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Phoenix Forgotten (2017)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/1/2017
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/31/2017
Interest in UFOs seems to come in cycles. In the 1950s, the idea of visiting aliens represented the fear of a communist invasion. UFOs came back into vogue in the early 1970s with the revelation of Project Blue Book, and a general desire to learn about the unknown thanks to television shows like In Search Of.... The X-Files made aliens all the rage again in the late 1990s. While we still get the occasional alien abduction story, UFOs have once again taken a back seat to things like zombies and angels. Can Phoenix Forgotten renew enthusiasm for visitors from outer space?
On March 13, 1997, mysterious lights appeared over Phoenix, Arizona, and were seen by thousands of people. While taking videos of his sister's birthday party, Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts), captures footage of the lights, footage which was shown on the local news. Josh becomes obsessed with the origin of the lights and he recruits Ashley (Chelsea Lopez), a girl he meets on the street, and his friend, Mark (Justin Matthews), to help him investigate. Soon, the three disappear, despite an organized search by local law enforcement. Twenty years later, Sophie (Florence Hartigan), returns to Phoenix to make a documentary about her brother's disappearance and hopefully find some new clues. She begins to sort through Josh's videos and put together a timeline of how he, Ashley, and Mark became involved in the investigation. Yet, that final piece of the puzzle continues to elude her.
Having seen the trailer for Phoenix Forgotten, I was suspecting yet another found footage movie, so, Dramamine in hand (well, in stomach, but you know what I mean), I prepared to watch it. And while there certainly are found footage sections of the film, I was surprised to find that this is actually a faux documentary, which uses an actual event as its premise. The "Phoenix Lights" event really did occur on March 13, 1997, and it was capture on home video. (And, Kurt Russell claims to have seen the lights while flying in a small plane nearby.) The incident was never fully explained, and, as seen in the film, then Arizona governor Fife Symington III held a press conference where someone dressed like an alien was taken into custody.
Co-Writer/Director Justin Barber and Co-Writer T.S. Nowlin take this event and then ask this question: What if some curious youths went looking for the origin of the lights and found more than they bargained for? In theory, the entire film could have simply been a reel of Josh's videos. It would have conveyed the story, but it would have been like every other found footage movie. By adding the faux documentary angle, Phoenix Forgotten takes on a more serious and dramatic tone. At the birthday party, we see Josh sending a nice message to his then 6-year old sister. As this was one of her last memories of him, we can see how Sophie would be motivated to learn the truth. Through her work, we also learn that Josh's disappearance lead their parents to get divorced. By moving beyond the sensational disappearance and including Sophie's research, Phoenix Forgotten rises above the crop by actually pulling us into the movie. Again, I had not expected this, and I was impressed with the first two acts of the movie.
But then everything comes crashing to Earth in the third act. It is at this point where Phoenix Forgotten becomes the found footage movie which I had been dreading. Not only does this drain the movie of much of its drama, it makes it look like things which we have seen many, many times before. I will say that the relative power of the first two acts makes us care a little bit more about what is happening in the finale, but it all devolves into the standard fare where people are running and screaming and we are being subjected to shaky camera work. To make matters worse, the movie simply ends with some on-screen text. We know that Sophie is seeing the same video that we are, and yet, we never see her reaction to it.
Given that Ridley Scott served as one of the producers on Phoenix Forgotten, I had hoped that it would be above-average. (Scott has a much better track record in recent years with movies that he produces versus movies which he directs.) And for the first hour or so, it fulfills that promise. No, there's nothing ground-breaking here, but by doing something just slightly different from other movies of this ilk, it manages to finish a nose ahead of the competition.
Phoenix Forgotten used very durable camcorders on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. As stated, the movie combines Sophie's documentary footage with other archival materials. Sophie's footage is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. Her shots of the desert show great depth and a nice amount of detail. As one would expect, the found footage and old news coverage shows a mixture of grain, static, and wavy lines, all of which are part of the movie and don't reflect any issues with the transfer. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.1 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The fighter jets in the opening scene and the finale deliver notable surround sound and subwoofer effects. The surround effects move nicely from the rear to front speakers. There is some distortion in the found footage, but, again, this is an artistic choice.
The Phoenix Forgotten Blu-ray Disc contains a few extra features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Co-Writer/Director Justin Barber, and cast members Florence Hartigan, Chelsea Lopez, and Justin Matthews. "Sophie's Story" (3 minutes) is an artificial TV news story which uses footage from the movie and an interview with "Sophie" to give an overview of the film's story. "Phoenix Found" (7 minutes) is a brief making-of featurette which contains comments from the filmmakers who mention the real-life story and how it inspired their movie, but we don't get to see the real footage. The final extra is a THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long