This article is part of the Motherboard Guide to Cinema , a semi-regular column exploring foreign and obscure speculative films.
Bob Lazar has seen some shit during his time on Earth—or at least he says he has.
As a teenager he built jet engines and attached them to his bicycle. As Lazar got older, his jet engines grew larger and were attached to his cars. One time he built a particle accelerator in his bedroom so he could produce chemicals for his homemade hydrogen-powered corvette. He claims to have studied physics at MIT and worked at the Meson facility at Los Alamos National Laboratories. He was arrested for abetting a prostitution ring (the charge was later reduced to felony pandering) and says he has been raided by the FBI twice. He claims to have been shot at and old videos show him shooting in the desert with his friend’s Uzi. For years, he hosted an underground DIY fireworks festival.
Oh yeah, he also claims to have worked on reverse engineering alien spacecraft at S-4, a military facility near Area 51 in the Nevada desert.
Some of the details of Lazar’s life are true and easily verifiable, while others strain credulity. MIT, for instance, has no records of Lazar ever being there, and Los Alamos has denied that he was employed there (although journalist George Knapp apparently found a Robert Lazar listed in an internal phone book for Los Alamos).
Does that mean that Lazar actually worked on bonafide flying saucers? No, but this is Lazar’s story and he’s sticking to it.
That is the takeaway from filmmaker Jeremy Corbell’s new documentary, Bob Lazar: Area 51 and Flying Saucers, which is released worldwide today. Corbell’s previous documentaries profiled a surgeon who removes extraterrestrial implants and investigated Robert Bigelow’s Skinwalker ranch, which is an alleged hotbed of UFO activity, so he is in many ways the perfect person to tackle a profile of Lazar’s truly out-of-this-world life.
Indeed, the very fact that this film exists is a testament to Corbell’s ability to handle fringe subject matter. Ever since Lazar first came forward with a story about his time at S-4 working on extraterrestrial spacecraft in 1989, he has grown more and more reluctant to speak about what he says he saw at Area 51. Corbell’s new film is the first major interview Lazar has given about his beliefs regarding extraterrestrial technology on Earth in nearly 30 years.
In May of 1989, Lazar conducted an anonymous interview as “Dennis” with the Las Vegas-based reporter George Knapp. In the interview, which is included in Corbell’s film along with a lot of other archival footage from Lazar’s time in the international spotlight, Lazar describes working on the propulsion systems for “nine flying saucers of extraterrestrial origin” in possession of the US military.
“The propulsion system is a gravity propulsion system and the power source is an antimatter reactor,” Lazar told Knapp during the original interview. “This technology doesn’t exist at all.”
At the time, Lazar claimed that the reason he came forward with information about extraterrestrial technology in possession of the government was because he believed it to be a “crime against the American people and scientific community” to keep such information a secret.
Shortly after Lazar’s first interview, he broke anonymity and did several other interviews about his time at Area 51 under his own name. These were broadcast around the globe and turned the top secret military base into a pilgrimage destination for UFO believers. As Knapp says in the film, “Bob really put Area 51 on the map.”
When Corbell met with Lazar in California, he made the case that he has no ulterior motives to lie about what he was working on in the mid-80s. If anything, Lazar said, his decision to come forward with this information changed his life for the worse.
Today, Lazar runs United Nuclear, a scientific supply company in Michigan, which he claims in the film was recently raided by the FBI under the pretense of trying to track the source of some toxic materials. The police response for a relatively routine investigation was huge, Lazar claims. The entire office was filled with dozens of authorities from every conceivable branch of law enforcement, he says. The implication, Corbell’s film hints, is that the government was trying to spook Lazar back into silence.
(It is worth noting that Lazar’s company, United Nuclear, has run afoul of law enforcement on two other occasions, both having to do with transporting explosive materials across state lines).
The FBI raid bookends Corbell’s film, which attempts to separate fact from fiction in Lazar’s story. This is something that UFO wonks have been doing on the internet for years, but Corbell manages to turn up some interesting information.
For example, in the 1980s Lazar claimed that S-4 had a biometric identification system that was able to scan the bones in employees’ hands to identify them. In the film, Corbell produces a recently declassified picture of a device that sort of matched Lazar’s description and Lazar comments that this is the first time he’s seen this device since working at the base.
Corbell’s film also touches on other facets of Lazar’s story, such as his claim in 1989 about use of element 115—also known as moscovium—for the propulsion system of the extraterrestrial craft. When Lazar first came forward with his story about UFOs in Nevada, element 115 hadn’t been created in a lab yet. In 2003, however, Russian scientists synthesized the element for the first time.
Element 115 is an incredibly radioactive substance and one of the heaviest elements ever discovered. To date, only four moscovium isotopes have been produced in a lab, each popping into existence for a few fractions a second. According to Lazar, however, the extraterrestrial craft he worked on used a stable version of element 115 to warp gravity around the craft and propel it forward.
So far, scientists haven’t been able to produce a stable element 115 isotope even close to what Lazar described. Beyond that, we don’t even really know what gravity is, much less how to manipulate it.
This all might seem pretty amazing, but it’s also emblematic of how Lazar’s claims can seem less impressive under scrutiny. Lazar might have been talking about element 115 more than a decade before it was produced in lab because aliens exist, or maybe he’s just a really smart guy with a big imagination. It’s possible that someone with his level of scientific knowledge wouldn’t find it difficult to describe the properties of a theoretical element in vague terms based on its place in the periodic table.
Read More: Behind the ‘Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOs’
Is Lazar telling the truth? He says he told his story to the world 30 years ago and maintains that it is as true today as it was then. At the same time, a 2016 New York Times report on the Pentagon’s UFO-related activities brought the extraterrestrial question back into the public discourse in a serious way. Indeed, the so-called “tic-tac UFO” revealed by the Times acts awfully similar to the way Lazar described the craft he was working on at S-4.
Although Corbell does an admirable job of tracking down the key players in Lazar’s story for interviews, his film doesn’t pretend to definitively settle the veracity of Lazar’s story. Instead, Corbell offers the viewer a humanizing portrait of a mad scientist’s scientist.
When Lazar’s remarkable life is paired with Corbell’s approach to documentary filmmaking (and brief stints of monologue read by gravel-tongued Mickey Rourke), the end result is an incredibly entertaining portrait of the world’s most notorious UFO truther.