Lately it seems like we are in a new golden age of documentaries. There are many being made and quite a few of them are really, quite good. Every so often, there may be a clunker or two, but in an age where we have the internet in our pockets and knowledge of any possible subject literally at our fingertips, these documentaries still are coming at us faster than ever. In a field so filled with choices, finding a niche can be a unique challenge. Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a company send me one to see that I might not have otherwise known about or would have gotten the opportunity to notice. I can honestly say that I’m glad that I did see it. ‘Wow Signal’ is a documentary about the interstellar signal that was received back on August 15th, 1977 that many professionals hold up, to this day, as the best proof of intelligent extra-terrestrial life out there in the galaxy.
The film details the history of the world’s interest in seeking life outside of our own planet at the close of World War 2 and specifically deals with how the USA began using new techniques and equipment to aid in that search. One of these pieces of equipment was the “Big Ear” radio telescope run by Ohio State University. On that fateful summer night over 40 years ago, an intensely strong narrow band radio signal was received that seemed to all but prove that intelligent life existed beyond the confines of our galaxy. As it was never repeated, the signal itself and whatever sent it has been a source of mystery and speculation to this day. The ‘Wow Signal’ film does a very thorough and thoroughly fascinating job of setting the post-war era stage for us and then treating us to the characters and events that helped lead us to this point of history. The reasons for and the many cases against the signal being a definitive sign of proof about our place in the universe are given equal measure as the film deftly traverses the decades and details the moments and people who worked on the project as well as those souls who still continue to put effort into the work of looking for answers and signs of life in the immense vastness of space.
‘Wow Signal’ does an excellent job of conveying the proper amount of knowledge in a clear, concise and relatable way while never being too bogged down in detail or exposition to the point where a novice like myself would lose interest. Bob Dawson’s film editing coupled with Eric Brown’s art direction make for a documentary that is as visually stunning as it is endlessly fascinating. At a time when there seems to be so much divisiveness in the world and when our own planet seems so small and claustrophobic, ‘Wow Signal’ is a great reminder of how small we all are compared to the vastness of space and, perhaps, allows us to contemplate with a different lens our place in the grand scheme of things. Are we alone in the universe? Could there be intelligent life out there somewhere? While we may not have these answers, this documentary is a great watch for those of us who may just need a different perspective on things. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give this documentary an out-of-this-world 8! As interesting as it is compelling, ‘Wow Signal’ should definitely be on everyone’s watch list.