by Ruth Norman, an elderly woman with a tendency to dress like a Vegas drag queen, who calls herself Uriel and claims she can channel messages from beyond, the group has all the hallmarks of a kooky UFO cult, including prophecies and a belief that otherworldly beings are going to come to Earth to save humanity. As several "students" of Unarius soberly describe the history of the group, the story--which involves Queen Elizabeth I, Leonardo Da Vinci and Nikola Tesla, among others--becomes increasingly convoluted, sounding like bad fan-fiction.

The only attempt to get an outside perspective of any kind comes in an interview with Diana Tumminia, an author who's written about alien-based religions, and her participation is limited and focused mainly on explaining the group's background. Otherwise it's just an oral history of the organization, revealing a group made up of a specific demographic whose heyday was a few decades back. And for some reason, it seems that almost everyone involved remembers some sort of experience as Nazis in World War II. It's in revelations like this that the film's lack of analysis is a weakness. Allowing info like this to go by without commenting on it makes it seem like the film is passing up on opportunities to really explore the world of Unarius, rather than just allow the students to spread their gospel.

If there's anything that makes Unarius truly unique versus other alien cults, it's the effort that was placed on filmmaking, as Unarius created a number of intriguing movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s; cheesy masterpieces featuring insane costumes and makeup (and some decent special effects) which are represented through a healthy pile of clips. These make up what is easily the best, most entertaining and most memorable portion of the film-- compulsively watchable throughout thanks to their madness. Combined with the group's unusual artwork and quirky celebrations, the footage offers viewers a chance to decide how they feel about people who have spent a large portion of their lives in a group that once predicted an alien landing, only to find a handy excuse when it didn't happen.

This DVD arrives in a standard keepcase with an animated, anamorphic widescreen menu offering options to play the film and check out the extra. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.

The Quality
The anamorphic widescreen transfer here does a good job of presenting the film's variety of content sources, whether it's the new interviews, old public-domain footage or archival Unarius films. Naturally the new material, with decent color and fine detail, looks better than the rest, with the video material looking the roughest, thanks to harsh color and notable interlacing; while the archival films show some obvious dirt and damage, but aren't bad overall. Digital distractions are not a large concern.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 track here offers traditional documentary sound, with clear dialogue and sufficiently strong in the new interviews, while the older clips can sound a bit muffled (likely due to the source materials.) Everything is presented straight down the middle, with good separation in the mix. It's nothing special. but there's nothing wrong.

The Extras
An additional 25:32 of footage is available to watch, with more from the interviews with the students of Unarius and a trailer for the film. The best part involves a member who describes to the director how the media comes to them to laughs at them, the value of that exposure and how he sees this documentary as a part of the mission of Unarius. There's also more with Tumminia, who talks about the organization's finances.

The Bottom Line
Hearing the story of Unarius, with its flamboyant leader and sci-fi trappings, and seeing the depictions of their beliefs will make most people either laugh or cringe, but at no point does Children of the Stars actively seek to ridicule the group's members. It simply lets them (and their films) talk and allows the viewer to make up their own minds. In fact, it would not be shocking to hear that someone watched this documentary and decided to join up. The disc looks and sounds solid, and offers some bonus footage, but it's somewhat overkill after the complex mythology the film unfurls. Anyone interested in how people become enmeshed in fringe beliefs will find this movie fascinating, if somewhat disturbing.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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