Review: Roswell (12) / Directed by: Jeremy Kagan / Screenplay by: Arthur L Kopit, Jeremy Kagan / Starring: Kyle McLachlan, Martin Sheen, Dwight Yoakam, Xander Berkeley, Kim Griest, Bob Gunton / Release Date: 26th March 2012
So what did happen in Roswell, New Mexico in July 1947? Did something extra-terrestrial really crash-land in a farmer’s field just outside this tiny, unexceptional desert town - as military reports initially suggested - or was it really just a downed weather balloon - as hastily-released military reports claimed just a day later? This entertaining and well-researched if not exactly thrilling US TV movie from 1994 won’t give you any definitive answers but it may well raise a few intriguing questions.
Presented initially as a ‘docudrama’, Roswell opens at an entirely-fictional 1977 reunion of surviving members of the 509th Bomb Wing of the 8th USAAAF which dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and brought an end to the Second World War. Major Jesse Marcel (McLachlan), intelligence officer of the Bomb Wing at the time of what’s become known as “the Roswell incident” has lived with bitter memories of his involvement in the affair for thirty years. One of the first on the scene at the Brazel ranch where the fallen debris is located, Marcel quickly determines, according to events as depicted in flashback in Roswell, that the materials found scattered about the field are of non-Earth origin. It’s quickly and proudly announced that the US Military are in possession of “a flying saucer”. However before long Government types are on the scene and Marcel and his team are forced to change their story, declaring that they made a mistake and the debris was actually just a stray weather balloon. Stories are changed, history rewritten and, before long, the Roswell incident is forgotten…
But Marcel has lived with the deceit for three decades. At the reunion he seeks out others who were involved in the investigation and the cover-up at the time as well as contemporary UFO commentators still fascinated by the incident. In time, as tongues are loosened and long-hidden memories exhumed, Marcel begins to piece together the truth - some of which is rather startling and presented with huge wedges of artistic and narrative licence - and finds the peace which has eluded him and his family since 1947.
Roswell is largely a quiet, unshowy little film which quickly brings its audience up to speed with the Roswell myth and then patiently begins to unravel a complex and worrying conspiracy theory which, whilst unlikely to ever be proved as fact, makes for a damned good little story. But inevitably the script has to stray into the realms of fantasy and beyond as Marcel meets up with Martin Sheen’s Government official Townsend who spins fanciful tales of rescued aliens (depicted in the flashback sequences in the ‘grey’ tradition of most extra-terrestrial sightings), thought control and the idea that human DNA and evolution has been influenced by aliens across the centuries. Weave in a few stories about the development of the legendary Area 51, flying saucers held in laboratories and warnings about dozens of alien species on their way to Earth and suddenly Roswell has become an entirely different film and, unfortunately, a less interesting one as previously-believable characters start spouting unlikely melodramatic SF clichés.
It’s a shame that Roswell jettisoned its docudrama format for the sake of a few lazy sci-fi thrills; it’s as if the writers felt they needed to provide a definitive explanation for the Roswell Incident even though history records that, unless there’s something hidden deep in US government records, there isn’t one and if there is it’s probably not likely to be anything involving spindly grey aliens and Not Of This Earth technology. But for the most part it’s a competent if wordy little TV movie and if you can overlook Kyle McLachlan’s ropey old man make-up and his overdone doddery old man walk, it’ll pass your time amiably enough and it might even make you wonder just what happened that stormy night in Roswell way back in ‘47...
Special Features: A UFO/Roswell-centric episode from an American 1997 TV documentary series, photo gallery.