[Review] John Was Trying to Contact Aliens (2020): A Documentary Short

The title of the short is very intriguing that I added it to my list a long time prior to its official release. I watched it on Netflix (Turkey) just this morning, realizing it was about 16 minutes long and feeling a little disappointed that it was not a full-length documentary. Let’s get to the gist—I did not like it, and I’ll tell you why. [Note: Heavy spoilers!]

Credits: IMBD via Netflix, colors edited by Hazal’s Camera.

The documentary tells the story of a boy who is adopted by his grandparents upon his parents’ divorce. I do think this part is important because John mentions how his mother was “out of this world” with no more detail, and on the contrary, his grandparents are supportive of his unusual interests. There is also a small detail mentioned that John is gay, which, later finds its place in John’s story. So, John begins to use radio waves and airs cultural music (heavily instrumental selection of Indian, African, Jazz, etc. music) that reaches beyond the moon and towards the infinite space. After about 30 years of research, he quits, and, plot twist happens here: John finds true love.

Capturing John’s Story

Sadly, the short doc did not do it for me. While I read so many great reviews, the documentary more or less feels like a teaser trailer. It vaguely captures the essence of John’s story; however, fails to capture it fully. The storyline goes something like this: Part 1: John develops a system that tries to contact aliens – Part 2: John finds love. In the first part, the story is doomed because of the lack of details. While the filmmakers make use of John’s earlier pictures and videos as a young adult, they never explore his radio system used to contact aliens. Part two makes up for a lovely plot twist. However, there isn’t a transition. We don’t get any information about how John feels when he quits his quest or what leads him to quit. All of a sudden, John mentions he walked into a bar one day and met the guy of his dreams. It sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it? But, how did it all happen? Is the lack of information an artistic choice that should lead me to think John’s boyfriend is an alien? Well, if you have an answer to any of these questions, please do not hesitate to share!

Re-reading the Title

The title of the documentary is John WAS Trying to Contact Aliens, not John IS—which is very cleverly chosen, and it may somehow refute my above arguments. The title hints that the action of contacting aliens was done in the past, and perhaps, we are to see what John is doing now. In fact, this is absolutely great; the title hints that John was trying to contact aliens until… (he found love?). However, only 1/3 of the short documentary revolves around the said events and cuts to the finish line as soon as it does so. In short, this contradicts the title itself and does not fulfill my personal expectations.

Should Netflix take the Quibi Route?

Prior to realizing that I was watching a short documentary that was vastly advertised on my Netflix homepage, I thought to myself, Is Netflix taking the Quibi route? First things first, I did not get to chance to examine Quibi because it isn’t available in my region; I did however check out the user-friendly website (Are they actually advertising iPhones there?). Also, I did not bother because I was almost sure it was going to die off after a couple of months. Still, here we are finishing the summer of 2020 and Quibi is alive and well. I’ve heard a few podcasts (I recall Kafka’s Decoding Media) saying it is absolute rubbish, and barely a handful that called it brilliant (the sports media episode of Meeting Request). I thought the documentary I reviewed above could resemble what was referred to as Quibi rubbish. Simply observing how condensed, detail-lacking, and time-wasting John Was Trying to Contact Aliens (2020) was, I decided that I would not dare take the chance with other short or bite-sized episodes of anything. Please note that I comprehend the short-documentary genre and I assure you that this was one of the bad ones I have seen.

I’ll leave you with a discussion question: Would you watch it if Netflix released bite-sized Quibi-inspired episodes? Feel free to discuss and make me feel bad about the harsh review I leave you with. I promise I won’t run away from the comments section.

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