The Phenomenon, a film released on-demand worldwide earlier this month, does a solid job of documenting and bringing to light the story of a grand cover-up spanning decades of covert operations by the US government to hide the ‘truth’ about our UFO reality.
Which made it especially awkward when the verified Twitter account for the film direct messaged me on Twitter asking me to delete a question I asked about the price of the film. Available for $20(US), the price seemed a bit steep compared to new other new movie releases.
I was already curious about the film after noticing a lot of hype on social media promotion, including Lue Elizondo, an alleged former director of the Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) unit.
Now serving as Tom DeLonge’s Director of Special Program’s at To The Stars Academy (TTSA), an enterprise itself invested in UFO disclosure and entertainment, Elizondo’s testimony and stamp of approval to the accuracy of the film set tongues wagging across the Twitterverse.
If you spend any time browsing #UFOtwitter one of the first things you might notice about the community is how passionate people are about the UFO subject and their own particular line of belief about what the ‘phenomenon’ exactly is. For some, the answers are more ethereal but many believe in a more grounded, physical nuts and bolts conclusion.
Indeed, stories of crashed flying saucers recovered alien technology, breakaway civilisations and men in black are staples of a narrative commonly shared by researchers and UFOlogists.
But if you’ve read the books, seen the documentaries, been to the conferences and watched hundreds of YouTube videos from researchers who have built a career on UFOlogy there’s usually one big problem: Lack of indisputable evidence of otherworldly claims.
Which brings me back to that odd message on Twitter. If I’m going to part way with twenty bucks, I don’t want to watch something I’ve already seen.
The Phenomenon official twitter account messaged me saying that since I was a journalist and they were a ‘big fan of my work’ they would send me a screening link, free of charge.
Given the hype, I thought it would be well worth my time and accepted the offer and asked for further clarification on why the price was so high. A day later, no link had come my way but I was advised that they hadn’t had any other complaints about the price, in fact, many had said ‘it’s the best-spent money this month’.
Now I’m really ready to watch the film! But where was the screener? Well, I was informed that would be sent if I deleted my negative comment about the film.
Negative comment?! Is it a new phenomenon for journalists to ask questions? Now I was REALLY curious about this movie. Why was this film this concerned about one comment ‘that could be seen as negative’ on social media? Why are so many key people pushing this documentary so hard and how did this film come to exist in the first place?
In more than 20 years as a journalist, there’s one quote I’ve chosen to attach my values to more than any other. Words etched into my being: ‘Truth without fear or favour’. Words printed in a New York Times editorial in 1896 by Adolph S. Ochs shortly after he took control of the masthead.
And while the Times perhaps should once again be reminded to be a more objective voice in the face of the polarised political landscape, it’s a sentiment that’s a long way from expecting a free movie for erasing your opinion on social media.
So, as my free screener was held hostage I decided it would not be fair to accept this offer in exchange for an expectation of a positive review and went ahead and purchased the documentary for myself with an aim to present my full and honest opinion without the director’s influence.
Directed by James Fox, The Phenomenon follows in the same vein as his previous works such as I Know What I Saw (2014) and Out Of The Blue (2003).
The film started out as a collaboration between Fox and Tracy Tormé, a screenwriter and TV producer best known for his work on sci-fi series such as Sliders and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Originally titled 701 (The Number The Government Doesn’t Want You To Know), the project was first promoted in 2013 as a feature film, with more of a focus on revealing an answer to the UFO phenomenon rather than simply documenting cases.
Fox and Tormé even went as far as putting up and publicising a $100,000 prize for the best proof that UFOs are real (implying structured craft not manufactured from any known agency on earth).
When the final credits roll on The Phenomenon, you see Tormé’s name credited as Fox’s partner and a producer of for the film.
But in a recent interview on KGRA’s Dark Matters Radio with Don Ecker, Tormé reveals the truth about how the film came to be and why he has distanced himself from the end result.
“It all started when I had a conversation with James Fox where I very clearly said that I was not interested in working on ‘yet another UFO documentary’, Tormé says.
“I felt there’d been a million of them and I thought it was oversaturated. But I said if you’re interested in making a feature film. I’d be interested in doing it with you.
“So we went down the road with 701 and a whole bunch of things delayed the completion of the film … We started to drift apart, he wanted to do this as a documentary and I wanted to do it as a feature film that would differentiate itself from the other TV documentaries”
“What complicated things, James Fox had a real falling out with one of the main producers on our film and ultimately, much to my surprise, I found out that I needed a triple-bypass surgery and when I went in for the surgery, my partner on 701 (Fox) basically hijacked the film to the point where, when I came out of the surgery, I was on the outside looking in to this film which I had started.
“What it’s become since then, I certainly don’t lay claim to. It will have my name on the credits, but it’s become basically I Know What I Saw Part 2, which I repeatedly said I did not want to do.”
It’s very sad what happened … One day when all the dust is settled, I’ll speak even more openly.”
Listen to the interview with Tormé as he discusses The Phenomenon from the 85-minute mark.Listen to “Tracy Torme” on Spreaker.
The Phenomenon begins with former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Christopher Mellon discussing the series of leaked vision from jets based aboard aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2004, 2014 and 2015.
The sensational footage was widely circulated in the mainstream media after the New York Times published the existence of the UAP footage as well as the claimed existence of a secret Pentagon unit (AATIP) on the front page.
Mellon, another shareholder and investor in TTSA, sets the scene for the documentary with a statement that there is a need for us to prepare for the fact that we are not alone in the Universe.
From that point, the film travels back in time to 1955 with the story of WWII pilot William Coleman, who later became a public spokesman for Project Bluebook, and his original sighting of a flying disc while flying his B-25 bomber.
We then hear the story of Kenneth Arnold’s sighting in 1947, the first reported post-war sighting in the US which was immediately followed by a string of similar cases and alleged UFO activity across the skies.
As the film goes through these early cases, it is well supported by early interviews from first-hand sources and in some cases family members years later.
By the time we hear about Gordon Cooper’s 1951 sighting the narrator Peter Coyote hints that the wave of sightings are in fact an ‘otherworldly power on its own mysterious mission’.
We are taken further along the UFOlogy timeline with events such as UFO sightings over missile installations in the US and the UK, the end of the Cold War, large-scale sighting events such as the Washington flyover, the Pheonix lights as well as the Westall and Ariel School events in Australia and Zimbabwe respectively.
Before we arrive back to present-day cases, The Phenomenon circles back to the Roswell case with interview footage of Jesse Marcel recounting his famous handling of the weather balloon debris which he later claimed was not what landed in the New Mexico desert on that fateful day in 1947.
It’s evident from the end product that a lot of work has been done to supplement historical footage, news clippings and other visuals. Fox has managed to interview many key figures in modern-day UFOlogy for the film, such as Mellon, Elizondo, former US Senator Harry Reid, New York Times journalist Leslie Keene, Nimitz pilot David Fravor former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and many more.
Well-known UFOlogist Jacques Vallée is not only a major on-screen part of the documentary but is credited as an associate producer and senior adviser. In later interviews, Fox reveals that Vallée had a major say in the direction of the film.
The Phenomenon does a great job of sparking curiosity about the UFO subject and tells each case quite well to leave the viewer questioning the reality of extra-terrestrial craft. What’s missing, however, is what the original concept of 701 was going to provide: An answer.
The film does not conclusively prove the existence of any physical evidence of ET craft. Perhaps that’s not the aim of the director, but the hype builds to a crescendo that, in truth, doesn’t land. So what are we left with? A decent historical account of cases and testimony with some speculation about a conclusion. Much of which you can learn from Google or watch on YouTube, albeit not so nicely packaged.
The viewer must then question what is the difference between this documentary and those put out by Steven Greer, David Wilcock, Bob Lazar or any other equally prominent voices (albeit more controversial) in the UFO community? If you’re a supporter of the gospel of TTSA, Elizondo et al, your faith is going to be rewarded by this film and it will leave you confirmed in your beliefs. If you’re more attached to another school of thought, or more measured in your approach, you’re not going to get much more out of it than you already understand.
The Phenomenon is a good film, certainly not a bad one. But unfortunately, it is very much ‘yet another UFO documentary’. At the end of the day, I’m glad I dug deeper and asked questions about this film, if nothing my initial query about the price, has seen the film has been dropped down to $10 to be more readily available for viewers.
But for those seeking an answer, the truth is still out there.
Daniel is a Melbourne-based multimedia journalist with international experience as an editor, producer, designer and artist at some of Australasia’s biggest newsrooms. A longtime commentator and reporter on internet culture, he now journals his observations on digital life and counterculture for Boldly.