For those who take the subject matter seriously, it has been a long held belief that Hollywood doesn't have a very good track record when it comes to films dealing with the subject of UFOs and alien abduction.
In fact, most, if not all of the big-screen films based on actual UFO and alien abduction case files — from Communion to Fire In The Sky — have been disasters from the perspective of those who have either investigated or actually experienced such encounters.
In the case of Communion, author and contactee Whitley Strieber is portrayed in such a way as to suggest the only "close encounter" he has experienced is one of the psychotic kind. To anyone familiar with the abduction case of Travis Walton, there are entire scenes of his story as told in Fire In The Sky that simply never happened.
Like those films, Universal's The Fourth Kind purports, and in fact goes to great lengths to convince the viewer that it too is based on actual events — except that it isn't. The only back story here is rather the result of one of those viral marketing campaigns which most recently worked so well for Paranormal Activity.
The Fourth Kind centers on a series of unexplained disappearances occurring in Nome, Alaska (that part is real) which may be tied to alien abductions (that part isn't). Milla Jovovich plays Dr. Abigail Tyler, a psychiatrist investigating the cases. The title refers to what ufologists call a close encounter of the fourth kind, which involves alien abduction. Steven Spielberg's famous film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind refers to contact. This movie should in no way be confused with Spielberg's classic though.
In the opening scene, Jovovich appears as herself, and explains she will be portraying Tyler, and that the film includes actual audio and video footage from Tyler's case files. This illusion continues with director Olatunde Osunsanmi interviewing the "real" Tyler, and then throughout the film with split-screen images of Jovovich and the other Abigail Tyler often simultaneously reciting and acting the same lines and scenes.
As a storytelling device, it's a clever one and does seem to lend an air of authenticity to the story, as the events, some of which are pretty terrifying, unfold on screen. The trick is, however, revealed for the ruse it is, when some of the actors portraying the abductees are actually more convincing at expressing terror than their counterparts in the "real" footage. One scene which purports to show an abductee driven by madness to murdering his family, in particular, exposes the parlor tricks at work here.
Even so, The Fourth Kind plays this card right up until the end of the movie. It's a clever enough idea to a point, but one can only willingly suspend disbelief for so long, until it just becomes a distraction. By the time phenomena more closely resembling demonic possession than anything from classic alien abduction cases begins to manifest, the thin strings holding the plot together completely unravel.
What's left is an uneven mess that plays like one part Close Encounters multiplied by several times The Exorcist. The cast mostly gets an A for effort in a lost cause — particularly Jovovich and the actress portraying the "real" Dr. Abigail Tyler, and I'll even give director Osunsanmi credit for a noble try at something a little different as far as his storytelling method goes.
At the same time, though, The Fourth Kind loses points for trying a little too hard to push a story that simply doesn't hold up. Studio-created websites aside, a Google search for "Nome alien abductions" turns up little to support it.
While there have been some unexplained disappearances in Nome over the years, F.B.I. investigations suggest these may have been due more to bad weather, tough terrain, and close encounters of the alcoholic kind.
As escapist entertainment, The Fourth Kind is harmless enough. Even so, it fails to redeem or change Hollywood's poor track record for telling a good alien abduction story. Sadly, that record remains very much intact.