'Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind': Film Review

1091
An urgent blend of the maybe-plausible and the clearly fringey.
4/7/2020

Jeremy Piven narrates Michael Mazzola's portrait of a man who claims to communicate with alien beings.

It would seem we're in a moment of unusual openness to the idea that Earth-dwellers aren't alone in the universe. Mainstream news outlets reveal that some government entities take the idea seriously; tantalizing (and seemingly not-doctored) videos capture aerial phenomena that, while vaguely photographed, are hard to explain. Does that make this a good time for more out-there prophets who've been promoting this idea all along? Michael Mazzola's Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind provides a soapbox for Steven Greer, a former physician who claims not only to have met extra-terrestrials but developed ways of communicating with them. Earnest and containing plenty of provocative video footage, it's less outlandish than the first Greer documentary, 2013's laughable, incoherent Sirius. But the pic's claims grow wilder by the minute, and its power to persuade is undercut by narration scripted like a YouTube conspiracy film. For this skeptical but totally willing-to-believe viewer, Fifth Kind doesn't move the needle even a smidge.

According to Greer's website, Sirius was "the most successful crowd-funded documentary in history" and "reached number 1 on Netflix for documentaries." A second doc, 2017's Unacknowledged, accompanied a book of the same name. (The latter, like this one, was directed by Mazzola.) How influential is Greer? A clip here shows one of this generation's greatest minds, Joe Rogan, interviewing noted researcher (and part-time rock star) Steven Tyler on his podcast: "You gotta watch Unacknowledged," the latter urges repeatedly. Well, there you go.

Jeremy Piven throws himself into narration here as whole-heartedly as Thomas Jane did in Sirius — though, thankfully, Fifth Kind doesn't share that film's hints of 9/11 Trutherism. Instead, it rather strangely squeezes the last few years of UFO-related news coverage into a misleading frame, arguing that journalists, pundits and the government are collaborating to build fear in the public that would justify the establishment of a "one-world government" that could wage an "interplanetary war." Then it suggests Hollywood has been working with such forces for decades, producing alien-invasion films to make us fear interplanetary pioneers. (Nobody told Mazzola that, sci-fi or otherwise, stories about conflict are a much easier sell than those about peace and harmony.)

It takes a while, but Mazzola does eventually get around to Greer's accounts of his own close encounters. "Fifth kind," in his taxonomy, refers to "proactive, human-initiated" contact between Earthlings and ETs. Greer claims that in his youth he was not only visited by aliens but engaged in some kind of joint meditation with them. Together, they developed a "CE5 protocol," through which humans of goodwill could telepathically contact space travelers, sending out "vectors" that draw spacecraft to the humans' exact location.

These ideas are tied up in familiar talk about magic powers linked to meditation — levitation, teleportation, the ability to access the interconnectedness of all things. References to quantum entanglement and laboratory experiments give a scientific sheen to all this stuff, but the film undercuts this by putting Yoda onscreen and having Piven coo, "Certain scientists have known that The Force is real for a very long time."

Viewers who are just tolerating all this to get to the videos of UFOs may be disappointed. Footage here is mostly of the moving-light-in-the-distance variety. While the lights sometimes move in formations very suggestive of alien technology, they never come close enough to really be seen. Greer never explains why; though he's been summoning them from across the galaxy for decades, he can never convince an alien ship to travel an extra couple of miles and hover for a good photograph. (For the record, he doesn't levitate or teleport for the camera, either.)

Is all this just an elaborate come-on for the CE5 retreats Greer runs, where most of the film's UFO-sighting videos were shot? The doc doesn't exactly advertise them, or close with a web address, but they're easy enough to find. First-time attendees can expect to pay $2,500-$3,500 for tuition, in addition to food, lodging and whatever books and DVDs of Greer's they might want. It's pretty obvious that Greer believes in what he's selling, though; and Fifth Kind is far too impassioned in its nuttiness to be a purely cynical, Scientology-style sham.

Production company: Star Contact
Distributor: 1091 (Available Tuesday on digital)
Director-screenwriter-editor: Michael Mazzola
Producers: Phillip James, Jim Martin
Director of photography: Paul Mathieu
Composer: Justin Hosford

120 minutes