Monday, January 21, 2008

Monster Watch

"True supernatural" TV shows are often on my viewing list -- even when UFOs aren't headlining on Larry King (the Stephenville sightings).  I don't consider most of them, true, but they're usually good "grist for the mill" of writing.  I've often thought that there should be some kind of listing/clearing house for such shows -- as many seem to duplicate content or re-prove subjects that have been well debunked on other shows.  For instance, there's a famous film of bigfoot that some shows claim "can't be fake" because the bigfoot in question has an "inhuman gait."  And I've seen a least one show "prove" that no human can walk that way.  Yet, I've seen another show where an actor matches the gait with just a bit of practice, and a third that uses a candid camera technique to photograph a man long suspected of being in the bigfoot suit in the film in question, and the man's natural gait perfectly matches the "inhuman" gait.

So, some kind of database on these shows and what they contain and allege to prove, and what their strengths and weaknesses are, would be helpful.  Here's my start at such a database.  Having specific episode guides would be good (perhaps on Wikipedia?) -- but I'll start with a few general reviews.

GHOST HUNTERS and GHOST HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL (SciFi channel - general review)
The most famous of the current "True Supernatural" shows, these shows are quite good.  Some of the science they bring to bear (EVP, EMF) is a bit dicey, and much of the suspense is created by over-excitable investigators.  But -- when not going for the ratings -- the TAPS teams bring a reasonable amount of scientific investigation and skepticism to bear.  They're at their best when debunking, though occasionally obvious solutions seem to slip past them.  They also need to do a better job of controling light sources, some of which may be responsible for the fleeting shadows often seen by the group.  The first season, where TAPS' standard for declaring something "haunted" was very high, was in some way the best.  But I'm sure "haunted" houses are better for ratings.

MONSTER QUEST (History Channel - general review)
A mixed bag of scientific techniques and investigation.  Sometimes, the show is dead-on, other times pretty fuzzy headed.  Clearly, the need for sensational "cliff hangers" at the commercial breaks often hurts it.  (Ghost Hunters has a similar problem.)  And sometimes it stretches things out (the "rods" show) in order to avoid quickly reaching a "no supernatural stuff here" conclusion.  (Rods, BTW, are insects and other fast-moving objects transformed into something "mysterious" by slow-moving camera technology.)  Also, there was one bigfoot show (they've done about 4 -- each with a slightly different focus) where the investigators hid in a cabin while a possible bigfoot stood in the woods and threw stones at them.  Not very brave, or scientific.  (Hey, look!  An unknown animal!  Let's hide!)

IS IT REAL? (National Geographic channel - general review)
This show is usually the toughest and most scientific of the series supernatural shows.  Their research is generally good, and their cliff hangers tend to foreshadow an eventual debunking (when that's the outcome) -- the question then becomes not "is it real?" but "how do they know it's not real?"  That's a refreshing switch from 50 minutes of credulity followed by a 10-minute "but it's all fake" bit at the end (which often happens with Monster Quest).  I saw the Chupacabra episode this week, and it pretty well proved: 1) there are more wild dogs in the world than chupacabras (and such animals are often the actual culprits in alleged chupacabra cases), 2) so-called animal mutilations can be achieved by natural processes of decay and predation, 3) some people would rather cling to their own superstitions than believe scientific evidence.

DEEP SEA DETECTIVES (History Channel) -- The Loch Ness: The Great Monster Mystery
Divers may not be the best detectives, but they sure are intrepid.  And the show's research is pretty good, too.  What they discover in this episode is: Loch Ness is too murky to find much in, though it's deep enough to hide many secrets (including shipwrecks).  A local believer takes issue with Adrian Shine's conclusion that the loch eco-system couldn't sustain a big animal population (while this is true, he says Shine doesn't take into account migrating salmon, which don't eat while spawning).  There's also a focus on Robert H. Rines expeditions (though Rines original "monster" photos have proved dubious).  Annoyingly, though the program is copyrighted 2005, it highlights a 2001 expedition in which Rines finds what may be a carcass (though the scale seemed wrong to me), which will be explored in a future expedition.  No explanation of why no follow-up was done between 2001 and 2005.  Surely that carcass, whatever it was, is gone by now.

No comments: