This is an intelligent look at UFO contact, which centres on a UFO sighting at the Cincinnati International Airport on 17 October 2017. A real TV report tagged on to the end of the film, shows that the story is loosely inspired by the well-known UFO sighting at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on 07 November 2006, to give it a touch of authenticity.
It also touches base with The X-Files by featuring Gillian Anderson as Professor Hendricks, and the ‘IMDb’ website informs us that the font used for the ‘UFO’ title is borrowed from Gerry Anderson’s classic ‘UFO’ TV series.
The opening captions note the universal nature of the Fine Structure Constant (Wikipedia tells us that this is ‘...a dimensionless physical constant characterising the strength of the electromagnetic interaction between elementary charged particles’), and that intelligent life elsewhere would recognise this mathematical equation. The captions go on to mention the Arecibo radio message which we aimed at the M13 star cluster thousands of light-years away to get the attention of extraterrestrials, ending with the thought that ‘they’ might already be here.
The core of the film shows how brilliant maths student Derek, played by Alex Sharp, is attracted to the news of the UFO sighting at the airport because he had a sighting when he was a child, and because it intrigues his mathematical instincts.
The sighting also brings FBI special investigator Franklin Ahls (David Strathairn) to the scene, where he embargoes all photographic evidence and radar data related to the incident. Eyewitnesses are ushered into conference rooms and strongly told to keep quiet about the event. The cover story is that the sighting was caused by a drone.
From the maths, based on the sighting reports, Derek quickly calculates that the UFO was far too big to be a drone. Probing further into the story he discovers that the object sent out radio signals that are in binary code. He becomes fixated on decoding the signals at the cost of losing his friends and his final year maths examinations. At the same time the FBI follows and monitors his activities to keep a lid on the case.
FBI agent Franklin Ahls as well as being a suppressor of UFO reports, heads a group of top scientists to decode the alien signals. It is his view that they testing us on the Kardashev Scale to see if we are worthy of becoming a Type 1 civilisation. It is not explained why this information is being covered-up, is it the fear of mass panic or that the aliens are a real threat to us? Whatever the reason it offers the opportunity for Franklin and Derek to play cat and mouse.
UFO is cleverly put together yet it is ditch dull. It is like the director got hold of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind wrung out all the drama, tension, suspense, excitement, action, emotion and special effects and replaced it with mathematical formula. I described 2036 Origin Unknown as a pound shop 2001: A Space Odyssey this is unfortunately a pound shop Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Best I can say is that it makes a long-winded advert for studying the Fine Structure Constant, need I say more? -- Nigel Watson.