Alien Autopsy is a disturbing film, but not—surprisingly—because of its queasy scenes of faked extraterrestrial necropsy, but because on a superficial level I never thought I’d live to see the day when Declan Donnelly would share big screen space with Harry Dean Stanton, and on a less superficial level the fact that it plays with with the truth in a way that benefits Ray Santilli’s bank balance.
Ten years ago, Ray Santilli claimed to be in possession of some authentic footage of an actual autopsy carried out by the US military in 1947 on a being found in a crashed alien spacecraft. If true, this was the biggest news since… well, ever, as it would prove beyond doubt that we are not alone in the universe. The repercussions were unimaginable: it would shake the foundations of science and cause a major rethink for the world’s religions, with the exception of perhaps Scientology.
The grainy, shaky footage from Roswell, New Mexico, divided people, with those who wanted to believe on one side (remember, this was a time when The X-Fileswas at the height of its powers) and sceptics on the other. It’s fair to say that Santilli’s story was dubious at best and certainly not helped by his ambiguous comments, retractions and refusal to have the film tested. Admittedly, he later released strips of film which were positively identified as originating from 1947, but sadly this proved nothing as the film strips supplied were either blank leaders or contained images unrelated to the autopsy footage. In short, the strips could have come from any similar film stock from the period and it was difficult not to suspect an elaborate hoax.
Perhaps the most telling evidence came from the actual footage itself. Although gruesome, it had several tell-tale signs that perhaps this was a modern recreation, not a real postmortem. The alien seems slightly rubbery, and the surgeons handle it rather gingerly, as if more robust manipulation might reveal that it’s actually made of foam or silicone. The scalpel cuts to the head and body are tentative, not the firm strokes of experienced surgeons and the skin had none of the elasticity of real flesh. Key moments, such as the removal of the ribcage, are inexplicably missing, perhaps suggesting that they were difficult to fake. An excellent analysis of the film’s apparent goofs can be found on The Truly Dangerous Company’s website.
Items visible in the alien autopsy footage, such as the wall-mounted telephone and clock, have been the subject of intense debate, with some suggesting the phone’s curly cord is an anachronism and others pointing out that phones with curly cords did exist in 1947. However, the accuracy of the phone and clock do not prove the film is genuine or a fake, simply that if it was a hoax, someone was doing their homework.
Despite mounting evidence that this was a faked autopsy, Santilli maintained that the footage was genuine, even producing the alleged cameraman in 1996 for a video interview which was shown on Japanese TV. The crude attempt to mask the cameraman’s identity by filming him in silhouette was compromised simply by turning the TV’s brightness up. As a result Santilli refused to allows the footage to be shown in the US.
As the years went by and the fuss subsided, the consensus seemed to be that the video was a clever fabrication and was almost forgotten about until the movie, Alien Autopsy, rekindled interest in the subject.
The movie is a sort of biopic of Santilli (played by Declan Donnelly) and his best friend Gary Shoefield (Ant McPartlin) and concedes—for the first time—that the alien autopsy video that was shown on TV around the world was actually shot by Santilli and his friends. We’re asked to believe that Santilli did buy realfootage of the Roswell alien autopsy, but the film stock began to degrade so much that he was forced to recreate it as he’d borrowed money for its purchase from a crazy, sadistic art dealer (Götz Otto) who’d kill him unless he got his hands on the alien film.
We’re also asked to suspend our disbelief as it’s suggested that the alien body—which would take the services of a skilled special effects house to create—was fabricated by a company that made shop mannequins owned by Santilli’s gran’s boyfriend and filmed by a kebab shop owner (Omid Djalili). In the film, Santilli views the autopsy footage as a money-making exercise after the recreation had been made, which surely jars with the real course of events.
Ant and Dec are two of the most famous TV presenters in the UK, and even if they did start their professional careers as actors on kids’ drama series Byker Grove, their cheekie chappie personas are so ingrained in the collective mind of any audience it becomes an uphill struggle to stop viewing them as Ant and Dec, the TV presenters rather than Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly the actors. In the context of this movie being a comedy, Ant and Dec do okay, even if the other actors surrounding them are in another league (I’m thinking here in particular of Omid Djalili who proves once again that even with a tiny bit of dialogue he can work wonders). Harry Dean Stanton, who plays Harvey, the cameraman who shot the “real” alien footage in the 1940s, simply does that hangdog, slightly seedy performance we know and love. He could be on autopilot, but it’s difficult to tell because he does it so well.
As a comedy film, it’s fine and raises the occasional chuckle (although the real laughs come at the expense of Star Trek’s Jonathon Frakes who presented the Fox special Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction? and whose comically arch delivery gets another airing in this film). But as a part of something larger it takes on a more cynical edge.
The film suggests that Santilli really does have alien autopsy footage that no-one has seen yet, and I’ll bet that if this film sparks any media interest, Santilli will start doing the rounds again, offering the “real” footage for sale. As someone with a Fortean disposition, part of me is intrigued to watch this unfold (as I was when the alien autopsy footage was released in the mid nineties). It’s impossible to review this film properly without being aware of the full story behind it. A good starting point, is this article by George Wingfield which appeared in Flying Saucer Review in 1995, and cuts through much of the fog to present a plausible sequence of events, even going as far as to suggest who else may have been involved in creating the fake footage with Santilli.
The ironic thing is that there is a truly fascinating story begging to be told here, and that’s the real story of the Alien Autopsy hoax, as it really happened. The writers and directors have missed a trick here by pandering to the cynical, money-making whims of Ray Santilli.