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Monday, March 22, 2010

Movie Watch: The Fourth Kind

Interestingly, when I went to go see Paranormal Activity in San Francisco, a huge line was waiting not for that film - but The Fourth Kind, which I had never even heard of - which seemed odd since I had only really learned of Paranormal Activity through twitter a few weeks earlier.

The Fourth Kind is a movie much in the same vein as Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, a documentary format to reveal the bizarre events unfolding for the main characters - this time dealing with the remote location of Nome, Alaska.

For those that haven't seen the movie, I'm going to say - if you've enjoyed other movies in the same vein, you'll probably enjoy this one. If you were the kind who though BWP was awful, while The Fourth Kind does some new things to the subgenre - they probably aren't going to sell you on them.

In fact, if the reviews are any indication, they will just annoy you more.

So, that said - it will be hard to write the rest of this post without talking about some of the details of the film. While I'll try to remain spoiler free in general, there are few basic things that might effect the viewing. Granted, many reviews also talked about the same thing - but consider this paragraph your warning. In a similar way that I said Paranormal Activity is best viewed knowing little about the film, the same goes for here. I won't put in any major plot points, so if you're tempted then fine ... but you were warned.

OK. So here's the thing, and what I can't quite grasp.

The Fourth Kind is about alien abduction. It's represented in parts of re-enactments of documentary style pieces of film, and also showing parts of documentary style footage. Sometimes next to each other. One common aspect is the director interviewing the person who shot the footage, who is played in the re-enactments by Milla Jovovich.

Here's the shocker: this stuff isn't real. And quite a few reviews really took that to task:

"The problem is that it also decides to lie to your face by pretending to be honest." (CinemaBlend)

"Purporting to be a true story of alien abduction, in reality it's a clumsy attempt to update the hoax technique Orson Welles perfected seven decades ago." (Scotsman)

"The first line in The Fourth Kind has Milla Jovovich calling herself an “actress,” so we know right away the film is lying." (MountainX)

"It was with crushing disappointment that my research discovered this is all made up out of whole cloth, including the real Abigail." (Roger Ebert)

And many reviews spend a decent amount of time poking holes in the "facts" representing by the "documentary" and clearly toss their hands up in the air in grief and frustration in the process.

To which I repeat. This is about alien abductions in Alaska. While some of the "footage" could be seen as realistic, there are also bits where people levitate(spoiler but hey, it's on the cover) and speak in alien tongue. If this stuff was real, they wouldn't need Milla Jovovich to sell it.

It's true that Fourth Kind goes more heavy handed than other films in the subgenre of mockuhorrormentary (TM pending) in trying to convince you that this is real, from the bumper speeches from Milla before and after the main movie, to the footage being displayed next to re-enactments, to overreaching claims about disappearances in Nome, Alaksa, to blanking out names to protect the fictionally innocent - The Fourth Kind uses different tactics from either BWP or Paranormal Activity. Those films try to fly under your radar and keep you guessing. Fourth Kind tries to trade reminding you that this is "real" to also include recognizable actors, glitzy sets and clearly edited scenes.

On one hand, this meets with very mixed success. Don't get me wrong, The Fourth Kind isn't a great film. More like occasionally good - even by mockuhorrormentary standards. But it is an interesting film. Like The Last Broadcast is an excellent counter-example to Blair Witch Project, The Fourth Kind is a counter-example to some of the basic tenets of the genre. Don't use known actors. Don't use sets. Only use handy cams and stock footage, documentary style.

So for so many reviews to focus so squarely that the film is entirely fake when, in the words of The Girl - "it's clearly fake" ... but to skip over that the film is at least trying to change up what could rapidly become a tired formula, feels like an over-reaction to be played into a hoax.

In fact - if anything the film should be commended because Ebert felt he needed to research it when he was done watching it. To convince someone who watches as many films as Ebert does that this footage might actually be real is a pretty good parlor trick.

So again, not a great film. Barely a good film. I kinda recommend it, but only kinda. My main problem with the film is that the good bits are spread out thinly and paced unevenly and some of the "real world" plot points don't line up evenly with the supernatural elements. It's disjointed. But still somewhat fun.

But yes. It's fake.

And so are most movies.

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