Movie Review: "Phenomenon" starring John Travolta

Subject: Movie Review: "Phenomenon" starring John Travolta
From: Matthew Nankin <mnankin -at- LYNX -dot- DAC -dot- NEU -dot- EDU>
Date: Tue, 16 Jul 1996 00:45:50 GMT

"Phenomenon" is the story of one man (George Malley as portrayed by John
Travolta) coming to grips with the importance of technical documentation
in his life. Although the movie glosses over some of the more critical
elements of writing for those of us in the profession, for the mass
audiences it is a good reminder of the importance of documentation in
everyday life.

The movie begins with Malley casting away an important instruction guide
(in four languages nonetheless!) on how to install solar panels on the
roof of his house. As the movie shifts to Malley's job at an auto
repair shop, we again witness his ignorance of the importance of
documentation as he never once consults any owner manuals or repair
books!! I, as well as the rest of the audience, was now left to wonder
if this would be another sorry example of a Hollywood culture that is
unable to appreciate the importance of good technical communication.

At this point, Malley is struck by a "bright light" and his intelligence
is automatically heightened. He immediately begins to experiment and
DOCUMENT his findings. This is all in stark contrast to FBI agents,
brain surgeons, and other sinister types who are never willing to commit
themselves to any type of notetaking (less than an occasional tape

As the movie progresses, Travolta's George Malley becomes a voracious
reader of all types of novels, translation dictionaries, scientific
books, etc. His journey and life are one of understanding the importance
of the written word in general and technical works in particular.
Although the movie glosses over the mechanics of writing in favor
of the standard Hollywood medical and romantic scenes, the overall
message is a good one and for that it should be appreciated.

In one of the movie's final scenes, when George's documents are
handed over to a university professor, we now fully recognize
and appreciate the true meaning of this movie: Technical documentation,
and those who create it, is essential if we as a civilization are to
move forward.

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