For the record I believe in UFOs, aliens, and life on other planets. I believe the government knows more than they're telling us and that something is indeed out there.
There, I've said it. Does that mean I believe every grainy photo or sketchy witness? Nope. But much like my man Fox Mulder I want to believe, and I've spent a good part of my life watching the skies, as well as reading about the phenomena, wallowing in an abundance of often sloppy journalism and twisted truths designed either to prove or disprove a point.
That brings us to Bill Knell's documentary UFOs Do Not Exist!. Knell is a longtime UFO researcher (I guess that means he has read more books than me) and over the course of two VERY LONG hours he uses still photos - and ONLY still photos save for a clip of him on a cable access show - to illustrate his theoretical ramblings on UFOs and governmental conspiracies. That's in my thematic wheelhouse, but the presentation is somewhat amateurish. Yes, I know Ken Burns has made a very substantial career creating long documentaries using only photos, but if I can paraphrase one-time Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen: Bill Knell is no Ken Burns. Instead, UFOs Do Not Exist! is like getting stuck on a crowded bus next to that guy who won't stop talking while making you look at a shoebox full of random photos.
Don't sit down with this expecting Knell to be a naysayer, despite the doc's exclamation-pointed title. Knell's a believer, and while I take great interest in the thought of aliens buzzing about he doesn't do much to reinforce or prove what he says is actually true. Knell's statements are presented as undeniable truths, with little in the way of verification or authentication - but such is the way with far too much UFO research (I'm looking at you, Charles Berlitz!).
The lack of narrative balance is one thing, but what Knell does bring to the table with UFOs Do Not Exist! is an opportunity to pontificate and elaborate on some of the familiar nuggets of UFO-lore, including Roswell, Area 51 and Majestic-12, while burrowing into some more lesser known topics like the presence of underwater UFOs, Nikola Tesla and the shadowy Montauk Project and its alleged secretive research history. Conspiracies abound and it's all interesting stuff, yet Knell's unidentified-photo-after-unidentified-photo approach becomes dreadfully tedious, as if this were a classroom lecture run amok.
The problem is Knell just very well may be full of great ideas and theories - including solid coverage of author M,K. Jessup's involvement in revealing information (real or not) about the 1943 U.S. Navy "Philadelphia Experiment" involving the alleged time travel of the USS Eldridge and the author's possibly mysterious death - but man oh man is the presentation not conducive to spreading that message. It's all a bit dry and clinical. And that is coming from a guy who already buys into the program of UFOs and the like. So when a filmmaker is preaching to the choir, and the choir is bored then that should indicate a problem of some kind, right? A little editing and runtime-trimming might have made this somewhat more digestible, but Knell just goes on and on without taking a breath. Plus, referring to Knell as a filmmaker is probably not even accurate considering this is just photo after photo played under his loose-facts-filled narrative. From a curiosity standpoint, however, this is probably one of the only UFO documentaries to feature publicity photos of Stuart Whitman and Jackie Gleason. So there's that...
I'll admit that I feel like a heel crapping on Knell's UFO parade, mostly because I'm on his side in all this. Coverups. Conspiracies. I'm there, Billy. I am. The issue is that this one plays more like a squirmy-check-my-watch presentation than a film, and Knell's wobbly narrative operates under the assumption that whatever he says is true.
As a sidebar, If you're looking for a well-researched, well-documented book on the subject I recommend UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record by Leslie Kean.
Knell's roughshod doc is presented in its original 1.33:1 fullframe, which isn't really all that much of a problem given that the entire feature consists of still photos (both color and black-and-white). Image quality is fuzzy at times, slightly better at others, yet rarely better than just OK. This was a cheapie production, and all elements of the transfer reinforce that.
The flat mono audio does carry Bill Knell's apparent one-take narration clearly, but it certainly isn't anything to drool over. Plenty of hiss and a wee bit of distortion in spots only serve to highlight the low-rent production values. Serviceable for the no-frills content, but not especially pleasing to the ear.
No extras of any kind are included on this disc. For whatever reason the backcover promises "250 minutes" when the truth is this one runs 119 minutes, and there are no supplements.
Less a documentary and more a collection of random, fuzzy photos that accompany TWO HOURS of theorizing. Man, that's a whole lot of pictures. I appreciate Bill Knell's enthusiasm on the subject, but not his presentation.