In December 2017, The New York Times revealed the existence of a top secret government program called Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification. “The program produced documents that describe sightings of aircraft that seemed to move at very high velocities with no visible signs of propulsion, or that hovered with no apparent means of lift,” the Times reported. As New York Magazine explained in a summary of the piece, “The internet went slightly more bananas than usual last weekend over The New York Times’ story implying that extraterrestrials are real and the U.S. government has been tracking them for years.” The paper of record’s reporting was long-awaited validation for anyone who has ever claimed a UFO sighting, or an inexplicable encounter with the beyond.
While the exposé was far from definitive, it appeared to be an important step forward—and an I told you so—for people like Bob Lazar, the subject of Jeremy Corbell’s new documentary Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers. In 1989, a then-anonymous Bob Lazar put Area 51 on the map when he came forward with his unbelievable story. Lazar said that he studied captured alien technology at a site called S-4, near the desert test facility. Almost 30 years later, Lazar’s story hasn’t changed, but our collective capacity for incredulity has certainly been tested. And Bob Lazar has been patiently waiting for us.
For a film that stars a humble, straightforward scientist who just so happened to spend some time with extraterrestrial technologies in the 1980s, Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers relishes in the surreal, trippy and spectacular. The documentary, part of Corbell’s Extraordinary Beliefs investigative film series, immediately overwhelms the viewer with flashing lights and disconcerting visuals. Meanwhile, Mickey Rourke’s narration ricochets into the frame as if from another dimension, raspy and strange, announcing, “Not to burst your bubble, but the Earth is not the center of the universe.”
“We create our own reality,” Rourke’s disembodied voice continues, as we see an iPhone light up with a number of texts from Bob Lazar, saying that he is being raided by the FBI. This is where we start: with a raid that we are led to believe is in response to a recently-filmed conversation between Corbell and Lazar. “This story is extraordinary, especially if it’s true,” Rourke growls. “And it all started in the desert, just north of Las Vegas.”
Lazar first made waves as an anonymous scientist. He told the media about Area 51, and claimed that there were nine disks “of extraterrestrial origin” being tested and studied there. He insisted that he had no idea how the government got their hands on these spaceships, and that his life had been threatened over this information. Lazar called the government’s secrecy a “crime against the scientific community,” who had been robbed of the opportunity to study and reckon with this otherworldly technology. When Lazar eventually did go public, it was in a series of interviews with journalist George Knapp, who has been described as “the best known above-ground correspondent on the ET beat.” Knapp first appears in the documentary providing background on Lazar, and warning Corbell that he might not want to talk. “He doesn’t like the attention,” Knapp explains. “It totally screwed up his life.”
Knapp’s early coverage is excerpted throughout the documentary. Lazar, young and wiry, walked Knapp through every detail. During his job-application process, he seemingly stumbled into this unique position. Early on, he said, he was given briefings to pore over. They referred to flying saucers and extraterrestrials. Recalling his disbelief, Lazar explained, “It’s a science dream.” He says his new employers showed him a spacecraft. He was tasked with reverse engineering the propulsion, to see if they could recreate it.
“It’s a fantastic story, but it’s true,” Lazar continued. “These crafts come from another solar system entirely. And they’re here.”
In those late-‘80s clips, Lazar explained that he was going public “as insurance,” and claimed that his tire had been shot out while he was driving his car. Knapp’s conversations with Lazar, and his work attempting to verify the scientist’s story, exploded, and gave Area 51 the name recognition and international allure it enjoys to this day. “Tens of thousands of people started showing up out there,” Knapp recalls. “I know a lot of my media colleagues had problems with that story, but they covered it.”
Come for the aliens, stay for Mickey Rourke describing the topography of Area 51 like so: “The mountains appear to float on dry lake beds, like spaceships from another world… What are they building in the desert north of Las Vegas? What the fuck are they hiding?”
Of course, old news clips and drawings of aliens set to Mickey Rourke’s trippy spoken-word poetry recitations only go so far. The documentary begins in earnest when an unassuming man in a crewneck sweatshirt and wire-rim glasses first addresses the camera. “My name’s Bob Lazar, I’m known for working at a classified base known as S-4 out in the Nevada desert near Area 51. And there, we reverse-engineered alien space crafts.” Present-day Lazar owns and runs a scientific supply company and lives with his wife Joy, who appears to have zero reservations about her husband’s claims: “He doesn’t make stuff up.”
Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers follows Lazar through domestic scenes and films him at work, puttering around with beakers and pipettes. These everyday images are seemingly incompatible with the interviews that Corbell is conducting throughout, as Lazar calmly answers questions about the alien technology he claims to have worked with. Lazar’s main gripes with the United States government are consistent with the concerns he shared decades ago: that people are not just being robbed of the truth about extraterrestrial life, but of awesome technology that has the power to shift “the entire world economy.”
Specifically, Lazar recalls technology that produces and controls gravity, and uses it for propulsion. He explains that “this is a reaction-less craft.” Instead of expelling something, like air or exhaust, “It creates a distortion in space and time in front of it, where space actually bends.” At multiple points in the documentary, Lazar stresses that this technology could not possibly have been human-made. “There’s another civilization in existence that’s intelligent that we know about, and we actually have artifacts from them,” he insists. “The science and the technology can change us dramatically.”
Naturally, Lazar’s story was highly contested at the time. Most notably, reporters were unable to verify that he attended Cal Tech and MIT as he claimed. Los Alamos denied his testimony that he worked there, but his name was found listed in a 1982 phone book for the lab “among the other scientists,” and a 1982 clipping from the Los Alamos newspaper described him as “a physicist at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility.” Officials at Los Alamos insisted that they had “no records at all” of Lazar. “It’s as if someone made him disappear,” an old news clip intones.
Lazar “wanted to try everything I could to prove what I was saying.” He underwent hypnosis, attempting to retrieve lost information that could fill out and substantiate his story. He took four polygraph tests, with expert administrators concluding “no attempt to deceive.”
Present-day Lazar is more or less resigned to the disbelievers. “What else can I say?” he wonders. “I have better things to do than come up with this,” Lazar continues. “I could make up a better lie, but I have no motivation to lie. This hasn’t helped me out.” Indeed, the scientist stops short of claiming that he ever saw aliens at the site. He does note that the seats in the saucers were small, almost child-sized. There was a nickname for aliens around the facility: “the kids.”
Over the course of the film, Knapp makes a number of convincing arguments for his continued faith in Lazar. At one point, he stresses, “We checked out so many details that Bob had told us that turned out to be true.” Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers is strongest when it takes up this mantle of investigative reporting, like when Corbell tracks down the man who Lazar says did his background check to confirm his story.
The film culminates in the heavily-teased FBI raid. In a spooky clip, Lazar and Corbell go deep into the woods to discuss claims that Lazar made when he first went public: that he had managed to steal a piece of “element 115,” the then-undiscovered element that Lazar says fueled the reactors. The clip distorts and flashes, and Lazar never gives a straight answer. The next day Lazar’s business was raided by the FBI, and, we are told, “this conversation was directly referenced in the raid.” While authorities said that they were looking for years-old paperwork for a customer who had ordered potentially toxic materials, Lazar describes the raid as “like a Twilight Zone episode.”
“The street filled up with vehicles and the building completely filled with agents”—and all for something “they could have called for.” Corbell asks Lazar if he believes that the authorities are trying to find the 115 that he claimed to have taken out of the lab 30 years ago. “I don’t feel comfortable addressing that,” Lazar replies.