Episode 1 – The Fuller Dogfight
Project Blue Book, the new series based on the United States Air Force’s investigations into UFOs, has been saved on my Sky Box for a few weeks now and I thought I would take the plunge last night. Renewed interest in the subject matter seems to coincide with the release of Mark Frost’s Secret History of Twin Peaks a couple of years ago and I have an idea that creator David O’Leary may have been influenced by this. Certainly, there are enough Twin peaks references tucked away in the first episode to defy coincidence. The characters eat cherry pie (and comment on how great it is), the waitresses wear ‘Double R Diner’ blue uniforms and the pilot at the centre of the episode’s plot has the call sign, ‘Cooper’.
The pilot, Henry Fuller, is a fictionalised version of real-life fighter pilot George Gorman. Gorman engaged in a dogfight with a UFO for 27 minutes in the skies above Fargo, North Dakota in 1948. The official report identified the UFO as a lighted weather balloon; however, Gorman was never convinced.
You can’t consider a series about UFOs without dealing with the spectre of The X-Files. Within the pilot episode, we have shady government figures (based on the Majestic 12 theory) including Robert Burke, who I first saw in Hal Hartley’s Simple Men, and the always watchable Neal McDonough. Our Mulder and Scully team consists of Vampire Diaries’ Michael Malarkey as Air Force Captain Quinn, whose job it is to close cases as quickly as possible; and Aidan Gillen as real life UFO investigator J Allen Hynek. I’ve become used to seeing Aiden Gillen as a scheming villain in Game of Thrones or, before that, as a scheming politician in The Wire. Seeing him leading a show as its protagonist is quite refreshing. He’s always compelling to watch and lends a great deal of subtlety to this role from quite early on. Government conspiracies and duelling cynic/believer aside, there are numerous other comparisons to be made.
Even in the first episode, which promises a story based on real events, there are great liberties taken with the actual source material. Hynek worked with the government on their two previous UFO studies, Project Sign and Project Grudge, but here he is presented as a newcomer with the Blue Book operation. The Gorman dogfight was witnessed by other people besides the pilot, including an air traffic controller never mentioned in the episode, and the eponymous pilot, based on Gorman, is set up as a possible recurring character through events in the episode that bear no relation to the real story. For the sake of drama, however, one can allow these deviations.
On the whole, it’s a reasonably entertaining first episode. There was certainly enough within to make me want to see more. Gillen, as I mentioned, is very good although there is not much in the way of instant chemistry between him and his co-investigator. One can only hope this will build over the season. They have, after all, just met. The first episode also introduces to us Hynek’s wife, Mimi and his son, Joel. How’s this for a bizarre film reference? The real Joel Hynek went on to design the camouflage effect in the film, Predator. The set up seems to suggest that Mimi will have her own sub plot involving her isolation from her husband as his workload increases and other parties who are interested in his work.
The special effects are decent, if a little computer heavy, but my main gripe with the first episode is the sound. The music becomes very intrusive at times, trying to ram emotions down our throats. Additionally, the ambient noise is a little too… noisy, making it difficult to hear the dialogue at times.
On the whole, though it’s an entertaining episode, I came out a little dissatisfied. It made me more interested in the real facts of the Gorman case and I felt like I would have rather been watching a documentary without the unnecessary soap opera plot elements padding out the investigation. I’ll have to see what episode 2 brings.
Thanks for reading.
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