Does 'The Phenomenon' Live Up To The Hype Of Being "The Most Credible Documentary Ever Made About UFOs?"

By Steve Higgins
February 27, 2021 1:00 AM ‐ UFOsMoviesDocumentariesLong Reads

This article is more than three years old and was last updated in April 2022.

'The Phenomenon' has been described as an explosive and revealing documentary that provides answers about a UFO cover-up after decades of secrecy, but does James Fox's film live up to the hype?

The Phenomenon UFO Documentary

Is 'The Phenomenon' the earth-shattering film ufologists have been waiting for? The 2020 documentary's trailer promises that "70 years of secrecy has lead to this." The film has been praised for including never-before-seen testimonies from high-ranking government and military officials, and eye-opening evidence that mankind is not alone in the universe.

With such high praise and a great deal of hype, you might be wondering what the evidence included in this one-hour-40-minute long film is and how it has earned the the film a reputation as "the most credible documentary ever made about UFOs."

The first few minutes of the film gets us excited as the former Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Christopher Mellon tells us, "we can start to finally at long last after all these decades begin to answer these questions about the origin of these vehicles, where they're from, how they're made, how they function and why they're here"

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With a bank of evidence spanning several decades of UFO research, we're presented with everything from famous photos of flying saucers to a re-telling of the legendary Roswell Incident, but how much new information does the film provide on the subject of UFOs and alien visitations?

Below is a list of all of the evidence featured in the film. We'll leave it up to you to decide whether this evidence helps the documentary succeed in its aim to expose the truth once and for all.

Every "Explosive" Revelation In 'The Phenomenon'

Col. William D. Coleman UFO Sighting, 1955
In July 1955, US Air Force pilot Col. William D. Coleman was flying a B-25 out of Miami with his co-pilot when they saw a perfectly round flying saucer. Coleman served America for 25 years, during World War II, the Vietnam and Korean wars, but went on to devise his own television sci-fi drama series, 'UFO Project'. It was during the promotion of the show in 1977 the Coleman first spoke out publicly about his UFO encounter.

Kenneth Arnold UFO Sighting, 1947
Kenneth Arnold claimed that he saw a string of nine, shiny unidentified flying objects moving past Mount Rainier, Washington. He claimed the objects were travelling at speeds in excess of 1,200 miles an hour. A few weeks later, Captain E.J. Smith saw the same strange phenomenon while flying the same route. Both of these cases were documented in the press at the time.

McMinnville UFO Photographs, 1950
This pair of photos of a metallic object hovering in the sky are amongst the most famous photos of flying saucers ever taken. The images were captured in McMinnville in rural Oregon in 1950 by Paul and Evelyn Trent. These photos are so well known and well documented that even the narration in this part of the film flows like a re-written chunk of the Wikipedia entry on the incident. The wiki page actually makes for an interesting read since it reveals that the Trents lied about the time of day the photos were taken. If they lied about this detail then they lose all credibility. Studies of the photo have concluded that it is most likely a model hanging from a thread. Even the UFO historian featured in the documentary, Chris Pittman, said "this is either some kind of structured object that we don't know what it is or it's a hoax." I think you've hit the nail on the head, Chris.

Gordon Cooper, 1951
NASA astronaut, Gordon Cooper claimed to have seen his first UFO while he was training as a pilot over West Germany in 1951. The incident was detailed in his autobiography, 'Leap Of Faith', released in 2000, but he also spoke openly about it in a 1978 television interview on 'The Merv Griffin Show'.

Tremonton, Utah, 1952
We're then shown some footage shot by Delbert Newhouse in 1952. The grainy clip taken from an old 16mm film has been available to watch on YouTube since at least 2015.

Nash-Fortenberry UFO Sighting, 1952
Commercial pilots William Nash and William Fortenberry claimed to have seen eight UFOs flying in formation over Chesapeake Bay, Virginia. The incident featured in the press at the time and also in a now-60 year old book by Donald Howard Menzel, 'The World of Flying Saucers'.

Washington, D.C. UFO Incident, 1952
One of the most famous UFO incidents of all time and it took place in the US capital. The incident got lots of press attention at the time and made front-page news with the headline "radar spots 'flying saucer' on outskirts of Washington."

Maj. Donald Keyhoe, 1958
Next we're shown an archive clip from television network, ABC, which features a former American Marine Corps naval aviator talking about his beliefs that UFOs exist. Since this was originally shown on television, this clip is nothing new and is also available to freely watch on YouTube.

The Westall UFO Encounter, 1966
Next we then learn that "it wasn't just the Americans that were seeing flying saucers." Through old news clips, we are told about a famous Australian UFO case which took place at Westall school in Victoria. The incident is said to have lasted for about 20 minutes and involved more than 100 students and teachers seeing a UFO land in a nearby field. The case made national news at the time and is so well-known that on the incident's 40th anniversary the original witnesses held a reunion in the town. In 2016 a commemorative documentary was produced for Australian television to mark the 50th anniversary.

As well as the Westall incident, we also hear of another Aussie case that took place four days previously in Balwyn. A resident took a photo of the alleged UFO. The photo was published in Coral E. Lorenzen's book, 'Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of an Invasion from Outer Space' the same year.

Levelland UFO Case, 1957
In Texas in 1957, a large number of witnesses reported seeing a glowing object accompanied by blue flashes of light. The case was widely reported at the time and in March 2002, Dallas-based television station KDFW aired a report about the Levelland UFO case in which reporter Richard Ray interviewed Sheriff Weir Clem's widow and friends. We also learn that a similar sighting was reported less than two days later at the nearby White Sands Proving Ground. This second incident was witnessed by three military personnel, but why we're being told this is true when the whole documentary is about a military cover-up is unclear.

Lonnie Zamora Incident, 1964
Unfolding in Socorro, New Mexico, 1964, the incident involved local police officer, Lonnie Zamora, witnessing two beings beside a shiny object that later rose into the air accompanied by a roaring flame. Although the incident remains unexplained, it became so well known thanks to press reports, that two years later locals agreed to develop the UFO landing site to make it more accessible to tourists.

Michigan, 1966
In March 1966, hundreds of Michigan residents saw colourful, strange lights across the sky. There were also reports of flying discs and even UFO landings. The case is perhaps best remembered for the military's explanation for the sightings. The scientist brought in by the Air Force to investigate the incident, Allen Hynek, told an overflowing press conference the next day that the sightings were just the result of "swamp gas." This term went on to be cemented in ufology culture and is still famous to this day having been further popularised by its inclusion in the television show, 'The X-Files'.
The Phenomenon UFO Documentary

Sensitive Military Site Incursions, 1966-1982
Next up is archive footage from a press conference which took place 10 years ago. In the clip we hear about ex-military personnel talking about historic alien intruders who have monitored and even tampered with American nuclear missiles. The narrator tells us that the speakers at this talk were "some of the most highly vetted military officers" - that should make them a bigger part of the lies and coverup than anyone - why should we suddenly trust them? We are given a few examples of these incursions, all of which have been in the public domain for at least 10 years, some have been public knowledge for much longer:
Minot Air Force Base, 1966
Ellsworth Air Force, South Dakota, 1966
Malmstrom Air Force Base, 1967
RAF Bentwaters, England, 1980
Byelokoroviche Nuclear Base, Ukraine, 1982

Moscow, 1993
We are then shown an American news report from 1993 about historic UFO sightings dating back to the early 90s in Russia, the clip is presented by George Knapp, a UFO researcher who broke Bob Lazar's intriguing story a few years prior to this news report.

The Roswell Incident, 1947
Then we're dragged back to the 1947 Roswell Incident, which of course I don't need to tell you was very well publicised at the time in local news and has been debated since. Do we really need to hear this story again? Sadly we don't have the choice and we're presented with lots of old news clips and stills of the familiar old Roswell Daily Record front page news story. We learn nothing new about the very famous case.
The Phenomenon UFO Documentary - Roswell Incident

Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, 2017
As revealed by Leslie Kean in the New York Times in 2017, we learn that the Pentagon launched a secret project in 2007 to investigate UFOs and determine if there is any potential threat. The project was wound down in 2012 and eventually resulted in the release of the now very famous clips of UFOs filmed by military pilots. These clips have of course been hotly debated for the last five years after being plastered all over the internet. We hear from Kean herself about her interview with Luis Elizondo who worked on the project. We also hear about another UFO case, this time involving the US navy ship, Nimitz. Again, the New York Times broke this story four years ago, this is not new evidence.

Dr. Jacques Vallée Metal Analysis, 2019
In the film we're introduced to physicist and computer scientist, Jacques Vallée. Since the late-1950s he's been researching UFOs and speaking openly about his findings. We learn in the documentary that as of 2019, Vallée has been analysing his collection of "purported metal debris from UFO cases dating as far back as 1947" in a state-of-the-art laboratory. This research has been public knowledge since at least 2011, so there's no major revelation here.

Papua, New Guinea, 1959
Going back in time, we find ourselves in Papua New Guinea in 1959. We're told about the case of an Anglican missionary named William Gill. He and 37 parishioners and staff witnessed a UFO with two humanoid figures on top. The story is mostly told through old news clips of Gill.

Republic of Zimbabwe, 1994
A famous case which got worldwide press attention at the time, including from the BBC. The incident involved more than 110 children and staff at a school, which sits just outside the small agricultural centre of Ruwa. The witnesses all claim they saw aliens land in 1994. The case is often referenced as an example of the psychological principle of mass hysteria.


"70 years of secrecy" hasn't lead to this, this is merely the story of 70 years of suspected secrecy that was fuelled throughout by the press and media.

We are promised that for the first time "the truth will be revealed." So, was it? Well, not really. Of course the film tells us that the origins of UFOs are alien planets, but the filmmaker provides no further detail on this and there's no new evidence to confirm this claim, which has been the unsubstantiated go-to theory about the origins of UFOs for decades.

Questions about how UFOs are constructed and function were not addressed in the film in any detail. Towards the end of the documentary we're told that as of 2019, analysis of the atomic structure of metal debris that is purported to be from UFO cases is taking place. We learn that some of these materials are unusual, but we're not told anything about how they are used in the construction or operation of an alien spacecraft as we were promised.

Jacques Vallée, who features in the film, said that this was "the most credible documentary ever made about UFOs." Is it? Well, possibly. The documentary serves as an interesting review of historic UFO cases dating from 1947 through to the mid-1990s, but does it live up to its reputation as "explosive" and "revealing," and what former Senior CIA Officer Jim Semivan calls, "the most important documentary of the year?" No, the documentary definitely fails on this front.

Despite the promise, there is a complete lack of "eye-popping evidence," and like many other similar documentaries it is made up of mostly stock footage, old interview clips, historic news reports and close-ups of decades-old newspaper reports.

The high-ranking officials we see speaking in this film are only talking about the same old historic cases rather than revealing anything new. Some of the big names who are used to market the film such as President Clinton, only actually appear in the form of stock news footage, something any good UFO enthusiast will have seen plenty of times before.

The documentary also suffers from that problem that many similar films do. The overarching theme is one of distrust for the government and military, yet the majority of the contributors speaking in the film are former military and government officials. What makes this hand-picked bunch more trustworthy than the others? Is it merely their willingness to talk which secured them a place in the film or have they all been vetted some other way?

None of these cases or clips are uninteresting and all of the evidence presented is worth considering, but the problem is the documentary fails to achieve what it set out to do. There are no explosive revelations, no new eye-popping evidence, and the truth isn't finally revealed.

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