It has the same title as Gerry Anderson’s classic TV series, but the low-key opening sequence of captions, explaining the universal nature of the Fine Structure Constant, sets it apart as a more serious exploration of alien visitation. The captions note that the Arecibo radio message was aimed at the M13 star cluster thousands of lightyears away, but asks “what if they have already come?” Then we get to the main action where a large UFO is seen on 17th October 2017 at Cincinnati International Airport.
The news reports of the UFO sighting soon come to the attention of FBI investigator Franklin Ahls (David Strathairn) who quickly tells the airport to say it was a sighting of a drone and collects all the photographic and radar evidence of its appearance. All the witnesses are told to remain silent about the matter. Brilliant maths student Derek (Alex Sharp) is intrigued by the reports and calculates that the size of the UFO was too big to be a drone. From then on, Derek becomes increasingly fascinated by the UFO and discovers that when it appeared at the airport it sent out a radio signal. At the cost of missing his final year maths exam and his friends, Derek strives to discover what the signal means.
The FBI is not impressed by Derek’s meddling and he is monitored and followed so that they can maintain their cover-up of the sighting. He is not going to stop, partly because of a personal interest - he had a UFO sighting when he was a kid and his Mother did not believe him - and because the question of whether we are alone in the Universe would change everything. It is not explained why the FBI wants to cover up the knowledge of alien visitation and that ‘they’ are testing us on the Kardashev Scale to see if we are worthy of becoming a Type 1 civilisation (Google it).
This is a very clever and worthy look at UFO contact, and avoids the shrill sensationalism of the flying saucer movies of the 1950s. Yet it's too damn full of mathematical equations and lacks any urgency or drama. There is not even any life in the cat and mouse between Derek and the FBI.
A US government UFO cover-up, alien signals that lead to a UFO contact date/time/location, determined investigators, the question of our place in the Universe, all done in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, UFO promotes further study of the Fine Structure Constant to give us a leg-up in the hierarchy of civilisations and that’s as good as it gets.
UFO / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: RYAN ESLINGER / STARRING: ALEX SHARP, GILLIAN ANDERSON, ELLA PURNALL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW