The Quarantine Stream: 'Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction' Harkens Back to the Time When Conspiracy Theories Were Harmless

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon

The Pitch: Produced for FOX, this TV special had host Jonathan Frakes asking viewers to decide if an infamous 17-minute black-and-white film that purported to show an autopsy of an alien being that crashed at Roswell was real. Medical experts, Hollywood special effects gurus, and other quacks all weighed-in, with the general consensus being: maybe this is real? Or maybe it isn’t?

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: Once upon a time, conspiracy theories were (mostly) fun and (mostly) harmless. They involved people wondering if aliens helped the Egyptians build the pyramids; if Bigfoot roamed the woods; if the government tried experiments that made ships disappear. It was all kooky, and, most of all, it fringe. None of this was in the mainstream – it was the type of fluff you saw in cheap tabloid magazines at the supermarket checkout line. At some point, though, conspiracy theories entered the mainstream. To the point where the current occupant of the White House is a full-blown crazy conspiracy theorist who has an entire army of crazy conspiracy theorists both buying into his conspiracies while creating conspiracies of their own. Frankly, it’s fucking terrifying. And I long for the good old days, where we could just laugh about this stuff and move on.

In 1995, London-based entrepreneur Ray Santilli claimed he had access to an authentic film showcasing an alien autopsy. The story went that a retired (and anonymous) military cameraman who shot the footage back in 1947 somehow still had access to it, and he decided to leak it to Santilli because…uh…well, that was never clear. Just because, I guess.

The film ran for 17 minutes and showed “doctors” in radiation suits dissecting a pretty realistic-looking alien, complete with a bulbous head and oversized eyes. Over the course of the video, the alien is cut open and its weird internal organs are removed in gory detail. It’s pretty well made. It’s also bullshit. In 2006, Santilli admitted that the film was faked – however, he also tried to save face by claiming it was a faked version of a real film. The real film, you see, had deteriorated over the years, so this fake film was made in its place. Right. Sure.

Before that admission, though, the alien autopsy footage became famous, or infamous, thanks to a 1995 TV special called Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction. Hosted with just the right amount of winking seriousness by Jonathan Frakes, the special doesn’t show the entire autopsy in full – just bits and pieces of it. Interspliced are interviews with experts: people who claim to know the truth about the long-rumored UFO crash in Rosewell, New Mexico; acclaimed (and attention-loving)  forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht; legendary special effects make-up artist Stan Winston; and more. All of these folks are tasked to look at the film and determine what they think is going on.

Wecht says that the body being dissected is in no way shape or form human, but stops short of saying it’s an alien from outer space; Winston (and his team, who watch the film with him) is impressed by the craftsmanship and says that if someone off the street showed him this footage and claimed to have faked it he’d hire them to work for him on the spot. And so on.

Everyone seems appropriately skeptical, but no one really says it’s fake (save for Allen Daviau, cinematographer of E.T. and more, who calls foul almost immediately). Later, many of the people in the special who seem to be leaning towards the conclusion that the autopsy video is real disowned it, claiming their comments were taken out of context or edited. Winston even said he flat-out said on camera that the film was fake, but the editors conveniently decided to leave that out.

Like I said: it’s bullshit. But again: it’s fun bullshit. Sure, there are dark implications here that our government has been lying to us and covering up the existence of aliens. But so what? We can ponder that sort of thing all we want, but in the end, it’s nothing more than a thought exercise. A bit of harmless entertainment. And I want that back, god damn it. I want to go back to a world where we could watch something like this, ask “Is this real?”, and then laugh about it and move on. A world where the President of the United States doesn’t sit on his stupid fucking ass all day firing off bullshit lies meant to destroy our already fraying, nearly-dead democracy. Maybe, much like the cut-up alien in Alien Autopsy, what I really want is to just get the hell off this planet.

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