‘UFO’ — If you’re looking for engaging sci-fi, look elsewhere

‘UFO’ — If you’re looking for engaging sci-fi, look elsewhere

I’ve always been a big science fiction fan, but lately I’ve been really into a subset of that genre, the so-called “hard” science fiction. This designation is more than just an attempt by nerds to feel superior – it’s a way to separate stories like “Star Wars” – basically fantasies in space, from stuff like “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Or, as my wife would say, boring science fiction. That’s not to say that I don’t like both kinds. In fact, this week my plan was to review “The Predator,” a silly-looking sequel that definitely falls into the “soft” sci-fi category. This weekend turned out to be busier than expected, however, so I chose a new film that I could watch at home. “UFO” was a movie I’d seen a print ad for, but knew virtually nothing about, other than that it classifies as “hard” sci-fi. Let’s just say my wife might have just been right this time.

“UFO” is a triple-threat: ponderous, dull, and cheaply made. It makes me sad to say it, as the root of the story is interesting, but even an intriguing premise can’t save this snooze-fest. The story, based on a small kernel of truth, goes like this. One day at an international airport in Cleveland, a couple dozen people report seeing a mysterious saucer-like craft hovering approximately 2,000 feet over the runway. It flashed a couple of lights, sent out a couple of high-frequency chirps, and disappeared. This incident is based on a similar incident that happened in Chicago a few years ago — one that has never been sufficiently explained, and is similar to other events at different airports around the world. “UFO” uses that event as a springboard to tell the tale of a thoroughly unlikeable math student at the nearby university who takes it upon himself, using his amazing math skills, to disprove the official explanation and crack a hidden code hidden in the craft’s transmission. That’s pretty much the entire movie. The student, Derek, bums rides off his roommate and stands up his girlfriend in a revolving pattern over the course of the film’s 90 mintues. The biggest mystery, however, is that Derek has any friends at all, considering how completely alienating his character his. This character is sullen and moody throughout, making any time spent with him time wasted. “UFO” also stars David Strathairn and Gillian Anderson, who I can only imagine must have owed someone a favor. Strathairn plays a concerned authority figure well, but I’m not sure what Anderson was doing. Her character seems on the verge of falling asleep in every scene. It was very strange. Alex Sharp, a young actor who’s done a few indies, is not good, especially considering he’s a Tony-award winning stage actor. Worst of all, however, is the science. It feels like a bunch of people saying words they don’t really understand. It’s all just window-dressing, and poorly conceived window-dressing at that. Needless to say, I was disappointed in this film. I like the basic concept — that normal people see odd things every day that are never fully explained, but this film was too in love with its disaffected main character and blind to the fact that he was simply not interesting or entertaining to watch.

Rather than spend another 300 words trashing on this movie that, honestly, very few of you would have ever sought out anyway, I’d like to throw a few titles your way — movies that “UFO” aspires to while failing miserably.


“Arrival” was possibly my favorite film of 2016. Quiet, thoughtful, and without wall-to-wall special effects actions, many people dismissed this movie as too cerebral. For my money, however, you can’t find a better examination of the potential differences between ourselves and an alien species, especially in terms of language. “Arrival” is also a beautiful, if heartbreaking story of motherhood and an examination of time itself.


“Interstellar” caught a little bit of a bad rap when it came out because it was Christopher Nolan’s big follow-up to his “Batman” films, but was much quieter and thoughtful. Matthew McConaughy plays an ex-astronaut living in a frighteningly possible near future where the world is on the brink of collapse due to global warming and where science is looked at with suspicion. When a nearby wormhole provides access to a neighboring galaxy, the remnants of NASA send an expedition in hopes of saving the planet. The film is at turns sad, thrilling, and thought-provoking. But ultimately, it’s uplifting — not a common trait of Nolan’s films.


Probably the grandfather of all modern hard-science fiction films would be… well, that would be “2001.” But because some people find that movie impenetrable, I’d recommend a film that’s a little more accessible. 1997’s “Contact” was based on Carl Sagan’s one fiction novel and really explores all the different aspects of what a first contact with another species might be like. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and packed with stars, including Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughy, this is one of my favorite movies. And again, like the previous two films, it all comes down to an emotional connection at the heart of it. Maybe that’s what “UFO” is missing. The previous three films get easy As, but “UFO” gets a generous C-.

“UFO” is rated PG-13 for adult themes and mild language.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

More in Life

Getting creative with camping

Making healthy, diverse meals while outdoors takes some planning

James Franklin Bush was arrested and jailed for vagrancy and contributing to the delinquency of minors in California in 1960, about a year before the murder in Soldotna of Jack Griffiths. (Public document from ancestry.com)
A violent season — Part 4

James Franklin “Jim” Bush stood accused of the Soldotna murder of Jack Griffiths in October 1961

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Hard to say goodbye

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve been perfectly happy with my 14-year-old, base model pickup truck.

Minister’s Message: Faith will lead to God’s abundance

Abundance is in many aspects of our lives, some good and some not.

These noodles are made with only three ingredients, but they require a bit of time, patience, and a lot of elbow grease. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Filling the time with noodles

These noodles are made with only three ingredients, but they require a bit of time, patience and a lot of elbow grease

[csC1—]Jack and Alice Griffiths, owners of the Circus Bar, pose together in about 1960. (Public photo from familysearch.org)
A violent season — Part 3

The second spirit, said Cunningham, belonged to Jack Griffiths….

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Attendees take food from a buffet during the grand opening of Siam Noodles and Food in Kenai on Tuesday.
Soldotna Thai restaurant expands to Kenai

The restaurant is next to Jersey Subs in Kenai where Thai Town used to be located

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
The Kenai Potter’s Guild’s annual exhibition, “Clay on Display,” is seen at the Kenai Art Center on Tuesday.
Expression in a teapot at July art center show

Kenai Art Center’s annual pottery show takes front gallery, with memories of Japan featured in the back

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Lisa Parker, vice mayor of Soldotna, celebrates after throwing the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Peninsula Oilers and the Mat-Su Miners on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
Kenai and Soldotna square off once more in ‘King of the River Food Drive’

Food can be donated at the food bank or at either city’s chamber of commerce

Ruth Ann and Oscar Pederson share smiles with young Vicky, a foster daughter they were trying to adopt in 1954. This front-page photograph appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on June 17, 1954.
A violent season — Part 2

Triumph, tragedy and mystery

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes it’s not cool to mention heat

Thanks for the joke fest material rolling into our Unhinged Alaska headquarters folks but chill out.