A DISCLAIMER REGARDING INTERVIEWEES IN THIS PROGRAM: This review was written solely on the basis of the program itself. It wasn't until this review was initially posted, that with a little bit of online research did I realize Erich von Däniken, the person most prominently featured in the program is, in the kindest terms, not completely genuine in his past claims. I am leaving my initial review up as it serves as an example of how The History Channel betrayed my trust as a viewer by passing someone who has admitted to committing blatant deception (or fraud) off as a trusted authority. I have however amended my final thoughts section reflect my new feelings about the program in light of this information.
"Ancient Aliens" is a very ambitious documentary from The History Channel that explores a controversial, but justifiable movement that suggests extraterrestrial cultures have not only visited Earth in the past, but helped ancient civilizations and in fact may be the gods worshiped by many faiths. For someone like myself, who during my childhood was enamored by mysterious topics such as UFOs, aliens, and cryptozoology (i.e. Sasquatch), this documentary started off on the right foot.
The History Channel took an approach I didn't expect and opened the program focusing on the book "Chariot of the Gods?" by Swiss author Erich von Däniken. This work was the first mainstream introduction of the ancient astronaut theory and being able to hear from von Däniken himself was helpful in establishing the program was taking a serious approach to things. Things start with the infamous Nazca lines and from here the charismatic von Däniken along with others discuss theories around possible extraterrestrial origins and uses of these mysterious and breathtaking formations.
REVIEWERS NOTE:A bit of internet searching revealed that many of von Däniken's claims from his original book were proven to be incorrect; additionally, I have found more than one reference to "Nova" a trusted science program found on public television, proving that some of von Däniken's findings were blatant forgeries. Surprisingly von Däniken has admitted to resorting to such techniques, stating it was necessary to sway people to his cause. These are a just a few major criticisms of the man and frankly, they are serious enough that he should not be featured on a supposedly objective program from The History Channel, at least not without a disclaimer.
Following an introduction to von Däniken through this segment as well as the rise of his theory itself, the program takes no time in hitting the most controversial aspect of the ancient astronaut theory: the Christian God is an extraterrestrial. It's a claim that is bound to raise the ire of many, but von Däniken reminds us that it's a theory he proposed through a lifetime of religious faith and his own quest for knowledge; he never says its fact, it's merely a question raised (a common theme throughout the program when he's involved). Fortunately, interviewees also include those completely opposed to the theories presented over the course of the program and their support for why these theories are inaccurate are given ample time as well, at least when controversial subjects, such as religion are addressed
Unfortunately, despite the well thought out claims of God's possible extraterrestrial origin, the remainder of the program quickly devolves into tired clichés. Ancient Egypt is naturally covered and a few wild claims are made in an effort to tie things into the subject at hand. The same goes for the Mayan pyramids as well as Stonehenge. On a casual viewing, it might be very easy to buy into the claim that certain Mayan city layouts correspond to a prominent constellation in the sky, but the words of Carl Sagan echoed in my mind, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." "Ancient Aliens" makes some extraordinary claims in its final thirty minutes and offers little to no proof to back them up. In doing so, the credibility of the program is quickly undermined.
As a whole package, "Ancient Aliens" is a moderate success. The strong start quickly runs out of steam and strays into territory that has been covered in far more exhaustive detail before, in much more engaging fashion. To its credit, shaky claims aside, the program does manage to provide newcomers a very abridged overview to the theory of ancient astronauts.
"Ancient Aliens" is presented with a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. It's a relatively solid transfer that is soft when it comes to detail, but largely free of digital artifacts. I did notice some aliasing when any animated clips were shown. I'm still not sure why The History Channel continues to put out non-anamorphic transfer, there is honestly no good reason for them to do so.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 English track is a bit more impressive than one would expect from a television documentary, but overall, a fairly light mix. Voices come through with clarity, as does the occasional supporting score for dramatic effect.
"Ancient Aliens" is an unfortunate betrayal of The History Channel's viewing audience. Granted many people will write the entire subject off as baseless pseudoscience, and there is enough evidence to suggest many of the claims are that. I do however, feel alternative, non-conventional viewpoints have a valid place in the world, but for a program to base itself around the claims of a man caught decades ago in his own lies is unforgivable. Many people admonish The History Channel for airing shows like this and others such as "UFO Hunters" and "Monsterquest." The big difference is here, those shows, as unfulfilling as they almost always are, at least show more integrity than the blatant misrepresentations made here in the interest of promoting sensational claims as having strong supporting evidence justifying them. The History Channel has betrayed my trust as well as the trust of anyone else that has viewed this documentary. My respect for the network has dropped immensely as a result. This disc is not worth a moment of your time. Skip It.