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Thursday, 13 October 2005

UFOs: The Secret Evidence, Channel 4

What to say if you liked it
An admirably empirical analysis of mysterious sightings of UFOs which have occurred over the past 63 years.
What to say if you didn’t like it
Like a lame vulture arriving late at the feast of an elephant carcass, Nick Cook, deprived of the viewer-friendly nutritious flesh of aliens, makes do with the drearily indigestible detritus of more earthly conspiracies.

What was good about it?
• Nick Cook made a good presenter; he employed his journalist’s nurtured scepticism but mixed it with his own agenda of never straying into speculating on the presence of aliens. If he couldn’t account for the reason behind the UFO being of an Earthly origin, he simply stopped his investigation and candidly admitted he couldn’t explain it. This meant the viewer was spared the risible silhouetted and voice-disguised former Area 51 worker who saw and worked on a whole fleet of captured UFOs, and that thin-mouthed bloke who has gone public on what he saw.
• We learned how the first modern recorded instances of UFOs were by bomber pilots on missions over Germany in 1942. They spied balls of light which they called “Foo Fighters”, and these balls sought to distract the bombers from their targets in much the same way as the contemporary rock band of the same name seek to sedate teenagers the world over with their soporific droning.
• Nick discovered the Foo Fighters may have been prototype German defence devices developed in the same programme which produced the V2 rocket.
• The reassuring substantiation that jingoistic tabloid headlines have been around for the past half-century shown on the front page of the paper announcing the Roswell crash, where a lesser headline read: “2,000 arrests in Athens Commie plot”.
• When dealing with the Holy Grail of extraterrestrials on Earth – the Roswell incident – Nick took a refreshing view in that he refused to countenance it was indeed aliens and focused on the other possibilities wilfully discarded by those too eager to believe in the aliens.
• At Roswell, Nick was not deterred by the near-comical assumptions of explaining the high number of sightings in the area by two former Air Force men. One posited that the desert “throws strange shapes into the sky” and that “even cloud formations can be misleading”.
• He eventually decided that the Roswell crash was most likely to be a prototype US saucer, and that the dissemination of UFOs was a strategy by the US Airforce to divert attention away from their secret military innovations. The UFO ruse was then extrapolated to fool the USSR into thinking the odd craft darting about in their skies were also UFOs, not US spy planes.
• While Nick was damning over Roswell, and subsequent “UFOs” in Britain (that were all attributable to their close proximity to US Air Force bases launching their weird machines from Britain as it was nearer to the Soviet Union), he also conceded that he was confounded by certain events such as when the UFO equivalent of the Red Arrows did a formation two-step over Washington and the “alien abduction” of a logger in the mid-70s.
• Dirk Gildenberry, a mendacious former US Air Force officer who continually fed Nick a succession of half-truths, reinforced the perception that those in authority who steadfastly and incredulously refuse all potential of aliens having landed on Earth in fact do more than anyone to add authenticity to the claims. By the same mark, those who piece together sketchy evidence of bizarre incidents into self-proclaimed indelible testimonies of alien visitations do just as much to shatter the veracity of their own assumptions.

What was bad about it?
• Nick Cook: “Now, more people than ever believe in UFOs.” But their belief is irrelevant, either UFOs exist or they don’t – and no amount of faith from Mr, Mrs and Junior Middle-America, or scorn from Mr and Mrs Devout Catholic is going to make them a reality or not.
• Nick Cook: “UFOs are a taboo subject for a journalist like me.” He never expanded on why this was, but we presume it was because of the ridicule he might suffer for awarding credibility to a subject which is still seen as the delirious preserve of accountants who dress up as Mr Spock at weekends. But it also served to exaggerate just how much of a professional risk it was for him to look into UFOs.
• In his determination to extinguish any UFO theories, Nick was sometimes susceptible to doubtful evidence. On the Czech/Polish border he visited a top secret Nazi laboratory where he was shown the remnants of a huge circular platform which he surmised could have been a landing pad for gravity powered saucers. But other than the thick power cables running back to the power station and some dubious propaganda from an SS general, there was little to suggest such craft ever existed.
• And his assertion that ex-Nazi scientists procured after World War Two had pioneered an anti-gravity or conventional flying saucer was based on very little hard evidence, and was pieced together with the same questionable leaps of faith some people use to indicate the existence of alien UFOs.
• While Nick was determined to disperse any evidence of aliens, he wasn’t shy about using them as a tease to draw the viewer back after the ad break. Each break was preceded by such incidents as Roswell, the Soviet Army seeing an octopoid light show in the night sky (apparently the trail of a recently launched missile) and the abduction of the logger.
• While Nick did his best to disprove the saucers were of alien design, the CGI team producing the impressive accompanying special effects seemed to be taking a divergent, independent editorial line. The most striking example was when a New Mexico police officer claimed to have observed a UFO. Nick said the most likely clarification was that the officer had simply seen a prototype saucer, but the CGI of the saucer shown in the dramatised sequence flew with a dexterity and grace far beyond the rudimentary technology available to the US Airforce in the 60s.

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