When it comes to UFO events, few are more famous than the alleged events that took place outside the New Mexico town of Roswell in the summer of 1947. Yet that wasn't always the case though as for decades the case lingered in obscurity. While it had begun to come back to the fore, it was with this 1994 Showtime film that the case began to make an impact. Looking at the film, it isn't hard to see why as it may well rank among the best films made on the topic.
That is in part because of the cast. Kyle MacLachlan was a perfect choice for the role of Jesse Marcel, the Army Air Force Intelligence officer who finds himself unwittingly at the center of the whole affair. MacLachlan has a silent strength to him throughout whether he is the young officer who seems to be catching the break of a lifetime or the old man trying to make sense of the past confronting it head on when he returns to the case three decades later. It is the sort of performance that lifts up the entire production.
The rest of the cast is solid as well. Martin Sheen effectively has an extended cameo despite being billed second as the mysterious figure Townsend but he does well with the part, giveing a strong performance with the little screen time that he has. Dwight Yoakam does well as Mac Brazel, the rancher who starts off the whole business by finding some strange debris on the ranch he's working. The cast is also full of character actors who bring the story to life admirably including John M. Jackson, Xander Berkeley, Bob Gunton, Nick Searcy, and Phillip Baker Hall among others. Kudos as well to Kim Greist as Marcel's wife. It's a solid cast that helps ground what is an incredible story in some much needed human reality.
Beyond the cast, the film is a well produced piece of work. From the cinematography of Steven Poster to the production design of Michael Z. Hanan, the costumes from May Routh, and the score by Elliot Goldenthal, the film exudes a competence and firm grasp of the inherent dramatic nature of the events it portrays without overplaying it. Hats off as well to the film's make-up department in aging up several members of the cast for the scenes set in the 1970s. All are brought together under the direction of Jeremy Kagan whose direction shows the occasional flourish but only when the production calls for it. The result is a well made and highly watchable ninety minutes or so.
Yet nothing perhaps does more to ground Roswell firmly to Earth than the script by Arthur Kopit (from a story by Kopit, producer Paul Davids, and director Kagan). One can imagine all too easily from other UFO films that this could have been wildly speculative and more science fiction than anything else. Instead, Roswell sticks with the UFO based accounts of the case and presents them without much fictionalization and without frills to make a compelling and believable case. It's true that the film's 1970 sections are fiction with Marcel effectively standing in for a number of investigators who have examined the case but much of what the film presents in its 1947 sections has eyewitness testimony to back it up (whatever stock you wish to place in it). The film admits when it gets into wild speculation (especially in the last twenty minutes or so) and acknowledges conflicting accounts, all to its credit. The script then is an example of how to take compelling but controversial material and present it on the screen.
In the end, it is no surprise that Roswell was nominated for a Golden Globe as that year's Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television. It is a well acted and well made piece of work which brings potentially one of the most fascinating stories of the 20th century vividly to life without becoming sensational along the way. As a result of both its seriousness and how well it stands up even after two decades, it stands out among the pack of UFO related film works as a definite highlight.