And here I thought no film about crop circles could possibly be boring. Alas, Suzanne Taylor’s cobbled-together What on Earth? manages that very feat, though less for misguided intentions or lack of insight than for what would appear to be the lack of cinematic experience with which to realize her vision. Suggesting less in the way of a documentary feature than a college report hastily assembled with excessive quotations so as to meet a word quota and impending deadline, this look at the mysterious forces at work in our world might have worked as a short; at even a scant 81 minutes, it’s what Bilbo Baggins might call butter scraped over too much bread.
Comprised almost entirely of amateurishly shot interviews punctuated with the often-astounding images of crop formations (crop circles is a misnomer, as these mathematically complex images are often many things other than just plain round), Taylor’s film chronicles in whiplash-inducing manner her travels and discussions with dozens of individuals touched by this phenomenon, the narrative often hopscotching across five or six different discussions within a minutes time. The admirable intention is to create a single logical trajectory through what amounts to a very broad discussion (the mind reels at the effort that must have been expended to arrange the footage as presented), but the result is one that—by pandering to an increasingly inattentive public—is more likely to induce impatience in those who might actually find themselves enamored by these formations and their potentially mind-blowing ramifications.
Some scraps of worthwhile information make themselves known, among them the almost absolute likelihood of extraterrestrial presence here on Earth (manmade formations bear distinctive marks while true formations leave the vegetation flattened but unharmed) and the eerie suggestion that electronic devices (cameras, phones, etc.) fail within these formations. But these scraps constitute what a more assured hand could have covered in 10-to-15 minutes time. And must this believer in life elsewhere be the first to point out that the film includes footage taken from inside the formations, sans explanation for its own apparent contradiction of the previously mentioned electronic blackout?
It doesn’t help that Taylor routinely “guides” her interview subjects in utterly ham-fisted fashion, or that the time dedicated to actually showing the formations is barely enough for them to register. Better to have dedicated 80 minutes to the formations themselves, not unlike the 10-minute static shots that comprise James Benning’s avant garde 13 Lakes. Their enigmatic beauty speaks for themselves.