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DVD Review: Alien Autopsy

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Some of you may recall an incident back in the mid-‘90s, wherein a young British video entrepreneur named Ray Santilli claimed to have come across actual footage of an alien autopsy performed by the US Government. Allegedly — and the words “allegedly,” “supposedly,” “purportedly,” “ostensibly,” and “According to Ray” are required to precede just about every factoid Mr. Santilli divulges to anyone — Santilli’s footage was filmed following the legendary UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. Said footage was reported to have been procured from a former government photographer, who was called in to film the entire incident at the behest of his commanding officers.

When Santilli screened the footage to a bewildered audience in 1995, it caused a controversy. People were aghast. Some were convinced that the footage proved once and for all that mankind was not alone in this cold and unfeeling universe, while others maintained that there was something undeniably un-kosher about the whole thing. Later, Santilli and his business partner, Gary Shoefield, made a rather tidy profit by selling the distribution rights to television companies across the globe. In turn, the network execs achieved a mind-boggling amount of viewings. In the US, the footage was hosted and narrated by Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Jonathan Frakes, and as home-based audiences around the country tuned in to see Alien Autopsy: Fact Or Fiction? (as it was now called) and judge for themselves as to whether or not the footage was real.

As it turned out, the joke was on us (well, possibly — it’s still debatable for some). In 2006, Santilli revealed that a majority of the footage was actually a “reconstruction” of actual footage that had been lost due to deterioration film elements. Which brings us to the subject at hand, part-comedy/part-mockumentary indie flick, Alien Autopsy.

Co-produced by the real Santilli and Shoefield themselves, Alien Autopsy tells the humorously fictional (?) story of how Ray and Gary (respectively portrayed here by the UK comedy duo of Declan Donnelly and Ant McPartlin) came to find their way in the world of UFOlogy. We begin with documentary filmmaker Morgan Banner (Bill Pullman) meeting our heroes in London, wherein the relate their story via flashbacks. After negotiating to purchase some never-before-seen footage of a vintage Elvis performance Ray is summoned back to the home of Harvey (Harry Dean Stanton). There, Harvey shows him the alien autopsy footage, and Ray and Gary promptly borrow some money from sadistic UFO nut Laszlo Voros (Götz Otto) to acquire the film.

When the boys bring their ticket to ride back to the UK, however, they are furious to discover that the film has decayed due to “vinegar syndrome.” Since Voros will surely have their heads if they fail to produce something, they decide to literally “produce something.” Bringing a select crew of friends and neighbors together (a butcher, a mannequin manufacturer, etc.), Ray “recreates” a portion of what he alone saw on the degraded footage by building a set in Gary’s sister’s apartment and making their very own “dead alien” to perform an “autopsy” on.

It’s a novel idea, to say the least. Unfortunately though, Alien Autopsy doesn’t succeed in being all that it probably should be. Depending on how big of a fan you are of lead comedians Dec and Ant (and, if you’re not in the UK, you more than likely aren’t too terribly familiar with them to begin with — if at all), they can come off as far too manic and annoying (an allegation that even some of the fellow Brits attest to). Fans of Bill Pullman will most likely be disappointed with his miniscule performance here. But hey, at least he got to visit London for a few days, right?

All in all, Alien Autopsy isn’t the greatest lighthearted indie mockumentary based on real events ever made (as far as lighthearted indie mockumentary based on real events go, that is). It’s still an entertaining film, however. Harry Dean Stanton does an admirable job here (considering the material he’s working with), and there’s a wonderful cameo by the great Orson Bean as a homeless man that Ray and Gary hire in an attempt to wrap up a few loose ends. The story is assembled well and the direction is sincere enough to compete with most major A-List comedies out there. The movie even has a remarkably amusing ending that serves as a sort of “Aw, fuck you” answer to all of the people that are still wondering what happened to the real footage.

Warner’s DVD-only release of Alien Autopsy presents the film in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Seeing as how the movie was made on the cheap to being with, the video transfer comes through rather well, with a touch of grain here and there. Audio-wise, the DVD boasts a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, which delivers fairly well for a movie that is mostly talk. English (SDH), French, and Spanish subtitles are included. Special features include an audio commentary by director Jonny Campbell; a made-for-UK-TV special “(The Making Of) Ant And Dec’s Alien Autopsy,” hosted by the comics themselves (wherein they are just as manic and annoying), a few deleted scenes and outtakes, and a trailer. Initial releases of the DVD also come with some stickers (or do we call the “decals” now?) inside the packaging.

Ever since Santilli’s footage found its way into the homes of viewers around the world, a number of questions have arisen. One such question is “Why did they make this film again?” Well, considering Santilli’s disclosure in 2006 (over ten years after the alien autopsy footage was released) that the whole thing wasn’t 100% real obviously inspired filmmakers to create this comedy (which was produced and released in 2006). And so, Alien Autopsy was a well-timed effort (and possibly an excuse for Santilli and Shoefield to further profit off of their “groundbreaking footage”).

For me, the biggest question is “Why did it take four years for Warner Home Video to import Alien Autopsy to the US?,” a question that is soon erased and replaced with “Why bother releasing it at all?” My answer: seeing as how many of us had all-but lost interest in the fact that the alien autopsy footage had ever come into existence to begin with (really, show of hands, people: who still cares?), releasing it on DVD four years later as a budget-priced title seemed like as good of a time as any other.

There. That’s one mystery solved.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.