Documentary Review: ‘What on Earth’

October 22, 2009 Updated: October 24, 2009

Although found increasingly around the world, crop circles have been found predominantly in southern England’s countryside. These large geometric formations, which are cut into fields of grain crops, (hence the name) are the subject of What on Earth, a documentary by Suzanne Taylor.

The precision and complexity of these mysterious designs support the theory that human beings do not create them. Interestingly, it has been found that electronic equipment will not function inside the circles, and some people have stepped forward to claim experiencing a strange healing energy within them. Adding to the region’s mysteriousness are other controversial ancient sites; the most famous being Stonehenge.

The strength of What on Earth is the sweeping footage of the crop circles themselves. Often shot from the vantage point of a small airplane, the views overlook vast expanses of grain. All man made objects are dwarfed in size. In the center of it all, the circles shimmer in the sun. They look like other worldly works of art, made of burnished gold. The outer edges of the designs are perfect. Inside the formations, there is even an order to the lay of the grain stalks. They create additional directional patterns and flows.

The interviews are shot in a variety of settings, and the subjects have a bit of a 1960s feel to it all. Instead of hippies, we have "croppies," as the British enthusiasts affectionately call themselves. The interviewees range from various intellectuals, a Baroness, and two questionable English gentlemen, named Doug and Dave, who claim the crop circles to be their own explainable, human creations.

The editing is a little choppy at times, and occasionally there is a slight disconnect between the pace of the footage and the musical score. However, the pacing becomes increasingly synced as the movie progresses resulting in moments of extraordinary beauty.

This appears to be one of the major themes that the formations are pointing to; the importance of balance and synchronization. Many of the mysterious patterns have to do with geometric solutions, which arrive at the squared circle—where the perimeter of the square is equal to the circumference of the circle. Both forms fit one within the other. This supposedly represents the balance of yin and yang or the marriage of Heaven and Earth. From the Pyramids, to Hindu temples, to cathedrals, and many ancient places of worship are also built upon this metaphor and design.

As the Harvard professor, John Mac, explains in the movie, "World views determine what we allow ourselves to perceive. They hold the species together. They are a kind of glue that connects us to the tribe. We don't even know sometimes that we have a world-view, because it is like the water the fish swims in, like the air we breathe."

While certainly not a film for the masses, if you have an interest in unexplained phenomena or simply expanding your own world-view, What on Earth will intrigue you.