Tuesday, December 14, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Bayou Beast - River Ghost

Syfy - Original Air Date: 12/9/10

The finale of their first season takes the FF crew further down the road of serious science and skepticism.  The cases they do not look at in depth are: Christmas Ghost, which seems to show a ghostly image at a Christmas party.  But Chi-Lan correctly points out that it's just lens flare.  Ice Vortex shows a very strange circular vortex, which was observed for 12 hours, in the middle of an icy river.  But it's merely the result of a methane gas uprising and the Coriolis effect; strange but not paranormal.  Ghost Girl seems to show a ghostly girl in a deserted house.  But it turns out this was a fake, a publicity put up to promote an internet site.  Good job on exposing those, guys.  Which leaves the 2 cases for investigation.  Honey Island Swamp Monster seems to show a bigfoot-like creature skulking through the swamp near New Orleans.  Ghost Light shows a mysterious light flying near a bridge on the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.

Heading to Louisiana, Ben, Chi-Lan, and Larry trek into the swamp, check out the area seen in the super-8 film, and interview witnesses. Then they go to see if the thing in the film could be a Louisiana Black Bear.  The bears are very large, and can stand on their hind legs, but they don't walk very well, unlike the thing on film.  Next test: a hunter (Ben) in a camouflage ghillie suit and stalking make-up.  (Shades of the Michigan Dogman!)  The resulting footage looks just like the original film.  Of course, that doesn't mean it couldn't be bigfoot, so they set some nighttime traps for the monster, just in case.  While they don't catch a monster, they do catch some strange and disturbing howls on their equipment.  Conclusion: The film shows a man in camo, and the howls are identified by an expert as wild boar fighting.  Also, the film is a short roll--indicating some of it's footage is missing, perhaps deliberately.  While this film was "fake," there could still be a monster out there somewhere.

On to Oregon, where Bill, Austin, and Jael talk to the people who shot the flying light film; they seem sincere.  At night, the team goes to the bridge and conducts some experiments.  First, they throw Frisbees bedecked with lights off the bridge; they don't stay aloft long enough to replicate the flight pattern.  Next, they pull a lighted balloon from a speedboat to try and replicate the object.  This looks closer, but the flight pattern isn't smooth and regular when the boat turns.  Finally, they outfit an RC plane with LED lights; though the object was described as "silent," it's impossible to hear the plane over local traffic.  The plane is a dead-on match.  Conclusion: The object is an RC plane, though the witnesses didn't know that; they were just fluke observers to a nighttime RC plane flight.  It was merely a case of mistaken identity. Fake.

Over the past few weeks, this show has gone from a flabby "We want to believe" show to a harder-hitting "What's the most reasonable explanation" show.  As they've improved, they've gained me as a loyal viewer and supporter, and I suspect many other fans as well.  Since they've deservedly been renewed for next season, I hope they'll be able to cast off the EVP sessions and other remnants of pseudo science and stick solely to the facts in the season to come. They seem well on their way to becoming SyFy's equivalent of Mythbusters. I look forward to next season.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

FACT OR FAKED: Lunar Landing Hoax - Tropical Intruder

SyFy - Original Air Date: 12/2/10

The show starts with the usual rundown of videos that might be worth investigating. Lancaster PA Mothman is filmed through a window and shows a creature taking off near a clothesline at night.  It looks like a bird (owl) to me, but the video quality is low, and the team passes.  Texas Explosions fill the sky with blue light, but it looks like weather to me (and Chi-Lan, too).  Which leaves us with the two cases to be investigated this week.  Apparently, one-quarter of the world's population doesn't believe the Moon Landings actually happened.  (For those of us alive then, this theory is really insulting/annoying.)  They show the hammer falling at the same rate as a feather; the moon jump salute to the flag, and an astronaut "assisted" to his feet - supposedly done on a Hollywood set.  Gulf Breeze UFO shows one of the classic glowing UFO shapes (with apparent portholes) gliding through the trees; it vanishes suddenly.  "Too good to be true," springs to my mind, but let's see what the team thinks.

Aron Ranen started as a documentary filmmaker, and now believes that NASA is hiding something.  He has a good story, but is any of what he says true?  He hedges though, and says, "There is a possibility that man's first landing on the moon might have been a hoax."  So, the team (Ben, Austin, Chi-Lan) builds their moon landing set, and Austin gears up.  Then they do the falling bodies test with a hammer & a weighted feather; video looks very similar.  Chi-Lan then suits up, and Austin uses spring boots to make the salute jump; this looks terrible - and I can't imagine how the spring boots would have been used with 1960s tech (no CGI)  to remove those boots.  They try again with theatrical fly wire (which is what the conspiracy buffs claim the moon suit's radio antenna is); it looks better, after a few takes, so they continue with the wire.  (Note that the physics of the jump is still wrong; the suit drifts with the wire.  Note also that the early moon landings were broadcast live.  Want to get that right in one continuous take?)  They then try the assisted stand, which looks pretty good with the wire, too.  But a pressurized suit would have a natural spring-back motion, explaining what's seen in he original footage anyway.

Conclusion: Yes, the "stunts" can be replicated, but no one in the cast believes they were faked.  (They don't mention it, but watch the physics of the moon dust in the original footage.)  Ben points out that because these tests were done on earth, it doesn't mean that similar results wouldn't happen on the moon without SFX, and 400,000 NASA workers are a lot of people -- too many, to involve in such a conspiracy.  If you are interested in this conspiracy, you should see the excellent Mythbusters show on moon conspiracies, as well as Conspiracy Moon Landing from Nat Geo.  Sorry, conspiracy buffs, the moon landings did happen (in the age before the politics of personal destruction), and it's insulting to all mankind to think they didn't.  Good recreations, though.

On to Gulf Breeze, on the coast of Florida near Alabama, home of an Air Force base.  They talk to Mike Hawkins, the witness responsible for the video, and he claims he wasn't involved in a hoax.  He says the UFO was hovering over the bay, and he and the other witness moved through the trees to get better pictures before the UFO disappeared.  The team (Bill, Jael, Larry) makes a mock UFO with foam sheets, a beach ball-type thing, lights, and tape ($20 of materials), and then attach it to a zip line outfitted with pullies.  A remote turns the light on and off, to simulate "disappearance."  It looks amazingly similar, aside from light cast on a tree and lack of vertical motion -- which I think they could have solved with a different rig further back in the trees.  They then try attaching a UFO to an RC helicopter and repeat the test; again very similar, but the UFO is flat, and when it swings in the wind that hurts the effect.  So they doubt that's the solution. Next they use a GOBO (Go Before Optics lighting) setup rear projected onto a screen, like the Bat Signal.  Again, it's amazingly similar, and a camera move makes the craft disappear.  Looks like a hoax, so they subject their interview to voice analysis.  Initially, the tape shows Hawkins is telling the truth about seeing the thing, but, later on, he's being deceptive about not knowing what it was.  (I remain dubious of this technique, but...)  Conclusion: he may not have been in on the hoax initially, but he likely did know what it was later.

Again, this episode presents two tough looks at famous videos and shows how they could have been faked (though the moon landing was not).  I wish they'd done some more proof about the good evidence for the moon landing (scientific mirrors left by the astronauts, etc), but that's a small quibble for a show that is more and more bringing hoaxes into the light.  Good job, gang!