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HTF DVD REVIEW: The Fourth Kind (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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The Fourth Kind
 
Studio: Universal Studios
Year: 2009
US Rating: PG-13: Violent/Disturbing Images, Some Terror, Thematic Elements, And Brief Sexuality.
Film Length: 1hr 38 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 – Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English, French, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, English DVS® Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French
 
Release Date: March 16, 2009
Review Date: March 10, 2010
 
“I'm actress Milla Jovovich, and I will be portraying Dr. Abigail Tyler in The Fourth Kind. This film is a dramatization of events that occurred October 1st through the 9th of 2000, in the Northern Alaskan town of Nome. To better explain the events of this story, the director has included actual archived footage throughout the film. This footage was acquired from Nome psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler, who has personally documented over 65 hours of video and audio materials during the time of the incidents. To better protect their privacy, we have changed the names and professions of many of the people involved. Every dramatized scene in this movie is supported by either archived audio, video or as it was related by Dr. Tyler during extensive interviews with the director. In the end, what you believe is yours to decide. Please be advised, that some of what you're about to see is extremely disturbing..”
 
The Film: 3 out of 5
 
I love Larry King, but every film tagged with a quote offered from his perennial CNN talk show is a candidate for caution. Frivolous, amorous comments gushed as he segues to and from commercial breaks with the actor, director, or other significant party sitting but a few feet from him, has conjured a measure of distrust in me of his recommendations and plaudits. For The Fourth Kind, King offers:
 
“A remarkable movie that boggles the mind. This is close encounters of the fourth kind”.
 
So with that quote, proudly front and center on the cover of the DVD, there was a specter of doubt looming large over the film from the outset. However, despite some serious missteps, The Fourth Kind succeeds in producing some of the most genuinely goose-bump inducing moments from the last few years, and certainly warrants some earnest discussion about the events being depicted.
 
From a purely intellectual perspective, the notion of extraterrestrial beings who are advanced beyond comparison traversing the impossible distances between stars, finding our little blue planet and, over a period of decades, taking people from small towns to perform torturous experiments on , is utterly absurd. And yet, amidst the plethora of faked documents and photographs, pranks and hoaxes alike, genuinely inexplicable accounts, photographs, and sightings have conspired to offer enough plausible possibility to keep the engines of ‘what if’ running. Despite the possibility, and the endlessly entertaining fiction to be born of such thoughts, The Fourth Kind, a hybrid pseudo-documentary/dramatization, ultimately tries entirely too hard to appear genuine, resulting in an unavoidable crumbling and cracking of the walls of this tale.
 
Milla Jovovich, as herself, introduces the film with the predictable “What you are about to see…” type line, and explains that the director has chosen to share real footage and audio recordings alongside the dramatized versions with actors. The story is set in Nome, Alaska, where strange disappearances and coincidences in dreams are noticed by a psychiatrist, Dr. Abigail Tyler, whose husband recently died under mysterious circumstances. Her research into her patients strange dreams leads her to hypnotize them, revealing terrifying subconscious experiences, and soon bursts of inexplicable violence begin to consume the sleepy Alaskan town.  
 
Director Olatunde Osunsanki presents a reasonably slick production, though he and his cinematographer (Lorenzo Senatore) don’t always know how and where to move the camera. But the most troublesome element is how Olatunde awkwardly presents ‘real’ footage alongside the fictional recreations, ala 24’s split and grid screen - a device fine in small measure, to establish the nature of the accurate reenactment. This gimmick however, employed for lengthy periods of time, and over and over again, begin to make it feel that you are being beaten over the head with it. You may find yourself yelling at the telly to “let it go, I get it, you are recreating something you say is real”. The flaw here is that the supposed real footage is often more gripping than the recreation. The Fourth Kind needed to decide before filming began whether it wanted to dramatize ‘real’ events, like the much more effective The Mothman Prophecies, or present itself as a documentary, or fake-documentary, in a similar vein as last year’s Paranormal Activity.
 
A fine cast has been assembled, including the always excellent Will Patton (who was also in the aforementioned The Mothman Prophecies) as the disbelieving Sheriff August; a calm portrayal by Elias Koteas of Dr. Abel Campos; and Hakeem Kae-Kazim as Awolowa Odusami, a moderately skeptical professor, and expert in a ancient and dormant language heard on one of the ‘real’ audio recordings.  
 
Families of persons that have gone missing in Nome, Alaska, have complained about the film, claiming insensitivities to those dealing with disappearances. Investigations in to the primary figure in the film, Dr. Abigail Tyler, and several other ‘real’ details, have revealed problematic inaccuracies, gaps, and outright fabrications. The Blair Witch Project masterfully created a fabricated sense of realism, which included a Sci-Fi channel special, and the kind of prerelease buzz which ably mixed possible fact with fiction. In Blair Witch’s case, the truth was ultimately revealed and audiences were still happy to enjoy the mere possibility of it being true. The Fourth Kind so dedicatedly seeks to be considered truth, that its obfuscation of reality and predisposition to mislead leave you feeling more than a little frustrated.
 
 
 
The Video: 4 out of 5
 
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and enhanced for widescreen televisions, the image quality on this Universal Pictures release is very good. Standard, or 4X3 images from the purportedly ‘real’ footage of videotaped hypnotherapy sessions, take center stage during certain scenes, and are poorer quality VHS recordings (and thus are accurately presented here). The cold hues chosen by the director, to represent the colder climate of Nome, Alaska, or the pale and frightened existence of the film’s central figure, Dr. Abigail Tyler, are effective in setting the atmosphere. Night scenes are filled with effective shadows and splits of light and dark. The image is really quite detailed for a non-HD version, and, for those yet to upgrade, this edition will look great on your sets.
 
 
The Sound: 4 out of 5
 
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is ominous, brooding, bass-heavy, and entirely effective. Dialogue is as it should be from the center channel, with the ‘real’ audio recordings sounding muffled or high in the treble as we would expect them to be. But when the hypnotherapy sessions take turns for the worse, or strange happenings unfold, the LFE completely owns the low spectrum, and will shake and rattle your house nicely. Perfectly suited audio for this film.
 
  
The Extras: 2 out of 4
 
Deleted Scenes (23:00): More alternate takes and alternate assemblies of existing scenes than new scenes that could have added to the existing narrative.  
 
   
Final Thoughts
 
The Fourth Kind successfully accomplishes goose-bump moments that are as severe as last year’s micro-budget blockbuster, Paranormal Activity. Released at the tail end of that film, The Fourth Kind presented its ‘real’ footage as a major element in its marketing; a wise choice, though audiences may have already had their fill of that particular type of horror entertainment.
 
As pure fiction, the film works just fine. As fiction pretending to be fact (or pretending hard beneath its unflinching veil), the film resonates a disingenuousness like a Vincent Price playing a role where he sinisterly rubs his hands together knowing that he has just sold you tickets to a fake horror show. Enter knowing that what you are getting is snake oil, and you will find this film more entertaining than believing you are watching an account of terrifying events that took place in a sleepy, traumatized Alaskan town.

Overall Score 3.5 out of 5
Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC
 

Neil Middlemiss

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This film is being released today, I would be interested to hear other's opinions on the effect, and structure of the film...
 

Kevin EK

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I'll be posting the Blu-ray review within the next couple of days.

I had major issues with this film, mostly due to the fact that the director (who is also partly responsible for the script for Smokin' Aces 2) has gone out of his way to insist that what is shown in the film is fact-based.

The reality here is that this is a pretty obvious hoax, in the service of what is trying to be a creepy horror movie. To be honest, even on a simple horror-film level, the film still doesn't work for me, as the interjection of the "real" footage repeatedly crashes the rhythms of the "reenactments".

On a simple level, you can see through the hoax, just by asking yourself this question: If Olatunde Osunsanki really had all these explosive videos of unexplainable phenomena (levitation, etc), why would he need to film separate reenactments with actors? Wouldn't it make more sense to make a DOCUMENTARY with that footage? The answer is - the footage isn't real, and Osunsanki isn't interested in exploring factual material so much as he's trying to make a creepy horror movie. Except that he's trying to have his cake and eat it too - by insisting that what we are seeing are real events.
 

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