Everything old is new again. Back in the late 60's/early 70's ancient aliens were a big fad, mainly do to the book Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken and its sequels. The book put forth the theory that mankind had been visited by aliens in the ancient past and that many advances in civilization were due to this intervention. His proof? That mainly consisted of a lot of leading arguments, misinterpretations of ancient art, and some out and out lies. (The PBS show Nova tracked down the guy who made the pottery depicting aliens and even admitted that von Däniken paid him to make them to his specifications.) That fad died soon enough, but here we are, decades later, and the History Channel has commissioned a show filled with pseudoarchaeology, Ancient Aliens. The first four seasons are now available in a nice boxed set, so viewers can ponder over the dubious evidence again and again.
Starting with the premises that the Earth was visited in ancient times by aliens, the show goes about looking for evidence. It finds something akin to that mainly by ignoring more sedate and rational explanations. From the pyramids themselves (always used as proof of alien contact) to ancient painting and even texts, they paint a fairly convincing argument, but only if you're really, really gullible.
A good example of the approach the show takes is its examination of the Saqqara Bird. This is an object that was found in the late 1800's in an Egyptian tomb and is about 2200 years old. (See picture below.) It looks like a bird, right? It could be a toy, or a decoration or even a weather vane. But the show takes the position that it's a model of a glider! Note that the wing is straight and not jointed like a real bird's wing, and the tail is vertical instead of horizontal like a bird's. (The fact that the wing is not curved, and therefore would not provide any lift is totally ignored.)
To add weight to this hypothesis, they find someone who made a scale model of the bird and tested it in a wind tunnel. The result? It could fly, but only if you mount a horizontal stabilizer at the rear! That's a significant problem that the omnipresent narrator brushes off saying claiming that the part could just be missing. (They pull a similar trick with a small gold triangular object that roughly looks a little bit plane-like. When they make a scale model they add airfoils to the wings and a propeller to the front. They succeed in proving only that it's possible to alter ancient designs to make them air-worthy and nothing more.)
Of course they don't present any opposing opinions. If they really wanted to be objective, they should have searched out Martin Gregorie, who builds gliders. He created a replica of the Saqqara Bird and tested it too. He concluded "the Saqqara Bird never flew... [It] was probably made as a child's toy or a weather vane."
But let's accept that the bird would have flown. Do you see the still gaping hole in their argument? Why does a model that could have functioned as a glider mean that aliens were here??? No where through the series do they ever make that connection, though the make the illogical leap frequently. More precisely they ask a lot of leading questions that they hope will cause viewers to make that leap for themselves: Could ancient astronauts brought gliders from beyond the stars? If they did bring gliders, where are they?? That would have been a pretty significant event, seeing the Pharaoh fly through the sky, not to mention a very big military advantage. You'd think the Romans might have noticed planes when they invaded, and it might have thwarted their plans too. There isn't a preponderance of evidence that the Egyptians could fly, just one wooden bird that (the show grudgingly admits) CAN'T fly.
If it was just that one example of sloppy work, I could ignore it, but every thing they discuss has the same leaps of logic along with the show ignoring much more mundane, but probable explanations. Every primitive religion that has a god in the sky is really talking about an alien, according to the show, and the Egyptian gods that had the heads of animals? Well that's a dead giveaway isn't it? They even jump to the recent past and examine the
the ancient Underground City in the Derinkuyu district of Turkey. (Oh yeah, and they cover the Mayan end-of-the-world prediction that says doomsday isDecember 21, 2012. Opps.)
The show does quickly run out stories to cover however, and soon they're discussing even more outrageous theories and having to go further and further to conjour up some evidence. These shows were less appealing in general, because it required even more suspension of disbelief to buy what they were selling. Aliens and the Old West seemed to be at least a partial ad for the movie Cowboys & Aliens, and does anyone really beleive that aliens are responsible for floods, earthquakes and volcano erputions? This show looks at that possibility. Then they suggest that there's a connection between Bigfoot and aliens and that these aliens could be humans from the future traveling in time. The last season spends a lot of the time in far left field.
Having said all that, I will admit that the show is fun to watch. Yes, has only the most tenuous attachment to real history, but it is enjoyable to watch the conspiracies and theories on oddball artifacts unfold, even if it's so you can slap your forehead with your palm when they make a huge leap in logic. If you're predisopsed to believe in pseudoscience, there's sure to be a lot to fascinate you in this set.
I was surprised that the video quality was so mediocre. Many of the images are very good, with a lot of detail and tight lines, but there are a lot of compression artifacts in other of the newly recorded scenes. Walls of hieroglyphics tend to shimmer as if they were alive when the camera pans over them slowly and aliasing is a pretty significant problem. It's never distracting, but it is apparent.
The DD stereo audio track does the job. There's really not a lot to this program sonically, just a deep voiced narrator and some occasional people spouting off outrageous theories, so a stereo mix is fine. The voices are clean and clear and there are no dropouts or background noise. There are optional English subtitles.
This set does include the pilot episode, Ancient Aliens: Chariots, Gods & Beyond, which casts a non-critical eye on the 'work' of convicted fraud1 Erich von Däniken. As I mentioned earlier, he pretty much made up a lot of his 'evidence' and stole his theories from the dark fantasy writings of H. P. Lovecraft, though this episode doesn't touch on that. I'm actually fairly astounded that the show was picked up after this.
While I'll admit that this show does have a certain 'fun' factor at the beginning, the show is never very rigorous in its examination of any subject and goes out of tis way to ignore competing (and more rational) ideas. As the seasons progress, hypotheses that they examine get more and more ridiculous. They should have quit while they were ahead. If you're really into the possibility that the Earth has been visisted by aliens, this would make a good rental but nothing more.
1) Von Däniken was convicted and sent to prison twice, once for fraud and once for embezzlement. He's not the most honest guy in the world.