Thursday, March 31, 2011

BEAST HUNTER: Mongolian Death Worm

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 3/25/11

Pat Spain heads to Mongolia to check out the legendary Death Worm.  Mongolia is about the size of Alaska, but with a population of only 3 million, it's the most sparsely populated country on earth.  Basically, there's a lot of empty ground to cover.  Pat talks to the locals and hears the legends of the worm; lots of eyewitness accounts -- even one from close range -- but no actual bodies or other evidence.  As pointed out earlier, Mongolia is big and has a history of mysterious creatures -- including a toad that lives underground 300 days a year -- and amazing paleontological finds, such as the first dinosaur eggs.

Pat pokes around with the local fauna, and hangs with the nomadic peoples, and speculates about what might lie at the bottom of the fantastic myths about this creature.  Could such a poisonous and/or electric creature exist?  His camera traps, set in hopes of catching the creature, show something very mysterious -- which, once viewed completely, turns out to be a close-up of a cow.  "A perfect example of seeing a common animal from a different angle, out of context, and being totally confused by what it could be."  Pat speculates this is what is happening with the local people, though there may be some kind of creature that's causing these legends to spring up.  Whether the creature exists in modern times remains in question. 

FACT OR FAKED: Thermal Theater Ghost - Fire in the Sky

SyFy - Original Air Date: 3/30/11

The teaser cases not investigated this week are: Ghost Twins (AL) which appear suddenly, one on the stairs and another in a downstairs room, both appearing and vanishing during quick pans of the camera. It looks very "Japansese horror" to me, and the pans too convenient -- stopping and starting in just the right places -- and the camera being used (seen in a mirror) is a pro camera.  The Captured Alien video (2008, Brazil) seems to show a "gray" alien being interrogated, but it seems "too good to be true," possibly a combination of puppetry and CGI.  The two cases we're checking out fully are: 1) El Paso UFO, a falling "meteor" that breaks into 3 separate lights and then appears to hover, and 2)  Florida Theater Ghost (Jacksonville), which seems to show a translucent apparition sitting in a balcony seat.

The theater is one of those grand old palaces that are often reputed to be haunted.  The team sets up their night vision cameras and then stations Austin in the seat the "ghost" was seen in.  The image seems too distinct, though I think they've done a bad job replicating the lighting seen in the video (see below).  Next, they create a Plexiglas outline of a person and light it with a light box, but the box spills out too much light.  So, they decide to ghost hunt for a bit, and find mysterious heat signatures.  Because these seem to vanish whenever someone steps next to them, I think it's a calibration problem with the camera.  They, though, try to track this ball of heat across the auditorium, and eventually corner it near the "haunted" seat.  I still think it's a camera problem; nor am I impressed with their replication of the lighting of the original video.  For instance, the doorway (or wall) on the right of the seats is clearly visible in the original, while it remains dark in the recreation  Thus, the seat in question is underlit, thus this whole experiment is a fail, IMHO.  You may think you found something; I think you didn't try hard enough.  Sorry, guys.  More science needed.

They do better with the UFO investigation, starting by talking to the witnesses, and then sending up LED-filled balloons on, essentially, kite string.  But the lights aren't stable enough, nor do they have the streaking, sparkling tails of the original video.  Next up, a rocket deploying military flares, which are timed to last the minute and a half that the incident lasted, as reported by the eyewitnesses.  This looks almost right, but the flares descend too fast and don't hover long enough.  Next, they try a similar trick with sky divers.  The divers strap flares to their boots and then go out of the plane and form a formation.  They then light the flares, plummet for a while, and finally separate into a triangle shape and deploy their chutes.  The effect is a prefect replication of the video.  It's so good, in fact, that the recreation even gets UFO calls to 911 (though apparently people refuse to believe the true explanation).  Research proves that the Army's Golden Knights skydiving team was responsible for the El Paso lights.  Case solved.  Science wins.  Good job, team.

FACT OR FAKED: Real Battle of LA - Queen Mary Menace

SyFy - Original Air Date: 3/23/11

FoF returns for a second season with a slightly altered cast and a firm grasp on their format.  We start with videos, as usual.  A kitchen poltergeist looks too good to be true, with plenty of places to hide people pulling wires.  Napa Valley Vortex shows a pond draining into a huge hole; it looks like SFX, but it's actually an overflow drain.  The two mysteries they're investigating are: One - The Battle of LA (2/25/1942), when radar hits caused an LA anti-aircraft fire barrage.  Nothing was ever found, but a picture shows a supposed saucer-shaped craft being hit by spotlights.  Two - Queen Mary ghost (2008, Long Beach, CA) shows a ghostly white figure strolling out of a wall and down a hall.  It was supposedly captured by a camera set down in a lounge.

In LA, they talk to experts, who confirm that a meteorological balloon was launched the night of the battle, though the experts can't explain why the balloon didn't come down.  The team then drives to the desert to try and replicate the photo.  First, they test for an optical illusion using 8 searchlights, focusing on the same space.  The result is similar, but not the same, as the beams to do not stop in mid-air (and the beams are different, too, see my end-of segment note).  They decide to see if the beams will stop because of flak, which they test at scale (anti-aircraft being unavailable).  Better, but the beams still don't stop.  So they put a weather balloon in the spots.  This looks much more like the original, but it only takes a hit or two to bring the balloon down.  The same would hold true for a barrage balloon, which would more closely resemble the purported object.  So, the mystery remains.

Or does it?  I gotta say, though, the "original" photo looks retouched to me.  The spotlights are shaped oddly (spreading out too quickly), and they stop too abruptly; also, retouching was common at the time, especially to "clear up" muddy photos.  My guess is that the spots were added by retouchers to the picture of the flak, to better portray the scene to readers.  Compare the beams in the show to those in the photo; the photo beams look airbrushed on.  Too bad the FoF team didn't try to find an original negative.  As to why all those shots were fired, ever see 1941?

On the Queen Mary, they tour the ship -- with people who seem to believe in vortexes -- and talk to the people who shot the film.  They then create a base plate of a figure walking, and project it onto haze from the fog machine.  Close, but you can see the beam.  Next, they try projecting onto a teleprompter -- which is a pretty close match.  Then, for some reason, they start doing the usual ghost huting/EVP stuff -- and turn up a very spooky raccoon, plus what sounds like the laugh of a little girl.  (Mysterious!)  Back at the shop, Bill also throws together a video composite, which matches the original almost exactly.  This proves there are many ways this video could have been faked, but that doesn't prove the Queen Mary isn't haunted.

Not a bad start to the new season, though the science could have been tougher in places.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BEAST HUNTER: Sea Serpent of the North

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 3/18/2011

Pat Spain goes to British Columbia in search of Cadborasaurus, or "Caddy" as it is fondly known.  He talks to local witnesses who claim to have seen the monster, hangs out with local fishermen, and spots local whales.  He speculates that some Caddy sightings could be humpbacks surfacing in unison, or perhaps porpoises.  He also pokes around in the Woods Hole Institute's freezer, checking out their specimens, and talks to some First Nations folks about native legends (Caddy has a long history).  He also looks at possible historical and current candidates, including the elusive oarfish.  Then he goes diving into the deep (in a submersible), where he sees strange things, like a giant jellyfish.  In the deep, Pat believes, an unknown sea monster like Caddy could exist.

DESTINATION TRUTH: Haunted Island Prison - Ucumar

SyFy Channel - Orignal Air Date: 3/22/2011

First, Josh & crew head to Panama to check out a notorious prison of the country's former dictator.  Located on an island, it is remote and was difficult to escape -- a hellish place for inmates.  On the way there, the team has the usual adventures, talks with locals (including former prisoners), and nearly gets drowned trying to kayak across the ocean surf.  When there, they poke around the complex at night, hear strange sounds, and get frightened by a . . . frog.  Later, they meet with Ghost Hunters International's Kris & Barry to review evidence. An orb turns out to be caused by a spider web, but they're too easy on a fuzzy sounding EVP (in my opinion).  Strange noises and "footsteps" they heard remain mysterious, and Josh concludes the inmates seem to be serving an "afterlife sentence."

Next, the team heads to Argentina to look for the bigfoot-like ucumar, which their recreation makes look like half bigfoot, half rat.  After stopping in Rio De Janero, they head to Salta, Rosario, the El Ukumari Ranch, and the outback -- after talking to ranchers and local witnesses, of course.  They set up camp and go tromping around in the dark (with horses at one point), looking for the beast.  They find some bones and some footprints, hear a mysterious sound, and get a thermal camera hit they can't track down.  Back home, the bones turn out to be dog and the print from a bear -- an endangered animal virtually unknown in this part of Argentina.  Josh concludes that the very rare bear is likely the truth behind this legend.

Monday, March 14, 2011

BEAST HUNTER: Swamp Monster of the Congo

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 3/11/11

Pat Spain, a great-nephew of Charles Fort, goes to the Congo to look for the legendary, dinosaur-like mokele mbembe.  He talks to witnesses, one of whom claims to have seen the monster a mere 3 months ago.  (The witness dismisses Pat's natural animal explanations.)  Trudging into the jungle, Pat sets numerous camera and video traps.  As in the Amazon, Pat spends much time gaining the trust of the locals to aid in his search.  But he doesn't find a dinosaur, he does, however, see elephants -- and even gets one on his camera traps.  He speculates that elephants in the river may have helped give rise to the mokele mbembe legend.  Of course, in the end, he doesn't rule out the beast's existence.

After 3 shows, I do appreciate this program's low-key approach to investigation.  It's usually very sober, and seldom has those annoying "cliffhanger" commercial breaks.  Because of this, however, it is a bit of a snooze.  Certainly, actually finding a beast would make it much more exciting.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

BEAST HUNTER: Nightmare of the Amazon

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 3/5/11

Pat Spain goes to the Amazon looking for the mapinguari -- either a beast or an evil spirit, which the show describes as a one-eyed monster(with a sideways face), slashing claws, a noxious stench, a mouth in its chest, and a savage howl.  It also supposedly protects the forest from clearcutters.  To ingratiate himself to the locals, Pat undergoes a ritual involving being stung by bullet ants (so called because the sting feels like being shot).  Talking to witnesses, Pat theorizes that a giant anteater may be responsible for at least one attack.  Another scientist theorizes that the beast could be a giant ground sloth (supposedly extinct).  Pat does some call blasting, and gets a reply (which sadly does not show up on their audio).  He also gets a witness to pick the giant sloth out of a lineup.  Interesting theory, but next time I hope we'll have more evidence.

BEAST HUNTER: Man Ape of Sumatra

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 3/5/11

Hunting host Pat Spain goes to Sumatra in this kick off for a series of monster hunting shows - boldly going where Josh Gates (Destination Truth) and MonsterQuest have gone before.  This show does the usual witness interviews and chats with locals.  Some of the witnesses, especially the naturalists, are very compelling.  Then Pat tromps around the jungle looking for the beast.  And, of course, doesn't find it.

While this might be okay for newbies, mostly it seems like a less entertaining version of Destination Truth.  I expect a little more meat from my National Geographic shows.