“Project Blue Book – Episode One – The Fuller Dogfight” (2019)
Created by: David O’Leary
Featuring: Aidan Gillen, Laura Mennell, Michael Harney, Ksenia Solo, Michael Malarkey
UFO: “An unidentified flying object (UFO) is an object observed in the sky that is not readily identified. Most UFOs are later identified as conventional objects or phenomena. The term is widely used for claimed observations of extra-terrestrial spacecraft.”
One of the more interesting new television shows now airing on the History channel in the US is the ‘based on true events’ series “Project Blue Book” (2019) a period show set in the 1950s that follows a Professor as well as an Air Force Officer as they seemingly investigate reports of UFO sightings, either coming up with rational explanations or not being able to explain them at all. This all may sound a little familiar to some, yes it is reminiscent of another UFO hunting show in “The X-Files” (1993-present) but this shows remake origins go further back to another show, the aptly titled “Project U.F.O.” (1978-1979). The difference between this new show and that latter show was that the new series takes stories directly from the case files whereas the earlier one was very loosely based on actual case files from the US Air Force’s Project Blue Book. Extreme literary license was taken with the stories, leaving them barely recognizeable even to those very familiar with the actual case files.
This new series revolves around secret U.S. Air Force investigations into supposed UFO encounters and unexplained phenomenon, undertaken by astrophysicist, and eventual ufologist, Josef Allen Hynek in the 1950s and 1960s.
So, where to start with “Project Blue Book” in terms of some kind of analysis, also is it worth the investment of time to watch? The best place to start is the structure of the show, which follows many other procedurals in a variety of genres, a case is found, our trusty duo head to the area of the case and investigate. Of course the tension and drama of the show comes from a variety of places, there is the odd couple nature of the two leads who are coming from different backgrounds as well as having their own goals, which this has in common with a large chunk of “The X-Files”, nothing new there. There is also an element of the Air Force (that is, the people in charge) hiding something from the our two heroes, which the audience is let in on, sometimes, although I suspect there will be elements that are only hinted at, which again is something in common with “The X-Files”, conspiracies abound. Something that is unique to this series is that it is a period piece, that is, it is set in the past, not only that it is set in the period of the first third of the Cold War which actually makes this a bit of a hybrid show, unlike either “The X-Files” or “Project U.F.O.”, which I really like. In other words it is part of the sci-fi genre and the spy genre, something that will be interesting to keep an eye on in the coming episodes.
Another question to ask is, what was Project Blue Book, here are some of the background details: Project Blue Book was one of a series of systematic studies of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) conducted by the United States Air Force. It started in 1952, the third study of its kind (the first two were projects Sign (1947) and Grudge (1949)). A termination order was given for the study in December 1969, and all activity under its auspices ceased in January 1970. Project Blue Book had two goals:
- To determine if UFOs were a threat to national security, and
- To scientifically analyze UFO-related data.
Thousands of UFO reports were collected, analyzed, and filed. As a result of the Condon Report (1968), which concluded there was nothing anomalous about UFOs, and a review of the report by the National Academy of Sciences, Project Blue Book was terminated in December 1969. The Air Force provides the following summary of its investigations:
- No UFO reported, investigated and evaluated by the Air Force was ever an indication of threat to our national security;
- There was no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as “unidentified” represented technological developments or principles beyond the range of modern scientific knowledge; and
- There was no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as “unidentified” were extraterrestrial vehicles.
By the time Project Blue Book ended, it had collected 12,618 UFO reports, and concluded that most of them were misidentifications of natural phenomena or conventional aircraft. A small percentage of UFO reports were classified as unexplained, even after stringent analysis.
This first episode has a lot of heavy lifting to do, it must set the show as being in the 1950s with all that entails, it has to introduce all of the key characters, of which there are quite a few, we need to see at least three points of view, one being the Air Force so we are introduced to a General who seems to know more than he is letting on, we meet Dr. Allen Hynek who is not really interested in UFOs and finally we meet Hynek’s prospective partner Captain Michael Quinn who has been forced into this project as a way to back into his superiors good books. The audience also needs to see a case through from beginning to end, so as to set up the first seasons structure, there also needs to be some kind of resolution as well as some linking introduced so as to make this show a little deeper so that we recognise that while there will be individual stories there is also some underlying plot that will be revealed as each new episode is released. In terms of the linking story it really from the first episode is divided into a conspiracy plot with Hynek on one side and the Air Force on the other. Then there is a subplot involving possible Russian spies attempting to contact Hynek’s wife, which seems like a stretch as well as possibly too much plot and an excuse to give Hynek’s wife a larger part, we will see how this plays out moving forward.
The leads of “Project Blue Book” are Aidan Gillen as Hynek and Michael Malarkey as Captain Quinn who are both very good, who also seem to have some natural chemistry, which works very well. Gillen has been both supporting actor as well as lead in a number of television series and movies, here he needs to draw on his character actor skills to offer a broad performance as well as needing to modulate his performance on a variety of levels, much like David Duchovny had to do in “The X-Files”. On the other hand Malarkey has a slightly easier job in that for most of his performance he is playing the ‘straight’ man, he is an Air Force Officer following orders so he has a set agenda which he is following, so far we have not seen him have any kind of personal life, for now I doubt we will. The other supporting characters that currently have really only appeared in a few scenes are the genre veterans Robert John Burke and Neal McDonough who are so experienced they know exactly how to fir their performances not only to the genre but to the medium as well, they are always great fun to watch. Finally the role of Hynek’s wife is played by Laura Mennell who is another experienced actress who I feel is a little lost, not fault of her own but the character is not particularly well written.
All in all “The Fuller Dogfight” is a very good introduction to the show for even a casual viewer interested in the subject matter, this may not hook people immediately but it will entice an audience enough to tune in for the next episode which I will be checking out. I have some faith that this show is formulaic enough that it will be very enjoyable especially because it has a sci-fi bent and is a period piece so it is a nice view on life almost seventy years ago.
Episode One – The Fuller Dogfight
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Written by: David O’Leary
Dr. Allen Hynek is recruited by the Air Force into their top-secret UFO investigation program, starting with the case of a military pilot who survived a dogfight with an alien craft.