Director: Bob Dawson
Running Time: 88 mins
Wow Signal is an American documentary about a famous moment in the history of radioastronomy, when an abnormally strong signal was detected by telescopes, providing the strongest evidence of contact from intelligent extraterrestrial life.
The most unanswerable questions are exactly the ones we want all the answers to. As Wow Signal details the unprecedented discovery of what could be a first signal from intelligent extraterrestrial life, it begins to open up on the frustrations and realities of humanity’s greatest unknown, showing that even the clearest signs may not offer the answers we’re looking for.
And in that respect, this is a captivating documentary, offering an impressive balance between a wide-eyed fascination for the cosmos with real, down-to-earth analysis, not afraid to frustrate us with ambiguities when it seems like we have all the answers right in front of us.
The problem with the film, however, is that it lacks a certain transcendent passion, arguably bringing too much level-headed analysis to the table to provide a thoroughly engrossing watch.
These are very complex topics, not just dealing with difficult scientific concepts, but also mind-bending philosophical themes about our place in the universe and the search for the meaning of life. In that, while industry insiders will certainly be enthralled by the detail, Wow Signal just doesn’t have the wow factor that audiences really want.
The film’s commitment to rational and fair analysis of these topics is highly commendable, but for those with no background knowledge in the field, Wow Signal can unfortunately prove a little bit of a downer on what is the most exciting question in the universe.
The search for intelligent life is complex and can be argued with in many ways, and this documentary gives due attention to all arguments and ideas, but what it doesn’t do is lend an ear to the big dreams and admittedly idealistic passion for outer space in the general consensus.
Compare this doc with the fascinating Last Man On The Moon, which looked at the end of lunar travel in the 1970s with a gorgeous blend of riveting detail and emotional, dreamy passion, sparking both thought-provoking themes and a tear in the eye throughout.
Wow Signal, sadly, has none of that memorable emotion and fervour. It’s certainly an interesting watch, but a great documentary isn’t just informative, but striking and emotionally arresting in its subject matter too, and that’s what really makes this film fall.
It’s a documentary with all the right ingredients, and certainly does enough to give a balanced and level-headed argument of a riveting topic, but its lack of a real, wide-eyed emotional fervour makes it unfortunately inaccessible to general audiences, and far from the transcendent tackling of a question everyone wants to grasp. So, that’s why I’m giving Wow Signal a 6.9 overall.