As promised at this blog last week, as a UFO skeptic I said I’d get the supposedly best DVD out there on UFOs, watch it, and give it a brief review.
Well, I did.
Out of the Blue is a UFO documentary for the thinking person, and it’s pretty darn good, and if you’re a liberal or on the Left, the documentary’s host voice is a familiar one from PBS and Link TV—Peter Coyote’s. The production values of the DVD are middling. It’s not aesthetically challenging, it’s not creative in presentation, and though it breezes along efficiently, it makes no attempts at, say, humor. (As with, for example, a Michael Moore film. I’d love to see Michael Moore do a UFO documentary). In short, Out of the Blue is a thoroughly competent “meat and potatoes” type of documentary. It is heavy on talking heads, and is accompanied with the types of images and eerie-soft synthesizer music that you might expect from a documentary on UFOs. It’s chief entertainment value is the subject itself, which is sufficiently creepy to give you that scary movie “exploring a mystery” dopamine effect that most of us find pleasurable.
But I didn’t buy this DVD just for its Blair Witch Project entertainment value. I was hoping that the film would actually provide an introduction to the “best cases” for UFO belief, and that it would be sufficiently nuanced in presentation to challenge and stimulate a lifelong adult skeptic like myself. I’m pleased to say that the documentary achieved both of these things. There was no point in the film where I disengaged and rolled my eyes. I felt that the director respected human vulnerability and intelligence, and wasn’t trying to be grossly manipulative or misleading.
The film’s thesis, however, is highly questionable: that UFOs are real metal-surfaced saucers guided by intelligent and purposeful organic beings inside of them, and the U.S. government’s security apparatus is withholding its knowledge of these saucer’s existence from the public. Obviously, the film is biased towards its thesis in such a way that it makes no attempt to, say, bring into the film’s interview pool a hard skeptic or debunker like Michael Shermer or Richard Dawkins. Still, and to the film’s credit, it does, as it goes along, at least summarize skeptical positions on UFOs, and with some degree of fairness. (Note that I didn’t say total fairness.)
But what do you expect from a pro-UFO DVD? The objectivity of the science journal, Nature? The real value of this DVD is that it gets on film a summary of all the most interesting and unresolved UFO cases of the past sixty years, accompanied by eyewitnesses telling their stories about them. One of the things that is most challenging for a skeptic viewing the film is the difficulty in entirely dismissing so much eyewitness testimony from people in positions of responsibility (especially within the military) and with no apparent mental illness. Whatever else you might conclude from watching Out of the Blue, you are driven to reflect on the value and proper weight one should give to eyewitness testimony when attempting to decide the truth or falsity of a matter.
At one point in the film, for example, a Catholic priest is interviewed about the UFO testimony, and he does not reject it outright, for he notes that Christianity itself begins with the testimony of witnesses to something remarkable (the resurrection and ascent of Jesus into heaven). He suggests that for him, as a priest, to dismiss out of hand so many witnesses to a phenomenon, would be to cast doubt upon his own faith.
Of course, a skeptic like Michael Shermer or Richard Dawkins would respond to this priest with, “Exactly!”
But I think that the priest’s larger point here is important. As individuals, we actually know very few things directly with our own senses, and testimony from others is one of the ways that we acquire knowledge about the world, and “virtually” extend our senses into the world. Testimony is one of the “extensions of man” (to put it in Marshall McLuhan terms). In general, to dismiss human testimony from our epistemic toolbox would be an enormous narrowing of what we think we know about the world. Think, for example, of what it would mean for you, epistemically, to have to visit, say, Beijing before believing Beijing actually exists. UFOs, though improbable for a variety of very good reasons, are neither logically nor physically impossible, and we have some interesting testimony to grapple with.
I want to learn and think about this phenomenon some more. That’s the highest praise a skeptic like myself can offer to Out of the Blue.
You can find the DVD at Amazon here.