Director Paul Davids (The Sci-fi Boys) was alone in his house, when a blot of ink mysteriously appeared on a document he’d just printed. This seemingly small event soon mushrooms into a much larger investigation when Davids realises that the sentence altered by the blot now appears to refer to Joe Moe, carer for the late Forrest J. Ackerman. Ackerman, a legend and early populariser of the science fiction scene (and coiner of the term “sci-fi”) had died fairly recently at the time. Though famously atheistic, Ackerman had promised to come back and provide proof if he discovered that life after death existed.
What follows is a long and rambling look at the possibility of ghosts and an afterlife, with a particular focus on the idea that Ackerman is haunting a number of his associates. There’s not really much of a thread to hold it together – Davids simply provides us with scene after scene of himself or other talking heads holding forth on haunting in general, or this case in particular.
Davids consults a forensic scientist to have the inkblot examined, as well as talking to a professor who claims to have electrical equipment that makes communication with ghosts possible. Less scientifically, he consults a number of mediums. There are also asides from a couple of web designers who believe Ackerman haunted one of their laptops, and a number of other people with a general interest in science fiction and/or ghosts – including authors Richard Matheson and Whitley Streiber.
As noted above, all of these speakers are presented without much of a framing narrative, so the film doesn’t really have any pace at all – each hundred-minute documentary feels like an eternity. Rather than a detective story following the uncovering of clues, this is like watching Davids give a fairly dry and unstructured lecture, with the aid of interviews triggered by Powerpoint. This is probably because there aren’t all that many clues to uncover – Davids is clearly convinced, as are the majority of his experts but the evidence never really seems that strong. It all hinges on Davids’ personal relationship with Forry Ackerman, and the insights he claims that gives him – everything else falls solidly into the realm of not very spooky coincidence.
The Life After Death Project also looks terrible. It appears to have been shot on a domestic video camera, the lighting varies from average to dreadful, and Davids himself looks weirdly disheveled throughout – especially in contrast with the footage of himself he presents from the past. Late in the film, Davids shows still shots of a number of his experts as the background to a monologue – but instead of using stills, he’s used paused frames from earlier in the film. This makes the experts twitch from frame to frame like you’d just paused the DVD and is weirdly distracting.
The second feature in the box is both better and worse. The Life After Death Project 2 is a more general set of accounts of hauntings, with just a couple of Ackerman updates – so it’s much less handicapped by focusing so closely on a single fairly uninteresting story. Unfortunately this means it’s even less focused than the original, to the point where it almost feels like channel-flipping instead of a single documentary. None of the cases presented here are particularly compelling either – though the witnesses all seem pretty genuinely convinced.
The Life After Death Project touts itself as a “CSI-caliber quest for proof”. It certainly spends a fair amount of time in labs, at least for the first film – but that’s where the resemblance ends. If you’re already a full believer in life after death, or you’re a really really big Forrest J Ackerman fan, you might find something to enjoy here. If you’re a skeptic, this certainly won’t do much to convince you. If prefer your documentaries engaging and enlightening, I’d look elsewhere. Not recommended, though you may (as I did) find yourself hungry for a decent documentary on Ackerman’s life.
- Excerpts from the Forrest J Ackerman Tribute (2009)
- Excerpt of FJA with Peter Jackson from The Sci-Fi Boys
- Expanded statement from Dr. John Allison
- “The Demise of the Ackermansion”
- Sci-Fi Museum of Seattle showcase of Visionaries and Futurists
DIRECTOR(S): Paul Davids | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR: 2013 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Yellow Hat | RUNNING TIME: 207 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 16:9| REGION: 0/NTSC | DISCS: 2