Director Jeremy Kagan and his co-writers, Paul Davids and Arthur Kopit, have fashioned a gripping fictional account based on events in the summer of 1947 in New Mexico, where unidentifiable debris, including strangely shaped bodies, was found in a field north of Roswell. Those who discovered it suspected a crash landing by extraterrestrials. A U.S. Air Force press release announced that a UFO had been recovered; a day later, however, the release was retracted, the original finders discredited, and a pall of secrecy was imposed that is still in force (officially if not actually). Telepic achieves the ring of, if not truth, at least possibility.
Working from the known facts, and from recent attempts to reopen the investigation — impressively detailed in Kevin Randle and Donald Schmitt’s 1991 book “UFO Crash at Roswell”– vidpic focuses on Army Intelligence Maj. Jesse Marcel (Kyle MacLachlan), who first broke the story and was then made the goat at the retraction.
Thirty years later, Marcel still lives uneasily with the unjust disgrace. Taunted by former buddies at a reunion, he is obsessed with clearing his name. Ill with emphysema (which killed the real-life Marcel in 1986), he fights off the persuasions of his wife (Kim Greist) and son (Doug Wert) to abandon the case.
His obsessions touch the few survivors who share his memories and are willing , at long last, to come forward; gradually the old secrets take on new flesh.
A former mortician (Nick Searcy) remembers seeing the bodies of four crew members on the “saucer” and then being shoved aside by Army brass. Another veteran with his own memories (Martin Sheen) steers Marcel toward the realization that the Army’s handling of this one incident may have been part of a larger secrecy pattern regarding UFOs.
The excellence of “Roswell” lies not in its definitive answers to long-unanswered questions, but in its interweaving of several possible scenarios. As Marcel, MacLachlan, at ease in the sci-fi/fantastic milieu of “Dune” and “Twin Peaks,” is equally so in “Roswell’s” well-managed flip-flops between fact and something less certain.
He splendidly rides the time warp from 1947 to 1977, and is especially convincing as the honest old Army pro struggling to regain a self-respect undeservedly forfeited.
Wherever the truths of the Roswell incident may lie, director Kagan paces his story convincingly and, in the suspicions it raises about American military mendacity, unflinchingly: superior made-for-TV fare, in other words. The extraterrestrial bodies, by the way, are terrific.