Sunday, October 30, 2011

FINDING BIGFOOT: Birth of a Legend

Animal Planet - Original Air Date: 10/30/11

This Bigfoot Believer show returns with a 2-hour premier looking at the legend they're pursuing by going to Humboldt County, CA, site of the controversial Patterson film -- still the Holy Grail for many bigfoot researchers.  (Despite the fact that National Geographic's Is It Real debunked it for me long ago.)  The rest of the crew, Cliff, Bobo, and Matt have all clearly spent a lot of time convincing themselves the film is real.  Happily, despite having seen the film as a child and believing, Ranae Holland, often the only sensible member of the team, remains more skeptical; she thinks it could be a suit.  (And so do I.  See part of my critique in this review, here.)  The team goes to Bob Gimlin, the surviving member of the two-man team who filmed the footage, and they all ride and hike into the forest where the film was taken.  More "why it's real" excuses by the believers ensue.  Ranae asks Gimlin if it could possibly been a man in a suit, and he says no; he could see the muscles moving under the fur.  (Though I seem to remember an interview where he previously confessed that Patterson could have duped him; sadly, despite my Howls & Growls database, I cannot turn up a program reference.  Nor do I remember Gimlin mentioning muscle movement on the thing until that became the catchword of bigfoot believers.  Muscle movement is bullshit.  See the Michigan Dog-man case.)

They reconstruct the sighting using Bobo as bigfoot, and though it looks good, Cliff makes the usual muscle-movement excuse for why he still thinks the original is real.  I suggest they check the Is It Real show on bigfoot.  So they do a night bigfoot hunt in the area, including Bobo's dog in the team.  Would you be surprised if they heard mysterious sounds?  I wouldn't, and sure enough, they do: Ranae seems to hear children yelling.  But finding nothing else besides a bear track, they leave behind some camera traps and move on to Willow Creek, a town built on bigfoot belief.  There, they meet Al Hodgson and see his bigfoot museum; not surprisingly, he thinks the film is real.  He thinks both Patterson & Gimlin were honest men, though we know Patterson had a history of hucksterism and deceit.  They then call a town meeting, talk to more witnesses, and try to recreate sightings for which there is no video record.  All in good fun, I guess, but aside from placing sightings for further investigations and collecting interviews, not a lot of hard scientific.

So they do a night investigation and camp-out sasquatch party, hoping to attract the supposedly curious animals.  But even with Ranae yodeling bigfoot calls, no luck.  So, they move on and show video of a "bigfoot" watching a ridge line, but only Ranae seems to think it's a person.  The video also shows a 'bigfoot hut" (nest) and supposed tree damage, but the videographers are all laughing at the time, and the entire thing could possibly be a joke.  An actual witness doesn't think so, and Bobo stands in on a ridge for a reasonable recreation.  "I see no reason to discount that (original film) as a sasquatch," Cliff says, and Matt and Bobo agree.  Ranae sensibly points out there's no reason it couldn't be a hiker.  Believers vs. skeptic again, but the cast is not tilted in Ranae's favor.

Now they hire a chopper to do a thermal sweep on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in a nighttime investigation.  Matt & Bobo spot something on a road below, while Ranae and Cliff walk nearby.  Ranae hears a strange whistle and spots eye-shine nearby.  "Oh my God, that was ... there is something standing to your right, there," she declares.  They hear more strange noises (perhaps a rock hitting a tree), but they can't locate the thing they're seeing and hearing.  Bobo and Matt, now on the ground -- with no mention of what the figure on the road was -- check their sighting area and then converge on the other two.  They "smell animals," and hear a yell (which sounded like a person to me), but....  At the end of teh night, Ranae admits that events have decreased her skepticism.  "I had a rock thrown at me.  Definitely," she says.  "Maybe there really is a small possibility that there is something out in the woods of Northern California."

Maybe.  But like Ranae, I'm going to need a lot more evidence -- and a lot less belief on the part of investigators -- before I'm convinced.

FACT OR FAKED: Area 51; Cajun Apparition

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/26/11

The videos that fail the test to be worth investigating this week are Utah Sun Halo, which could be UFO stargate technology, but is actually a "sun dog" halo, an atmospheric condition created by ice crystals (great diagram of this, guys).    Goodyear Chupacabra looks almost identical to the one in their previous Texas chupacabra invstigation, likely a mangy dog or coyote.  Which leaves the new team to investigate this week's posers;

Cajun Ghost is a mysterious shape-shifting mist at The Myrtles Plantation, (supposedly) "America's Most-Haunted" in St. Francisville, Louisiana.  This place has a history that would do a horror film proud: abused slaves, murder, inter-racial affairs, a supposed Indian burial ground, etc., and they're clearly doing good business on their haunting.  The team tests whether the mist could be condensation on the video lens, but there's too much condensation, and you can't see anything.  They next text a windy fog vortex, but the fog diffuses too quickly.  The industrial fogger and flashlights also don't work, but using the IR light on the video camera in fog proves just right; a near-perfect match.  Naturally, despite having debunked this video, they have to do a ghost hunt as well.  And naturally the equipment does weird things and they catch "laughter" on their EVP session.  But they do figure out that a mirror casts strange, face-like shadows on a nearby wall.  Good catch there, though I'd have just skipped the ghost hunt and stuck to the facts.  (During a walk on the chilly night I saw this show, my breath produced a similar "ghost" on my glasses.)

Area 51 is a shape-changing UFO moving through the sky (supposedly) over Area 51, the secret government test facility which Ben admits he's wanted to go to for most of his life.  While there, the team is watched almost constantly by government agents at the edges of the secret base -- which I gotta admit is spooky.  First Ben, Jael, and Austin test a military heli-kite, a combination of winged kite and balloon used to check wind speed.  (Good idea, and they should have gone further down this line of reasoning.)  It doesn't look or behave right (because of its tether).  Then, they check a payload slung beneath a helicopter -- but the suspension sling is clearly visible, and keeping the helicopter out of the picture would require a dedicated hoaxer. 

So, they tromp around at night, trying to check out the forbidden area with telephoto lenses, during which time they're under constant security surveillance.  Momentarily, the base landing lights go on, and, almost simultaneously, something that looks exactly like a shooting star to me, streaks across the sky.  Coincidence, or something more?  On later analysis, Bill doesn't think it's a shooting star -- which makes me wonder how many shooting stars he's seen.  (I've seen dozens, more than 30 in one night alone.) Sadly, having failed to replicate the video, the show seems to buy into the "mysterious (alien) craft in Area 51" mythology.  Bill says, "Good work," but I say...

This "UFO" looks like a balloon cluster caught in high altitude winds to me.  In fact, it looks almost exactly like the simple balloon cluster from UFOS OVER EARTH: Mass Sightings in Mexico show.  The investigators on Fact or Faked should have checked that out before jumping to their own erroneous conclusions.  They got close with their heli-kite, but then stopped too soon.  Personally, I saw three UFOs this summer, and I suspect that one was just such a balloon.  (The other two were likely Chinese lanterns.)  Further, there's nothing I saw in the "Fact" video to indicate it was taken at Area 51.  The sky looks the same everywhere; where are the landmarks?  I also think a hoaxer designed this balloon to be a convincing UFO for his/her film.  I'm calling "Bullshit!" on the conclusion of this investigation.  I expect better from the Fact or Faked team; they haven't failed this spectacularly in quite some time.  I'm hoping in future that the show's need for ratings (by pandering to believers) won't outweigh their need to find the truth.

This week's quiz is of a supposed mythical beast sighting: Ontario Unicorn, which turns out to be CGI perpetrated to boost a local museum exhibit.  Glad they set the record straight on that, otherwise people might have been seeing unicorns in their gardens.

FACT OR FAKED: UFO Crash Landing; Graveyard Ghost

SyFy - Original Air Date: 10/19/11

Fact or Faked is back for its third "season" with crew regulars Ben, Bill, Jael, Devin, Austin, and new member Lanisha (replacing fab photographer Chu Lan).  Videos not investigated are Alien Plant by a garden pool (obvious CGI) and Habitat for Humanity Ghost (likely spider inside the security camera housing).  That leaves the two they will investigate, which turn out to be a ghost case and a non-ghost case, a developing trend.

White Sands UFO seems to show a saucer-shaped object which comes down, ricochets off the ground, and then zooms back up before finally falling to the ground and exploding.  White sands is only 200 miles from Roswell, so there's a UFO connection there, too, and possible "back-engineered alien technology."  Ben, Devin, and Jael head to White Sands to talk to the filmmaker and observe the local area before setting up their experiments.  First they try a rocket engine alone, but it's way too wild for the controlled trajectory seen in the film.  Then they create a fake saucer and run it on guide wires with a special effects explosion to finish it.  Looks great, but the speed is too slow, and the bounce is pretty wobbly, because of the cable guiding system.  They then suggest the shape is merely the exhaust plume from a rocket hidden by speed and poor film quality -- and that ends up being a perfect match.  (It's amazing what blurry video/film will conceal.)  Maybe it's just me, with more than a half century of life experience, but that would have been my first guess.  Though I suppose they have to walk through the others to help convince non-believers (or, in this case, UFO believers).

Cemetery Ghost seems to show an white shape floating over the landscape near Tonopah Cemetary, an area reputedly haunted by miners slain in a nearby disaster.  Bill, Lanisha, and Austin head to the area to check it out, hear the legend of "Big Bill Murphy," who rescued miners before dying himself, and talk to the videographer.  Then they set up experiments, and, as a capper, do some "night investigation."  Naturally, during the investigation, their paranormal-catching equipment does strange things.  (You'd almost think it was designed to do so.)  And of course there are mysterious EVPs.  (Aren't there always?)  But disproving the video proves easy.  It's not a person with a light, their first guess, but their lens flare from highway traffic lights theory proves dead on the mark.  Of course, the show notes, this doesn't mean there are no ghosts, just as the first segment doesn't prove there are no UFOs.

And therein lies what I think is one of the show's innate faults: its audience is composed largely of people who want to believe.   So, if you want to keep them tuning in week after week, you can't constantly dash their hopes.  This, I think, sometimes hurts the show's investigative qualities, which can be quite good.  I wish they'd cut back on the ghost segments (Don't we have enough ghost hunt shows?) and concentrate on other weirdness.  Or, alternately, just be willing to stand up and call "Bullshit!" more of the time.  A new feature this season is a short "quiz" -- at a middle commercial break -- debunking popular videos.  This week the short is walking slippers in a cemetery. which was done with invisible wires or strings.  I like the short addition, as I miss when they debunked more videos at the start of the show.