Thursday, July 21, 2011

Legend Quest - Coda

My review of Legend Quest was brief mostly because it's a bit outside what I usually review in these spaces -- that is, "true supernatural" TV shows.  (Though I have been known to review movies and/or theater productions, too.)  Longtime readers know that my hope in doing most reviews is to separate the wheat from the chaff, allowing me and the readers to track the science of the supernatural, and whether shows are giving good, scientific info, or merely repeating dogma and legends (which is what most do, most of the time).  We can't hope to find out, for instance, if bigfoot is real without actual, scientific evidence -- as opposed to (often unreliable) hearsay and witness testimony.  I want to know whether monsters are real; I praise shows that work toward that end and damn those that (often deliberately) repeat myths and otherwise obfuscate.

Legend Quest doesn't really fall into that realm.  It is a show that attempts to draw connections between pieces of actual evidence associated with mythical objects and places.  I may not agree with those connections -- so far, I think a lot are big stretches -- but, at least as far as I can tell, Ashley Cowie and his crew aren't deliberately ignoring or cutting their show to conceal facts that don't fit with their presuppositions.  Instead, they're following thin threads of evidence and, hopefully in so doing, making viewers think in new directions.  They're also highly entertaining when they do it.  That's the true value in the DaVinci Code and for this show, too.  I think that's worth doing.  And I hope Legend Quest encourages others to think rather than merely believe.  (Thus, my admonition to not take it too seriously.)

It's also worth mentioning (and maybe not obvious from my review) that I enjoyed both of the episodes I've seen so far.  They have that adventurous, headlong quality that I admire so much in Destination Truth -- a quality that makes going out and searching for legends look like a lot of fun.  That, too, is worthwhile, and hopefully it will encourage others to get the training needed to go into the field, find out new things, and do good work.

Be like Cowie.  Be adventurous.  Ask questions.  (Even about "reality" TV shows.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Legend Quest - micro-review

SyFy - Original Air Dates: 7/13/2011 & 7/20/11 and beyond

There is a difference between an adventurer and a scientist, and, to me, Ashley Cowie falls firmly into the "adventurer" category.  Mostly, this show seems to follow a series of thin, often-art-based "clues" to supposedly uncover the "truth" about ancient mysteries such as: Excalibur, the Ark of the Covenant, the Cintamani Stone, the Mayan Talking Cross, etc.  It's a lot like a weekly episode of The DaVinci Code, and -- as someone with a minor in art history, I can assure you -- about as accurate and substantive.  Just the thought that Cowie can solve centuries-old archaeological riddles in a half hour every week is absurd.

But, boy, all that globe hopping and checking out cool art and mysterious places sure looks like fun.  Just don't mistake it for science ... or history ... or truth.  Oh, and don't expect them to actually find anything amazing and new and revolutionary.  So far, all the segments have ended with a statement like "This may well be the resting place of..."  Or it may well not be.  Smart money is betting on "not."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Alaskan Monster Hunt: Hillstranded

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 7/19/11

The brothers HIllstrand, captains on The Deadliest Catch, look into Alaskan legends of the cryptid animal cadborosaurus.  They start by viewing a video of the supposed beast taken by a local salmon fisherman.  The video puzzles all of these experienced seamen and cryptozoologist Paul Leblond, too.  (I'd be somewhat more impressed if they had a top marine biologist -- though Leblond's resume claims he was one, formerly.)  The brothers then start outfitting for the trip as if they're on the world's biggest fishing trip.  I am reminded of Quint's ill-fated venture to catch Jaws, and I am more than slightly disturbed when brother Andy declares, "Time to go kill a sea monster!"

Now, I don't watch Deadliest Catch, so I don't know if this is how these guys usually act, but their expedition seems irreverent at best.  Methods include huge fishing lines with barrels as bobbers.  They start at the mouth of a river, catch nothing, and then travel up to Lake Iliamna, which boasts a lot of monster reports.  They overfly the lake with a pilot who saw the creature once.  They talk to local Tim Laport, who suggests places to fish for the beast, and also suggests that it might be a sturgeon (an ancient type of huge fish).  They repeat their barrel and bait operation, and succeed in losing their bait to ... something.  Soon, one of their barrels ends up a mile away from where they set it, with the heavy hook bent straight.  Then they spot something big and white (15' long?) in the water; so they fish for it, apparently hook it, and... the line breaks.  Just another one that got away.  What's left to do but throw a tantrum, toss dynamite in the water, and shoot the lake with automatic weapons.

I'm unimpressed.  A better equipped, more scientific expedition might have gotten better evidence rather than just another fish story.  I'm also vexed that the original video is not shown in its entirety -- making creature identification difficult for any home viewer.  Monster?  With this type of "evidence," who can say?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

FINDING BIGFOOT - Behind the Search

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 7/17/11

This is a wrap-up show for the first season of Finding Bigfoot.  Matt, Ranae, Bobo, and Cliff go to the "Bigfoot & Beer" cafe in Oregon to talk about their experiences.  They start by recapping the season's highlights -- which means you can catch this show and maybe skip the originals, unless you really like long segments of folks stomping around in the dark and howling.  (Alternately, you can use this episode to survey which shows in the series might be interesting to you.)  The show also gives us some outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, which give an interesting glimpse of making the series.  Plus, the audience gets to ask questions about the show, the crew, and the techniques and investigations.  The crew even puts forth an alternate explanation of the river raft bigfoot video -- though Matt still thinks it's a monster and Ranae thinks it's not.  Overall, it's nice to have a season summary like this, and it's not a bad springboard for those new to the series.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

FINDING BIGFOOT - Alaska Bigfoot

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 7/10/11

On the "season finale," the BFRO goes to Alaska to hunt. I predict they'll hear compelling stories, make howls, tromp around in the dark, have Matt make unsupportable statements and Ranae be skeptical. Let's watch the show and see how I do.

They start on Prince of Wales Island -- a place covered with rain forest and full of black bears -- supposedly at the behest of Hydaburg's mayor.  They have photos of a "nest," snow-melted tracks, and a blurry figure (bear? gorilla suit?).  They talk to the mayor and witnesses.  Ranae thinks that the prints could be bear plus elk, snow melted; Cliff estimates the prints at 17"; Matt says that it must be a male bigfoot because of the size.  Matt also says the tracks were made right before the witness came by, though they clearly show melt, which makes me doubt his credibility (again).  This calls for ... a night investigation!  Oh, and howling.  They find a fresh footprint in soggy earth, which Bobo speculates is a juvenile squatch, and take a photo.  (Casting impossible because of water.)  A town meeting is in order (I forgot to predict that), where they hear the usual compelling stories.  Breaking with tradition, they only choose 2 stories to investigate.

First involves a log thrown at a car (cab), and the witness came back next day and found a foul-smelling stick and a green eyed creature standing in a tree.  The witness says it wasn't a bear; it was a sasquatch.  Bobo thinks only juveniles climb trees; Ranae notes the branch in question couldn't hold a creature of that size.  The other witness saw a tall, hairy creature step behind a tree when she was out hunting deer with her cousin.  Cliff and Matt guestimate it was 8 1/2 feet tall and male, but find no physical evidence.  They then talk to a 12-year-old deer hunter who saw the creature in a clearing from 30' away, while hunting alone (so we do get 3 witnesses).  Even Ranae thinks the witness saw something scary and strange; the rest estimate it as a 9' male squatch.  They pick a location and set up a 6-foot-tall laser perimeter (new tech!) to try catch a bigfoot feeding on deer at night.  They use deer calls which lure ... deer, and bigfoot calls which lure ... a perimeter hit.  They then look for whatever broke the beam, but find nothing -- apparently forgetting that the beam could be tripped by anything at that height, say ... a bat flying by.  (Speculation by me.)  They hear strange noises, but find nothing.

Which just about sums up this series.  Lots of stories, lots of tromping around in the dark, little (or no) good, hard evidence, Matt making declarations like he's studied a captured specimen of the creature up close, and Ranae being skeptical but compassionate.  Its Ranae (and the likability of Bobo) that gives me hope for this show, but it needs more hard science and (as in most of these shows), more follow through.  Let's see what they've got for the season summary episode (next week) and hope they do better next season.

FINDING BIGFOOT - Frozen Bigfoot

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 6/26/11

The BFRO heads to The Pinchot Nation Forest in SW Washington to investigate photos that show a "bigfoot" atop a snowy mountaintop ridge.  By now, the MO of this show should be obvious: they check out a sighting, use Bobo as stand-in, Matt believes the evidence shows bigfoot, Ranae does not.  This show holds true to form.  The photos show a shadowy figure atop a snowy ridge, turning and disappearing downhill.  Matt thinks it's bigfoot, as does Cliff -- by reading details into the photos that I, personally, don't see.  The Bobo's recreations convince Matt it's sasquatch, but (wisely) not Ranae.  Why would another human be on that ridge? the BFRO wonders.  Why was the first guy there taking pictures? I reply.  Looks like a man in a snowsuit to me and Ranae: "I have no reason to believe that's not a backpack," she says of the hump on the back.  The witness seems equivocal to me, and I wish for Fact or Faked's voice stress analysis (though I don't totally believe in that, either).  Howling night investigations in the nearby forest must ensue.  They hear howls back,  w whistle, and strange whispering voices.  (People?)

They call a town meeting in Yacolt to talk about local encounters, and find a few (3, as usual) to look into.  One of the investigations, as usual, involves length-of-stride, which, as usual, Bobo can't recreate.  Another involves pacing through the woods, trying to follow people on a trail.  The third involves crashing through the woods.  Naturally, the humans have trouble re-creating what the witnesses think they saw/heard.  Trying something newish, the group camouflages a canoe, and hauls out an RC goose (!) with a camera in it, to do some riverbank observation -- at night. Thermal hits can't be tracked down, though they do hear return calls to their howls.  (Which might be me, if I were there.)  But they can find no trace of people.  so, it must be bigfoot!  All in all, it's just another day at the BFRO office, with lots of screaming and tromping around in the dark and no solid evidence.

FINDING BIGFOOT - Fishing for Bigfoot in Oregon

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 6/19

Matt, Ranae, Cliff, & Bobo (the BFRO) head to Oregon to check out some riverside bigfoot footage.  Did some rafters on the McKenzie River accidentally catch bigfoot on tape?  (Maddeningly, as on many such shows, they only show a few instants of the tape, with little context.)  Talking to witnesses, they recreate the footage with Bobo.  Bobo looks bigger than the supposed squatch; Matt start making excuses for why the footage is a real bigfoot; Ranae says "This is a human."  (Are you starting to notice a pattern on these shows?)  "We are clearly in a very squatchy area," Cliff concludes.  Which must inevitably lead to a night hunt.  Would you be surprised if they howl at each other and hear strange noises?  You shouldn't be.  Nor should you be surprised they find elk with their thermal camera.

They then head to Leaburg to attend a "bigfoot beer" meeting ("bigfoot anonymous" Bobo calls it) to hear more local stories and pick a few to investigate.  For once, they meet someone they don't believe; her story stretches even squatch credibility.  Clearly, having a regular "bigfoot beer" night may attract people with issues other than bigfoot.  Then they talk to some youngsters who have pictures and a footprint cast.  And then talk to some people who hung out a rabbit surrounded by glowsticks as live bait.  Naturally, the BFRO has to try the rabbit trick, in the dark; naturally, they hear tree "knocks."  So, they hunt another night -- without the rabbit -- and hear strange howls.  "It was nothing but a sasquatch," Matt declares; his mind is closed.  "I don't know what those other hows were," says Ranae.  They find fresh urine, but see no sign of elk, so maybe it was squatch. However, they apparently take no samples.  Whoops.  What do they end up with?   Howls.  Do they subject these sounds to analysis by an animal expert?  Not so far as the show tells us.

Maybe someone should remind Matt -- who sees squatch behind every tree -- that evidence without rigorous analysis is worthless.


Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 6/12/11

Matt & the BFRO team head to Uwharrie National Forest in North Carolina to check out some thermal image camera footage of "bigfoot" snatching a candy bar left as bait.  They meet the witness and re-create the incident.  Bobo makes a convincing "squatch," but only to Ranae; Matt thinks their recreation was flawed, and other members of the team (Cliff) make excuses, too, as to why the footage was "real."  So they stomp around in the woods in the dark.  Bobo spots something -- a humanoid figure -- and Matt goes running off on his own to find it.  This pisses off the rest of the group, who have this crazy idea they're doing science and collecting evidence.  Naturally, after this close call (or was it?) they head somewhere else to hunt (no sense setting camera traps; do they even have any?), and call a town hall meeting there.  As usual, they get some great stories (there are always great bigfoot stories), and pick a few to investigate.

And as usual, they see the sites and do re-creations with Bobo (whom you'll recall is nearly squatch sized).  Recreations, including footprint strides, if witnesses are accurate, tend to indicate something not human.  But, remember, these are recreations, and witnesses have (often) proven unreliable.  (See the Unsolved HIstory: Roswell review.)  So then they tromp off into the woods in the dark to get scary footage ... I mean, to find bigfoot.  They find only a bat.  So, they gather a group of people to do a grid search for bigfoot evidence.  They find evidence of deer, which Cliff claims might be a food source for sasquatch, and then a deer carcass with a snapped foreleg.  Matt claims a squatch did it; Ranae counters that it could have happened rolling down the hill.  Matt, if you didn't realize it by now, knows everything about this mythical animal -- including all of its patterns of behavior and predation.

They then go and discuss their findings with the witness who first brought them the video.  (Why?)  Matt notes that Ranae doesn't believe in anything she can't see in front of her.  Good for her.  At least there's one scientist in this group.


Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 6/10/11

Matt Moneymaker and the BFRO head to Florida to try to figure where southern bigfoots live, and if they're different from the others.  (Note the assumption bigfoot is real.)  They talk to some homeowners who think bigfoot is visiting their back yard.  They have track casts and also claim that the beast vandalized their birdfeeder (Moneymaker claims bigfoots like food that humans leave out) and broke their fence top (climbing over).  They also claim bigfoot came onto a deck and  left a greasy handprint on the glass door.  Ranae recreates that using Bobo's hand, but the witness is unimpressed; Ranae remains unconvinced.  So they do a night stakeout featuring the usual fake bigfoot calls and listening for knocking.  They hear knocks, growls, and other things that make them think bigfoot are around -- well, all except maybe Ranae -- but the cut out anyway.  Then they have a meeting with Seminole Native Americans, who advise leaving the sasquatch alone.

Naturally, they keep hunting -- now in south Florida -- talking to other witnesses and doing more recreations.  As often, the witnesses are sincere, but the evidence slim.  They call in some RC drones to help survey the Everglades for possible places to stake out for bigfoot; naturally the stakeout must be done at night and include howling.  They find some deer, and a "mysterious" thermal hit, which they first claim is larger than a deer, and then claim is about the size of Matt.  It then "ran off into the woods."  Unfortunately, the editing of this segment doesn't show the "creature" running, just the people reacting to it.  Which makes me think they've cheated this, and it was just another deer.  A more reliable show would have included that footage, even if it was just a false alarm.  The BFRO think bigfoot is real, and their show is designed to reinforce that -- without doing any really hard science to back up their presupposition.  My proof of this?  They have "bigfoot fact" quizzes -- which implies that both 1) bigfoot is real, 2) we know enough about them to have facts.  Here's one:

Do you know why skunk apes stink?  Because they hide out "in air pockets of underground alligator dens, and their fur absorbs the pungent methane."

IAbsurd!  n my opinion, this show could use more hard science -- including camera traps and long-term follow-up investigations -- and less wishful thinking.  Perhaps we could have Fact or Faked or Destination Truth re-investigate the "facts" on this show.

Friday, July 1, 2011

FINDING BIGFOOT - Bigfoot Crossing in Georgia

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 5/30/11

Every week, the team on this show goes looking for bigfoot; it's like Ghost Hunters, but with bigfoot.  The team is made up of the the perhaps-ironically named Matt Moneymaker (leader), Bobo (the bigfoot stand-in), Ranae (biologist skeptic), and Cliff (the nondescript one); together, they form the Big Foot Research Organization (BFRO).  They're in Georgia this week to check out a police dashboard cam of a dark figure, that might be sasquatch, running across the road.  Ranae thinks its a hoax, but the rest of the crew are pretty firmly in the believer camp already.  Witnesses seem sure it wasn't a bear, or a man in a costume, so the group goes for a recreation (with Bobo, who is very tall).  Naturally, this convinces the group's believers that the original was bigfoot -- though Ranae notes they just proved it could be recreated.  They then tromp around in the area knocking wood and making their own bigfoot calls.  Naturally they hear things they think are bigfoot; though I gotta say, if I was walking in the woods and heard this stuff, I'd do it back, too -- just for fun. Bigfoot, or human prankster?  The question never seems to enter their minds.

After they walk in the spooky woods, they call a town meeting to talk to other local witnesses -- and plot the locations of the "encounters."  And talk to more witnesses, and do more recreations.  Most of the witnesses seem very sincere, and with each one, the group (aside from Ranae) becomes more and more convinced there are bigfoot in the area.  (Though they do question the veracity of one witness, who seems to be telling them what they want to hear.)  They also find some footprints in the red clay earth that match what are commonly thought to be bigfoot tracks; they make casts, and even Ranae is impressed -- though she wonders if people planted them there, knowing the team was in the area.  (And I wonder if this is the best they've had in 25 years, how crappy is the rest of their "evidence.")  Then they drive through the woods looking for hits on their thermal camera.  They get one, but can't track it down.  So they start screaming again, and hear a howl back.  (Me, again?)  And that's pretty much where it ends.

This is a show for believers in bigfoot.  It is not a show for people who want to figure out if bigfoot is real, or what people who think they've seen bigfoot are seeing.  All the people on this show already know it's real (with the possible exception of Ranae).  If you like sightings and eyewitnesses, this is probably a show for you. If you want careful analysis of the facts, you're probably better off with Destination Truth.  We don't even get an end-of-show recap with the "evidence."  Though I admire the fact that it's a show tackling essentially the same "problem" every week, the "researchers" belief in the phenomenon seems to taint all of their conclusions.  I've seen a number of the shows in this series now, and the pattern holds.  What you get in this episode is pretty much what you get in the rest: intriguing video (or picture), stomping around the wilderness howling, talking to witnesses, and believing that "bigfoot is here."

Maybe at some point the show will get some evidence that makes me believe (or doesn't make my wife laugh and say "That's a guy in a suit!"), but I'm not holding my breath.  I doubt Ranae is, either.