In the summer blockbuster "Signs," filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan takes on the mysterious phenomenon of crop circles - those massive geometric formations that have been appearing in farm fields since the 1970s - and provides an easy and highly dramatic answer for their existence. They are maps, the movie claims, created by aliens who are intent on destroying us.
It's a neat explanation, but it doesn't seem to hold water (at least not yet). Which leads us to "Crop Circles: Quest For Truth," a documentary by William Gazecki ("Waco: The Rules of Engagement") that tries, over two long hours, to provide us with enough information about crop circles so that we can draw our own conclusions.
The film never comes right out and makes a claim for one accounting over another, though it does spend a good deal of time chatting about the complex geometric constructions (many of them quite beautiful), and how they can be formed by casting a strong light over a series of familiar three-dimensional shapes, while also holding out for a four-dimensional analysis.
The film gets pretty technical around the halfway mark, as issues of crop destruction, metallurgy and electromagnetic fields are addressed, but all this added information does is muddy the already flattened playing field.
What the film does not do is provide any logical or earth-bound explanation for the crop circles, which are supposedly appearing at a steady rate of 160 per year, most of them in southern England. Gazecki does touch on the idea of hoaxes - the makers of "Signs" showed how they could be formed - and admits that there have been a few, but the film is quick to claim they can't all be hoaxes, citing lack of hard evidence.
The most intriguing part of the film revolves around the sacred, and how one can find spiritual sustenance through the immensity of the circles, the perfection of the shapes and their similarity to such religious symbols as the Celtic cross, the Star of David and the pentagram.
The film doesn't provide any revelatory conclusions, though it does give credence to the theory that a fast-moving ball of light is the tool that is used to flatten the crops. There are a few videotapes of these glowing balls, but they are no more convincing or definitive than the hundreds of "UFO sightings" we have seen over the years. By the end, the same questions exist. If they're hoaxes, where is the evidence that they are man-made? And if they're not, why hasn't anyone seen them being created?
In that sense, "Crop Circles: Quest For Truth" is less a pure documentary than it is a fact-finding mission, with the real story waiting to be presented somewhere down the line.
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
"Crop Circles: Quest for Truth"
Directed and produced by William Gazecki; photographed by Ariane Compagnone; edited by Morgan Barnard; music by David Hamilton. Opens Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. Running time: 1:54. No MPAA rating (concept could be scary for children).