In his 2015 film The Visit, Danish documentary-maker Michael Madsen offers us an initially very straight forward concept – if aliens landed on Earth, exactly how would Mankind react? Filmed mostly with talking heads belonging to those who would have a say in such matters were this eventuality come to fruition, the tone isn’t stained with wacky hypothesis so much as a stern, cold stare at the ramifications of every stage, from initial awareness, to tentative first communication to the much broader long-term picture. Heady stuff, you might say, and considerable food for thought. Give it another five minutes and you may reconsider.
It is indeed a huge question – one to consider with a tantalizing short story; ideal subject matter for a short film perhaps: actually, what it really screams is extended pub ramble, something confirmed quickly as this full-length documentary attempts to break new records in sluggishness and shoe-staring. If the soporific voices of some of the dullest people available isn’t enough to cause you to gauge the survival chances if you jumped out of the nearest window, the accompanying slow-motion images of bustling cities will likely push you metaphorically, if not literally, over the edge.
Wise people, great thinkers of their Age, contemplate the ramifications of an alien craft being found to have landed. A British official considers that the Prime Minister might keep it under his or her hat if security services knew. You don’t say. Should the discovery prove impossible to ignore or hide, script wizards are sent away to find the most appropriate way of communicating the event to the mass populous.
“We are in no imminent danger,” suggests the male sage.
“Do we know that for sure?” reasonably queries his female equivalent.
“We believe we are in no imminent danger…”
Elsewhere, ex-lawyers and psychologists summon all their years of learning to come up with the question they’d most like answering by the alien immigrants:
“How do you think?” asks one man, bafflingly.
“Do you know the difference between good and evil?” he later suggests.
Quicker surely, one might imagine, to simply ask, “Are you going to shoot us in the face?” Thrillingly, they even contemplate who might best deliver perhaps the most important message of all-time:
“David Attenborough? He knows wildlife”.
Despite these peculiar interjections, the documentary does its best to keep its feet on the ground and convince the audience that these really are examples of how the world will behave if we become slightly unwilling partners in what will apparent be a very awkward intergalactic first date. This stoicism is challenged by the rather goofy introduction of someone who allegedly works for the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. Goofy, until I checked and found this actually exists. They’re the go-to guys for keeping a check of everything that we send into space, ruling on cases relating to International Space Law (!) and, yes, the folk who have the plans in place should aliens arrive or the threat of destruction from a galactic object looms into view. Madness. Inevitably I immediately checked on their website for vacancies (they haven’t, but I’ll keep it bookmarked).
As the documentary achingly inches forward, we reach a stage where Mankind must send a willing mortal to make physical contact with both the ship and its passengers. We meet a man who is apparently instructed to wear a protective suit that makes him look like a damaged orange, a foolhardy move on our part and one which makes a broad and unforgiving statement of our perception of alien fashion sense. The first thing our brave explorer tells us he must do, is to circumnavigate the craft to find a way in, the curious assumption being that our alien visitors will choose to stay locked in their ship while an overblown Jaffa wanders around outside. This really is the best human life has to offer our advanced guests.
By now you’ve probably grasped that this makes a number of huge assumptions, variants of which are not considered; the aliens are bound to be humanoid; they are likely to comprehend at least one of our languages; it wouldn’t be blown up immediately. Actually, the military angle is referenced, the likelihood being that the major military powers of the world would have to be informed at an early stage – a presumably deliberate gag of one of these countries being France is a nice touch, whilst the mention of Russia rather jolts you awake to the fact that the reality of this happening would be both swifter than this documentary (not difficult) and more of a forensic aftermath operation.
If The Visit struggles to ask some of the questions it intended, let alone give an inkling as to some of the answers, it does at least clear one thing up – why aliens would ever bother landing. As the last of the dullards and nitwits finish pontificating in evermore obtuse and existential ways, we come to realise that not only do we not offer anything another life-form could find of interest but that we have evolved to such a disorganised gaggle of pompous, self-righteous arses that monstrous tripods are the least we deserve.